Try you hand at gaeng gati gai, a fragrant southern Thai chicken curry, that melds spicy curry pastes, rich coconut cream and interesting herbs.
Or for something heartier, Phuket-style braised pork is cooked until tender enough to cut with a spoon, and infused with trader’s spices like pepper, star anise and cassia.
For something more unique, try nam prik kapi, or shrimp paste relish served with cooling vegetables and a Thai omelette. A spoonful of the stuff stirred through hot jasmine rice with a few herbs is Thai comfort food.
Lastly, for instant spice relief, wash it down with a green mango highball.
Gaeng gati gai (Southern Thai chicken curry)
Southern Thai curries are a delight of spicy curry pastes with turmeric, chilli and black pepper, tempered with rich coconut cream and interesting herbs. A gaeng gati melds these elements harmoniously. Whole crabs buttery with brown meat and eggs or wobbly fish bellies, seafood and snails are decadent versions sunk into this rich sauce. For everyday lunches though, just like a curry rice shops or raan khao gaeng restaurant in southern Thailand, chicken works just fine. Thai food is all about balance, however spicy. At PLaza we use cha plu leaves which is from the pepper family, but some okra, sliced pumpkin or pickled bamboo shoots also embody that curry rice shop spirit.
400g chicken thighs, cut into pieces
6 bai cha pluu cut into ribbons, or 3 okra
3 tbsp red curry paste
5 green or red birds eye chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp fresh turmeric root
2 tbsp of palm sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
In a pestle and mortar pound the turmeric, birds eye chillies and peppercorns finely and add the red curry paste to combine.
Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Once hot cook the curry paste until fragrant, followed by the palm sugar, cooking until lightly caramelised.
Add chicken thighs and stir fry until cooked.
Pour in fresh coconut milk, and bai cha pluu or okra and simmer until cooked.
To finish, season with fish sauce and serve immediately.
Muu hong (Phuket-style braised pork)
Muu hong is a recipe from Phuket, brought by Hokkien Chinese. It can be found at all the trading posts on the Andaman side of Thailand down to Songkhla and further to Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The use of soy sauce, and trader’s spices like pepper, star anise and cassia feature in this rich braise. It should be fragrant and so tender you can cut it with a spoon. Shitake mushrooms, beancurd sheets and boiled eggs can also be added.
600g pork belly
2 tbsp minced garlic
4 coriander roots
1 tbsp black peppercorn
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp rock sugar or coconut sugar
2 star anise
1 inch piece cassia bark
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
Vegetable oil for frying
Cut the pork belly into 3 inch squares, and marinate in a little of the dark soy sauce. Deep frying the pork briefly helps prepare the skin so the marinade can be fully absorbed and makes it beautifully soft. This step can be omitted.
Pound the garlic, coriander roots and peppercorns roughly then stir fry until fragrant. Remove from the pan and add the sugar, it will start to darken and caramelise.
Add the pork belly and garlic, coriander root and peppercorn. Season with soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and dark soy sauce. Add the star anise and cinnamon and simmer over a low heat until the pork is tender. This will take about one 1 hour. Add more water if necessary. The pork should be in a rich pool of dark and fragrant sauce. Serve on hot jasmine rice with a few chopped coriander leaves.
Nam choob/nam prik kapi (shrimp paste with Thai omelette)
A relish of shrimp paste is known as nam prik kapi in Thailand, and colloquially called nam choob in the south. It’s always on the table in raan khao gaeng with a few slices of cucumber and other cooling vegetables. Interesting herbs, like curry leaf, green bitter cashew leaves or some hummingbird flowers accompany. A spoonful of nam choob on hot jasmine rice and a few herbs mixed through is Thai comfort food.
The original, and far more elaborate nam choob yam or nam prik joohn is a relish that includes chopped prawn and sliced chillies and shallots. It is mixed with the hand rather than pounded. Joohn means thief in Thai, so it’s a silently mixed relish so they don’t get caught with all that noisy pestle and mortar banging!
2 tbsp good quality shrimp paste
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tsp sea salt
4 birds eye chillies or more to taste
5 cloves of peeled garlic
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp warm water
Pound the shrimp paste with the salt, garlic and chillies in a pestle and mortar.
Add the lime juice and warm water to combine. It should be hot, sour and salty.
Enjoy with rice and a selection of herbs and vegetables (cucumber, celery, iceberg lettuce, radishes, pineapple, Thai eggplant slices, long beans, green mango, sprigs of curry leaf) and a Thai omelette (recipe below).
The desirable fizzing comet Thai omelette is achieved by cooking in a pan rather than a wok. Perfect for soaking up all that curry sauce.
4 large eggs
1 tbsp fish sauce
Squeeze of lime juice
Oil for deep frying
Beat the eggs with the fish sauce and lime juice until well combined.
In a small saucepan add 1 inch of oil and heat until it just starts to smoke.
Pour the beaten egg, through a sieve from a height into the oil. It will form crispy comet tails, when it has risen in height, carefully turn over using tongs to finish. Cook it until golden and drain on a rack.
Green mango highball
This green mango highball is cooling and a little sweet. Instant relief from spicy Southern Thai food.
50ml rice vodka
30ml green mango cordial (recipe below)
20ml lime juice
Garnish: lime and Thai basil
1. Measure out the ingredients into a tall glass.
2. Add in 4 or 5 leaves of Thai basil.
3. Fill the glass and give a good mix with a long spoon.
4. Garnish with a wedge of lime and some Thai basil.
Green mango cordial
1 green mango
½ cucumber, sliced
200g caster sugar
1. Slice the flesh of the mango away from the stone and cut into 3cm slices.
2. Combine the cucumber and green mango with the water in a blender and give a rough blend.
3. Pour the mixture through a muslin cloth.
4. Stir in the sugar and dissolve.