Preparation / Directions:
Snagged an excellent new Thai cookbook yesterday. It's "The Elegant Taste of Thailand, Cha Am Cuisine" by Sisamon Kongpan and Pinyo Srisawat. SLG Books, Berkeley and Hong Kong, 1989. ISBN 0-943389-05-4. This is a big, well-illustrated-with-color-photos book. Mike hauled it home yesterday with another one, "Keo's Thai Cuisine". (Being no dummy, he realizes that new cookbooks inspire me to cook so every so often he'll grab something for me to avoid having to cook himself.) But it wasn't that simple. He'd bought them both, but intended to keep one and send one on as a thank-you gift to a fella that took him and Laurie sailing a couple of weeks ago.
"You get to choose one to keep." The dreaded words...
I paled, started to shake. Sweat beaded my brow. I grabbed the fanciest one--the hardbound "Keo's" book--and paged through it, awed by the illustrations, impressed by the recipes. Then I grabbed "Elegant Taste" and started on the first page, intending to skip through it. Instead I went through the entire book, page by page, from start to finish. I slammed it shut. "This one." "Elegant Taste" explains Thai ingredients (and gives both the Thai names and spells them out using the Thai alphabet), makes sensible recommendations for substitutions and has relatively simple but very good and authentic looking recipes, each of which is illustrated by a beautiful color photo. This can be really helpful when one is cooking a new dish and isn't sure of what it should look like and what garnishes to use. Garnishes are particularly important in Thai cooking as they're meant to be eaten with the dish but often are not referred to in the recipe. For instance, in the following recipe the dish is presented on a platter with a half dozen or so scallion brushes and tomato slices, neither of which are referred to in the recipe.
As for this recipe, some of you might remember a while back when I was raving about a dried, fried fish dish I'd had in a Thai place, but couldn't find in a cookbook. It was in "Elegant Taste" and here it is. Wash, clean and butterfly the fish leaving the two sides joined along the belly. Open the fish out flat so that the skin is downward, remove the bones, and score the flesh with a knife.
After allowing it to dry, lay the fish opened out flat in strong sunshine for five to six hours, turning regularly so the sun strikes both the skin side and the interior.
Pour the oil into a deep frying pan and place on medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the fish, still opened out, in the oil. When the lower side becomes crisp and golden, turn the fish and continue frying until it is done on both sides; then, remove from the pan, drain, place on a serving dish.
Toss the shallots, mango and chile together, seasoning with fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar so that a sour taste is the predominant one. Spoon into a bowl and serve with the fish.
Serves two to three.
From "The Elegant Taste of Thailand, Cha Am Cuisine" by Sisamon Kongpan and Pinyo Srisawat. SLG Books, Berkeley and Hong Kong, 1989. ISBN 0- 943389-05-4.
This dish is very savory with a crunchy/chewy texture. The version I had in the restaurant still had bones but was so well fried that I just munched up the bones and all.
Incidentally, I'm going to buy the "Keo's" book as well. It looks quite good too but seems to be tailored more toward Western kitchens. For instance, it calls for brown sugar rather than palm sugar in most recipes. Now that's a perfectly adequate substitution, but why bother when I have palm s