Our favorite Thai topper
Help for peanut sauce fans
I have been very fond of the Magic Kitchen’s tiny fried eggrolls and accompanying peanut sauce as long as I have lived in Springfield. In fact, I am so much in love that I never share my order. I want a whole order myself and any of my dining companions who want eggrolls need to order their own. Many people share my appreciation for the peanut sauce. I have friends who always ask for extra sauce to spread over their entrees.
So I had to chuckle when I was reading the introduction to a recipe for Thai pork satays from the cookbook Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand by Andy Ricker (Ten Speed Press 2013). Andy Ricker is an American chef who is probably the world’s leading expert on Northern Thai cooking. He is the chef/owner of Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, Oregon. He writes: “We honkies love this stuff. Tender meat soaked in a sweet coconut marinade – it’s a no-brainer. That’s why I put it on Pok Pok’s menu early on. Yet now, if I had my druthers, I’d take it off. It’s not just that the slicing and skewering is time-consuming. It’s the reality that if the words “peanut sauce” appear on a menu, you get people who want to order peanut sauce by the liter to dump on rice. If I seem grumpy, it’s because I’m tired of seeing people disrespect what I consider to be one of the greatest cuisines on earth. Everyone likes hollandaise sauce, too, but you don’t get people requesting it and dumping it on top of every dish you order at a good French bistro.”
I’ve always held a fascination for Andy Ricker. He grew up in Vermont and worked in restaurants as a teenager. As a young adult he loved overseas travel and became hard to employ because he was always quitting his job to take extended trips. He realized that he could be a self-employed house painter in the summers and travel in the winter months. Once, he left for Australia with $800 in his pocket and ended up backpacking for four years and finding odd jobs when he needed money.
His wanderings led him to Southeast Asia where he fell in love with the food of Northern Thailand. Northern Thailand has jungles and mountains and a regional cuisine quite different from the Southern Thai cuisine we see on most Thai menus in America. Northern Thailand doesn’t have the abundant coconut palms and access to seafood like the south. Northern Thai cuisine tends to be herbaceous, salty and a bit bitter and uses lots of wild game and river fish. Away from the touristy areas, he found food being served out of shacks from menus without English translations. He was eating things like pig brains mixed with curry paste and lime leaf, and charred, chewy hunks of pig teat.
He eventually returned to the U.S. and started serving Northern Thai food in Portland. His very first Pok Pok restaurant was built out of his kitchen and served carry-out food through a window onto his porch. He maxed out credit cards and borrowed money from family to finance his next, sit-down version. He was struggling financially when The Oregonian named Pok Pok “Restaurant of the Year” and his business suddenly tripled. He now has two locations in Portland and an outpost in Brooklyn. I’ve visited all the locations and count them among my most memorable dining experiences.
Recreating the dishes Andy Ricker fell in love with in Northern Thailand was not achieved easily. Even if he could have read the language, written recipes didn’t exist. He had to learn by direct observation. Many of the dishes used ingredients foraged in the jungle and could not be replicated in America. Rather than deciding to put a particular dish on the menu and trying to source obscure ingredients locally, he chose recipes that utilized what was already available. Many ingredients that were obtainable locally had a slightly different flavor than they did in Thailand. Thai limes, for example, taste slightly different than the ones we buy. To replicate the unique nuances of flavor of a Thai lime, he mixes Meyer lemon juice with Key limes.
In preparation for my column, I faithfully followed Pok Pok’s recipe for Mu Sateh with Naam Jim Sateh peanut sauce. For example, I pounded my ingredients into a paste with an authentic Thai granite mortar and pestle. I made two trips to the Asian Market using pictures on my phone to get assistance in finding the obscure ingredients I needed. I used fresh turmeric, galangal and fiery Thai chilies. Four hours later, I had created a most delicious peanut sauce. However, my kitchen was splattered with curry paste, my fingers were stained bright yellow from the turmeric and I realized that the authentic, but hopelessly complicated recipe would never be attempted my readers.
My late wife made Pork Satays with a damn good peanut sauce. I present her user-friendly recipe instead.
Muu Sateh (Pork Satay)
1 lb. boneless pork loin
• 1 tsp. coriander seeds
• 1 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1 T. fish sauce
• 2 T. minced garlic
• 1 T minced fresh ginger
• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional or to taste
• 1/3 c. chopped shallots
• 1 T. light brown sugar
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1 tsp. ground turmeric
• ½ c. coconut milk (make sure the “milk” and “cream” are combined to make the consistency of whole milk)
• 1/3 c. pineapple juice
• 12 bamboo skewers, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes
Slice the chicken or pork very thinly across the grain. This is easiest to do if the meat is partially frozen. Set aside. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small skillet until fragrant. Place in a blender or food processor with the other marinade ingredients and purée. Put the meat in a resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Squish out the air, seal the bag, and turn it so that the meat is coated thoroughly. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Remove the meat and reserve the marinade. Thread the meat onto the skewers. In a small bowl, combine the reserved marinade with the pineapple juice. Grill the meat over hot coals until done, about 10 to 12 minutes, basting several times with the pineapple juice. Serve immediately with Thai Cucumber Salad and Peanut Sauce.
Naam Jim Sateh (peanut sauce)
• 8 T. crunchy peanut butter, preferably natural
• ¾ c. minced white onion
• 1 tsp. minced garlic
• 1 c. coconut milk
• 2 T. light brown sugar
• 1–2 T. red curry paste
• ¼ c. finely minced lemongrass, tender parts only
• 1 T. fish sauce
• 1 T. soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Check seasoning. You may want to add more sugar, curry paste, fish sauce or soy sauce. Let cool to room temperature before serving.
Ajaat (cucumber relish)
• 2 T. fresh lime juice
• 1 T. fish sauce
• ¼ c. light brown sugar
• 4 thinly sliced fresh Thai bird chilies OR Serrano chilies, or to taste
• 1–2 European hothouse cucumbers
• 2T. minced shallot
• 2 T. chopped cilantro
• 1 T. chopped fresh mint
• 2 T. chopped unsalted dry roasted peanuts, optional
Cut the cucumbers in half. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon, but do not peel. Thinly slice the cucumbers. You should have 1 ½ to 2 cups. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chilies, cucumber, shallot and half of the mint and cilantro. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Garnish with peanuts and the remaining herbs.
Makes 2–3 cups.
Contact Peter Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.