Neil and I attended a Thai cooking class whilst in Koh Samui as our 10 year wedding anniversary present from Neil's work. We made Tom Ka soup, crispy fried prawn cakes and beef panang curry.
The temperature was scorching, the humidity extremely high and the only respite was the occasional breeze that drifted through the doors. Trying to cook over a portable stove was not the most comfortable experience but the fragrance of the flowers outside and the ingredients laid out for us was intoxicating. Lemon grass, citrus, coconut milk, the slightly aniseed and herbal aroma of Thai basil and the pungent, overpowering whiff of shrimp paste were all mingled together to create a heady experience.
The ingredients. Palm sugar, fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemon juice, red curry paste, coconut milk, chilies. I can neither remember or identify the others!
The main bulk of the ingredients. Beef for the curry, (incredibly tender), shredded lime leaves and chilies, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and chicken breast for the soup.
The crispy prawn cakes. Minced prawns with a crispy breadcrumb coating, deep fried and dipped into a chili and lime dipping sauce. They were incredible. Crispy on the outside, moist and juicy inside with a concentrated prawn flavour, sweet and mildly salty. Neil dropped one on the floor which had to be scooped away by the hotel staff while I cautiously deep fried them in a wok with a less than sturdy bottom, 3/4 full of searingly hot fat. The chef stood right back as I slipped them in one by one to sizzle and spit which didn't really inspire confidence in the kitchen!
Beef panang. Quite possibly one of the best Thai curries I have ever eaten. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to muddle all the ingredients together for the paste, but it's just too time consuming. Neil's curry was darker and sweeter than mine due to the greater quantity of sugar he used, but both were delicious. The meat was tender, the sauce had a spicy chili kick from the chilies and was the perfect combination of sour, salty, sweet and spicy. The soup was also a revelation, being so fragrant, fresh and bursting with citrus, chili, herbs and salty fish sauce to add character.
We recreated the entire meal for friends a few weeks later from the recipes we were given at the hotel. It required a trip to a local Thai grocery that I found on the Internet where produce is flown in every Thursday from Bangkok. Only here could I find such elusive ingredients as coriander root and galangal. I think our friends were pretty impressed.
Recipe : Prawn cakes
for 6 cakes
1 lb prawn meat, minced
1 egg, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
oil for deep frying
sweet chili sauce for dipping
Shape the prawn meat into 6 patties and coat in the beaten egg then roll in the breadcrumbs until covered well.
Deep fry carefully until golden brown and cooked through.
Drain well and serve with the dipping sauce which you can squeeze some lime juice into to cut across the rich sweet tastes.
Recipe : Tom Ka soup
1 tin coconut milk
1 onion, chopped thickly
1 lb chopped chicken breast meat
1 inch piece galangal, chopped into large chunks
1 piece lemon grass, sliced into thick chunks
6 chilies, sliced finely
6 kaffir lime leaves
8 straw mushrooms, halved
4 tbsp chicken stock
2 tbsp of fish sauce
Heat the coconut milk over medium heat in a pan and add the galangal, lemon grass, lime leaves and chilies and cook for about 10 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse the milk.
Add the chicken, stock, mushrooms and onion and allow to simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
Add the tomatoes and allow to cook a little longer to soften them a little and then add the fish sauce. If you taste the soup before and after adding the fish sauce you will be amazed at the difference. The soup suddenly comes alive with flavour and you realize why very little salt is needed in Thai cooking, the fish sauce provides all the salt needed.
The panang curry was made with a paste which we added to coconut milk and many other ingredients. I don't really recall the exact recipe and there are lots to choose from on the internet. Here is one I found.