The key to outstanding Thai food can be summed up in one word: balance, but the country’s cuisine is remarkably localised. We bring you four favourite recipes from local chefs so you can bring some of those flavours home
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS AUSTIN BUSH & MARK WIENS
Central Thailand & Bangkok
Sophisticated, cosmopolitan food with royal, Chinese and Muslim influences
Second only to the Chinese, Muslims are the most significant cultural – and culinary – minority in Bangkok and central Thailand, and they’ve brought with them a cuisine based on meat and dried spices. “Thai-Muslim food has Indonesian influences, as well as Malaysian and Indian,” explains Sanusi Mareh, a Muslim and owner of Silom Thai Cooking School in Bangkok. “It’s often sweet and it’s not spicy, especially when compared to central or north-eastern Thai food.”
These flavours and influences are apparent in what is probably the most lauded Thai-Muslim dish of all, satay: skewers of spiced, grilled meat. Available at markets all over the region, satay can be made from any protein, but Thai Muslims tend to use (halal) chicken, enhanced with a mildly spicy marinade. “The most important part of satay is the dipping sauce,” explains Sanusi. “It must taste nutty from peanuts, sweet and creamy from the coconut milk.”
Another important yet oft-neglected element is ajaat: sliced chillies, shallots and cucumbers in a sweet-and-sour dressing. “It’s a break from the greasy chicken and sauce,” says Sanusi.
SATAY CHICKEN SKEWERS
SERVES 4 (AS A STARTER)
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes
500g boneless chicken, sliced into 5cm-long strips
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp light soy sauce
120ml coconut cream
¼ tsp salt
For the dipping sauce (makes more than is needed for the recipe):
120g red curry paste
120g roasted peanuts
500ml coconut milk
1½ tsp salt
50g palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tbsp tamarind sauce (if using thicker tamarind paste, thin it with a little water)
For the cucumber relish:
120ml white vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large fresh red Thai chilli, finely sliced
1 large fresh green Thai chilli, finely sliced
4 small cucumbers, finely sliced or grated
2 shallots, finely sliced
1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the chicken, spices, soy sauce, coconut cream and salt. Cover and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Make the dipping sauce: in a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), pound the curry paste and peanuts until combined. Set aside.
3. To a medium-sized pan over medium heat, add 250ml of the coconut milk and simmer until the oil rises to the surface. Add the curry paste mixture, stirring well to combine. Bring back to a simmer and add the remaining coconut milk, salt, sugar and tamarind paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Allow to reduce for five minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl.
4. For the relish, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for five minutes until the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture is slightly syrupy. Remove from heat, set aside and allow to cool. Once cooled, add the chillies, cucumbers and shallots and stir to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.
5. About 10 minutes before you want to grill the chicken, soak 10 to 12 bamboo skewers in water (this will stop them from burning on the grill). Preheat the grill to medium- high. Thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers and grill, turning occasionally, for five to 10 minutes or until fully cooked. Serve the chicken skewers on a large platter with the dipping sauce and cucumber relish.
Invaluable food notes and recipes from Southern Thailand, Northern Thailand and North-Eastern Thailand – find them in the June 2016 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.