It has been a long dry spell between travel adventures for us, something that is particularly difficult to tolerate when those two words–travel and adventure, have stitched themselves across my heart, very nearly visible through the thin network of ribs and skin, and have become part of who I am and who I want to be.
But adventure is not exclusively found in travel to faraway places. I try to remember this when my wandering feet get itchy. Life is full of every day adventures too—new experiences and ideas and flavors, right here at home.
Last weekend, we went to a cooking class called Night Markets of Bangkok at PCC, a local food coop. The class was taught by Becky Selengut, local chef and author of Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast. This was a demonstration class—the classroom was set up with rows of little tables with place settings, where we sat in twos, facing the kitchen. Becky cooked while talking us through the steps in her recipes. We also received a packet of printed recipes to take home with us. All of the dishes were complex tasting and delicious, but easily within the capabilities of any competent home cook.
Her assistants frequently came around with ingredients so we could take a closer look, or a sniff. In the case of the coconut oil, they encouraged us to spread it on our hands like a fabulous lotion. Which we did.
As each dish was finished, we were each served a small portion to taste as the cooking continued up front. These included Grilled Prawns with Tamarind and Orange, and Sticky Rice made fragrant with coconut oil.
Mieng Kahm are lettuce rolls filled to individual tastes with a variety of ingredients including toasted coconut, peppers, peanuts, ginger, and shallots, meant to create a flavor explosion in the mouth.
We also had Thai Fried Chicken, golden brown and richly infused with a spicy marinade. The chicken was paired with a crisp beer. We learned that cilantro stems have as much flavor as the leaves and can be used interchangeably in sauces or marinades where they are ground up. We also learned that it is unnecessary to peel ginger before throwing it in the food processor—a real timesaver.
The final dish of the evening was Khao Soy Noodles with Seared Duck, Pickled Mustard Greens and Cilantro, paired with a Reisling. We squeezed lime juice over our plates and enjoyed the rich medallions of rare duck, with all of the contrasting flavors and textures of the noodles swimming in curry sauce, sharp mustard greens, and crunchy fried noodles on top.
Becky talked about the balance of flavors found in Thai cuisine—salty, sour, bitter, sweet and spicy. Each of the dishes she cooked displayed this satisfying balance.
The evening flew by in a pleasant routine of watch, taste, sip, sigh, repeat. Throughout, Becky shared anecdotes from her travels in Thailand that brought the cuisine to life complete with sights and smells, placing it in a vibrant context, including Bangkok street life, food vendors walking up the aisles of run-down trains, or families sharing their picnic meals with a young American backpacker.
This connection between the recipes and the sensory impressions that Becky retained from her experiences in Thailand, and her ability to include us in those memories of a time and place, which can be so elusive, made the evening remarkable.
Thai Fried Chicken
(used with permission from Becky Selengut)Serves 4 Prep time: 1 hour minimum to 1 day for marinating chicken cook time: 10-15 minutes
- 4 cloves garlic (or substitute 1-inch piece of ginger, chopped)
- 2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns, ground
- ¼ cup cilantro stems
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 2 lbs chicken drumettes
Combine the garlic, coriander seeds, pepper, cilantro stems, fish sauce, oyster sauce and cayenne in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Marinate the chicken with this past for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.
- ¾ cup rice flour
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups water
High-heat vegetable oil, as needed for frying
Heat the oil in a large pan or deep fryer to 360 F. *Mix the batter ingredients-it will still be somewhat watery. Dip the chicken in the batter and immediately fry in the hot oil until the inside is thoroughly cooked and the outside is golden brown. Depending on the size of the chicken pieces, from 10-25 minutes.
It’s fabulous served with Thai sticky rice and sweet chile sauce.
*Note: This recipe is also delicious roasted instead of deep fried. Skip the step of making the batter and just preheat the oven to 400 F and roast the marinated wings until cooked through and caramelized, about 30 minutes, flipping over halfway through the cooking.