Tag Archives: thai

A note on fish sauce…

The last recipe I posted included 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. Those of you who don’t cook Asian food very often are probably wondering just what the hell fish sauce is, exactly.

I’ll let Wikipedia give you the gritty details on fish sauce:

Fish sauce is a condiment that is derived from fish that have been allowed to ferment. It is an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, and Cambodian cuisine and is used in other Southeast Asian countries. In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce can also be used in mixed form as a dipping condiment, and it is done in many different ways by each country mentioned for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken. In parts of southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles.

Some fish sauces (extracts) are made from raw fish, others from dried fish; some from only a single species, others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish; some from whole fish, others from only the blood or viscera. Some fish sauces contain only fish and salt, others add a variety of herbs and spices. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, cheesier flavor.

Pic courtsey of Amazon

Image courtesy of Amazon

Right now some of you are probably saying, “Fermented fish? What? That sounds disgusting and I would never eat that!” Or perhaps you’re a vegetarian and you’re saying, “But I don’t eat fish!” Sorry guys, but the Thai put it in a lot of their dishes, so chances are you’ve had fish sauce if you’ve gone out for Thai food before.

Fish sauce is basically the Thai cooking equivalent of soy sauce. Soy sauce doesn’t get used much, if at all, in Thai cooking. If you go out for Thai food and notice your meal has a tart, salty flavor, that’s the fish sauce. Your pineapple fried rice is salty, but it’s not brown like “regular” fried rice usually is, right? Again, fish sauce.

Just thought I’d share that with everyone. :)

How to: Cook with a bamboo steamer

Steam. Hot, painful, useful. We’ve been using a $15 rice cooker to do most of our steaming up til now. The rice cooker is nice, but the little steamer rack can get crowded at times, and it’s difficult to steam more than one item at a time. Enter: The Bamboo Steamer, or Mushiki in Japanese. You can pick these up at Asian grocery stores, and sometimes your local hippy store/co-op. If you’re at a Target or some other store and you see one, don’t pay more than $15 for it. Just order online if you’re having trouble finding one.

The bamboo steamer is basically a stacking bamboo rack that funnels steam up and out. Mine came with two racks, but because of the way they are shaped, you can buy more and stack more on top. You can also feel a bit greener, because you’ll use less electricity and less water, not to mention the fact that bamboo is one of the Earth’s most sustainable wood resources!

When you’re steaming multiple items, you will want to put things that need the most cooking near the bottom, and things that need the least amount of cooking on the top. So, meats on the bottom, tough veggies like asparagus in the middle, easily cooked veggies like broccoli closer to the top or on the top, and anything that might need a bit of warming on the very top (if you’re not doing veggies). Invest in some parchment paper and/or banana leaves to line the steamer racks and keep them clean. Banana leaves have the benefit of being aromatic themselves, imparting a bit of flavor into the food they are wrapped around.

I'm just a steamer, sitting in this pan

I'm just a steamer, sitting in this pan

Take the plastic off of your new steamer and wash with warm water and gentle dish soap. Place the steamer in a shallow pan or wok, or on the top of a pot, and fill with water until it’s just under the bottom steaming rack (you may need to replenish if you do a couple rounds of steaming).  

Prep your food and turn on the burner 5-10 minutes before you’ll be putting the food in the steamer. Load everything in the proper order and put the lid on. After your water comes to a boil, fish will take approximately 15 minutes to finish cooking, chicken about 20-25 minutes. If you’re steaming a vegetable like broccoli, you may want to check on it after 5 or 10 minutes just because some vegetables deteriorate in color/shape/taste rather quickly if they are overcooked.

Take your food out of the steamer and eat! Don’t forget our first steam lesson: it’s painful! Use a spatula or oven gloves to take food out of the steamer. If you’ve used parchment paper or banana leaves, your bamboo steamer should be clean. Give it a quick rinse and lay the pieces out to dry. You are done! I would recommend leaving the steamer out to dry for about 24 hours before storing it.

A recipe for steamed curried fish follows the jump…

Read more …

Keep it simple, stupid

If you’ve been paying attention, I’m sure you’ve noticed that one of my hobbies is learning different cooking styles. I love Thai food so it’s been one of my obsessions for a while. The quintessential Thai dish is of course Pad Thai, but I tend to avoid making it because all the recipes I’ve tried to use make it way too flippin’ complicated. Over the weekend I watched the video displayed below. Obviously, Pad Thai is very simple… One might even say it’s easy! I should, perhaps, stop buying American-written cookbooks.

You don’t really need audio to watch this unless you’re really interested in hearing the cooking noises. This woman is cooking pad thai on a boat in the Amphawa Floating Market.

EDIT: god damn it, I swear I tested it in IE and the damn thing didn’t autoplay, but I go to my webpage and it’s playing (in Firefox, the smart browser? wtf). So here’s a link:  http://www.annz0r.net/padthaid.wmv

Video is courtesy of Thai Street Food, but I’ve hosted the video for convenience/not being a bandwidth leech. Click here for a direct link to the video directory. There are several other equally interesting videos on the website, not to mention a ton of other content. I encourage you to surf on over!

Bangkok Oriental Grocery

As promised, I went to the Asian markets I had previously Googled. Unfortunately, due to vehicular difficulties and time constraints, I was unable to do this until yesterday. To refresh your memory, the two markets we visited were:

Bangkok Oriental Grocery
7430 S. Harlem Ave.,
Bridgeview, IL

Southwest Oriental Market Inc
9170 W 159th St.,
Orland Park, IL

This entry has actually gotten pretty long, so I’m going to put the other market into a second post.

I’m most interested in Thai cooking, so we called Bangkok Oriental Grocery first and drove over. The grocery is on the west side of Harlem (which, by the way, is one INSANELY busy street on a Saturday afternoon), and shares the building with a Thai restaurant. I don’t think it was open when we went, so we didn’t check it out. Google Maps displays a building with no sign, but they have put a sign up at this point. If you’re coming from the south, because of the way the storefront is angled, it’s easy to miss. From the north you shouldn’t have a problem.

The store itself is pretty tiny. It’s definitely not the most modern, and the shopkeeper was unloading some stock while we were there, so we had to step over a few boxes. Don’t let this scare you though! Sometimes smaller markets aren’t the cleanest, but that has nothing to do with their products (sometimes older, non-updated facilities are also misconstrued as being unhygienic). There are 4 aisles, but the shelves are packed packed packed with mostly Thai goods. A shelving unit near the door displays Thai memorabilia in the patriotic color yellow, and many products with nary an English description. Due to the size of the store, there is not much fresh produce. There are 5 or 6 chest-style freezers holding frozen dumplings, meat, fish, and freezable produce (kaffir lime leaves, peppers/chilies, ginger/galanga, etc). Typical chill chests were in the back of the store, and they contained high-demand fresh produce; eggplants, lemongrass, several varieties of basil, some chilies. Pretty much if you need anything for Thai/Vietnamese/Filipino cooking, this place will have it. Head to your usual grocery shopping location for “regular” produce.

We will definitely be heading back here. The shopkeeper was incredibly friendly, and when we were paying for our groceries (CASH ONLY, by the way) he was asking us what kind of food we wanted to cook. I had picked up a bottle of fish sauce, and he let me know that there was another brand better suited to Thai cooking. We had a couple of different curry pastes, and he told us which ones would work best with different meats and vegetables. He also suggested some Thai cooking essentials, but wasn’t trying to shove a bunch of products down our throats. So, huge, huge thumbs up for Bangkok Oriental Grocery and the friendly shopkeeper! :) Maybe after a few trips I can ask him what the mystery products on the front shelves are…