Studded with small green peppercorns that burst with a mild peppery pungency, this relish is not as spicy as one might expect from a Thai chili relish - nor does the sour taste serve as a noticeable flavor pillar. Instead, a warmer and softer peppery bite, coupled with the aroma of young pepper, delivers a complex kick. The peppercorns, together with the flavorful yellow chilies, wrap the pork’s natural umami and fatty characters and enhance its natural sweetness; this sweetness, despite being placed far in the back and only appearing at the end of each bite, is nicely layered by the use of shrimp meat and palm sugar.
Green curry, with its mellow, creamy green color and rich coconut base, has both fresh and mature flavors. Like new growth on plants, it brings brightness, youthfulness, spring and rebirth to the meltdown of flavors created in the curry paste.
The green curry paste uses mainly the same standard ingredients as Thai spicy-red curry paste: lemongrass, coriander roots, kaffir lime zest, galangal, garlic, shallots, white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt and kapi.
This eel curry includes a greater-than-usual quantity of aromatics used over three stages. First, the eel is cleaned and sliced into segments; then it is fried with a generous amount of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. These help to counter its muddy and somewhat iron-like odor, which disappears along with the liquids and the aromatics.
This eel curry recipe is adapted from the vintage book: “Gap Khaao O:H Chaa Roht” by Ging Ga Nohk) (กับข้าวโอชารส โดย กิ่งกนก – กาญจนาภา พ.ศ. 2485). This rare book was written in 1942 during WWII, a period of global turmoil in which Thailand was invaded by the Japanese. That same year marked a decade from the ending of absolute monarchy rule in 1932, and one generation away from the peak of the Siamese culinary renaissance that flourished in the court of King Rama V (1868-1910): a nostalgic era for its children who are still with us to remember and reflect on those times.
If we could strip away the spices, the seasonings, the vegetables and the herbs from savory dishes we could uncover their naked flavor profile core. There, we would encounter a strong savory-umami, sometimes coupled with other basic elements of smoke and fat. This flavor core is, for us humans, the sought-after taste of protein; our first sip of mother’s milk, and the primal experience of burned game meat on the fire.
Today we would like to highlight a powerhouse for umami creation: the fermentation process. We will focus on fermented fish innards from southern Thailand (dtai bpla ไตปลา), one of about a dozen fermented products used in the country. We will show you how chefs for the capital’s elite, as early as or, before the reign of King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II, 1767-1824), harnessed its wild nature and created a dish similar to what we present today - a salad with infused fermented fish innards dressing.
กุ้งแนม" หรือ "กุ้งซ่อนกลิ่น - Goong naaem (goong saawn glin) according to the 1908 recipe in Lady Plean Passakornrawong’s “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (ตำราแม่ครัวหัวป่าก์)” cookbook. Flaky acid-cooked shrimp and the pork fat, along with thinly sliced roasted peanuts and very small unpeeled diced bitter orange (ส้มซ่า som saa), plus paper-thin slices of pickled garlic and julienned fresh red long chili peppers are mixed and seasoned with shrimp tomalley dressing. It is served in wrapped squares, using iceberg lettuce and young thaawng laang leaves.
แกงต้มกะทิเนื้อโคเค็ม - In this dish, umami-charged, salted sun-dried beef is gently grilled over charcoal, adding smoke and caramelized elements that emerge in the core of the flavor profile, alongside the umami and the savor of fat. The meat is then cut into bite-size pieces, and slowly braised in thick coconut milk. The coconut fits perfectly onto the triangle of umami, fat and smoke. It brings its own umami and fatty shades, and introduces a rich sweetness that pairs seamlessly with the caramelized character of the grilled beef. The braising also rehydrates the beef and softens it. Bamboo shoots, shallots, galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are added, perfecting the dish with a complementary sweetness, echoing the umami hues, and cutting citrusy notes while creating hidden astringent layers. The dish is finished with fresh chili peppers and hair-thin julienned kaffir lime for a fresh aroma and piquant bite.
แกงหมูเทโพใส่ผักบุ้ง - Thae phoh curry is a spicy and salty Thai red curry with sour-sweet flavor shades. Thae phoh falls into the category of the gaaeng khuaa (แกงคั่ว) style of Thai red curries, as it contains no dry spices except white peppercorns. Instead, smoked dried fish meat is added to the red curry paste to accentuate and widen its umami-smoky savory flavor base.
แกงไตปลาปลาดุกย่างโบราณ - Fermented fish innards curry is a dense curry made of fermented fish innards is dark coffee-brown in color – a salty, fiery hot dish, it grips the palate in an intense umami embrace. As the flagship dish in the repertoire of spicy southern Thai cuisine, it comes in different versions: some are water based; some have a base of coconut cream. But whatever the style, it is a fiercely hot dish that features both dried and fresh chilies.