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Cooking with "Thai Food" by David Thompson

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Generally with that sort of thing, you pinch off a small portion of the mixture, pan-fry it until cooked, taste and adjust. I do it all the time with fresh sausage, for example.

Good tip! Thanks!

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Yesterday our dinner was "Miang of pomelo with prawns, page 484" and "Fish cakes, page 494".

Miang of pomelo with prawns

* Really wonderful combination of flavors. Very similar to the "Pomelo salad, page 514", my favorite dish from this book.

* I was happy that I was able to find all the ingredients, including the young ginger. So I didn't have to make any substitutions.

* I used spinach leaves to serve it. David Thompson says we can use bai tong lang, betel or spinach leaves. What the hell is "bai tong lang"? He doesn't describe that in the ingredients list, and a quick search on the internet reveals pretty much nothing (aside from a few links to this same recipe in other sites). Or is it just another name for betel?

* I'm wondering if any of you has been able to find betel leaves outside of Thailand.

* I added less than half the sauce to the salad, and still thought it was a bit too much. The recipe just says to "dress with the sauce". Am I missing something?

Fish cakes

* They turned out a lot better than the first time I made them, because I added only 1 tbsp of fish sauce (the recipe calls for 3). As much as I'm trying to "cook by adjusting the flavors", this is a hard one because tasting a raw fish paste is simply not very appealing. The funny thing is that even with 1 tbsp of fish sauce, they were still very salty.

* I used kaffir lime leaves from my just purchased kaffir lime tree... oh boy, what a difference! I used to buy leaves at the supermarket and freeze them, and never understood the point of adding them to food. They were tought and not that flavorful. The ones from my tree are softer than spinach leaves and so flavorful. I love the smell too.

Oh I wish I had of known you weren't able to get Betel leaves... they really make that dish. They have such a unique flavour that is impossible to replicate. Also, they are certainly are available outside Thailand, you just have to find a thai community who grow them.

Apologies, but at least next time you try it and are able to get Betel leaves, you will see how amazing it is!

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The dish was amazing, even without the betel leaves. But you got me intrigued now. I will have to make another trip to the Asian store to look for those, now that I know it's possible to get them outside of Thailand. Pomelos are almost out of season here, so I will have to move fast.

I'm curious if you used up the whole sauce in the salad, or if you saved part of it for later.

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Regarding making coconut milk:

patrickamory (and others of course - feel free to chime in): Thanks for your very detailed description about making coconut milk. I do have a few questions about the coconut milk making process though:

* What is the purpose of putting the coconuts in the oven? Is it to make it easier to open them? Or maybe to make it easier to remove the flesh from them?

* Do you taste any trace of the brown skin in the coconut milk when you leave it on? I've always peeled mine because I'm afraid it will affect the taste, but it's such a pain to peel it...

* I wonder if using boiling water and briefly squeezing the mixture would have the same effect as using warm water and squeezing the mixture many times.

* What is the purpose of doing a first and second pressing? Couldn't we simply add 4 cups of water to the coconut, strain, wait for a while, and skim the coconut cream from the top when it separates? This wouldn't give us a separation between first and second pressing of coconut milk, but I haven't seen any recipe specify one or the other.

* If a recipe calls, for example, for 2 cups of coconut cream and 1 cup of coconut milk, I'm wondering how many coconuts you use. Technically, 2 coconuts should be used, assuming 1 cup of cream for each coconut. That would mean that we would end up with 5 cups of coconut milk leftover, which doesn't keep well. Another approach is to use 1 coconut, and use 1 cup of cream and 2 cups of thick coconut milk.

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Hi seabream,

You won't be disappointed - whether you enjoy the flavour of the betel leaves or not (they have a VERY distinct taste, and whilst I can see it as a love/hate flavour, I have yet to find a single person not blown away by the combination).

I definitely did not use all of the sauce/paste (as they are combined)... it is VERY rich, thick and sticky and would probably make enough for 25 heaped tablespoons/leaves!

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Hi seabream,

Some random answers to recent questions:

- we dried the beef in the oven for about 3 hours at the "warm" setting

- peeling the coconuts: just make sure the shell is off, the brown part of the skin doesn't make a difference

- warm water and two milking stages makes for better cream and milk than your suggested alternative

- hard to specify how much cream or milk a coconut will give off, too many variables. I suggest getting at least 1 more coconut than you need (assuming all the coconuts are good -of the 4 we got yesterday, one was off)

Glad to hear the pomelo dish turned out well!

There's nothing like fresh kaffir lime leaves. The fragrance is like nothing else.

We were fortunate in finding tons of fresh holy basil yesterday. Used two bunches in tonight's pork curry, which was perfect.

A couple of tips I noticed were buried in the introductions to the curry sections in David Thompson, don't know whether you noticed, but they are intrinsic to getting the dishes right:

- only put in half of Thompson's specified amount of fish sauce. then taste at the end. add more fish sauce to balance if necessary (and of course any of the other ingredients, but if you've added too much fish sauce, it's almost impossible to correct)

- for any curry calling for dry spices, only put in half of Thompson's specified amount, and make sure the paste isn't too dry and roasted smelling - "un-Thai" as he puts it - add more if it seems right

You can re-read those sections several times, profitably, and I do, frequently.

Tonight's meal was a success. I'll post pictures in the Dinner thread tomorrow.

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* What is the purpose of doing a first and second pressing? Couldn't we simply add 4 cups of water to the coconut, strain, wait for a while, and skim the coconut cream from the top when it separates? This wouldn't give us a separation between first and second pressing of coconut milk, but I haven't seen any recipe specify one or the other.

It's to increase yield. Coconut is absorbant so some of the liquid remains inside the meat. Say 80% of the liquid can be squeezed out and 20% stays in. If you add 5 cups of water and squeeze, you get 4 cups of 100% coconut milk as a first pressing and 1 cup of 100% milk in the meat. If you then add another 4 cups of water to the meat and stir and squeeze, you squeeze out 4 cups of 20% milk and 1 cup of 20% milk remains. You could then do a 3rd pressing to get 4 cups of 4% milk and be left with just 1 cup of 4% milk left unextracted.

PS: I am a guy.

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OK, got it about the two pressings.

I've been looking for holy basil everywhere, and I can't find it in any Asian store here in Seattle... lucky you, patrickamory!

When I went to the nursery to pick up the kaffir lime tree, they ensured me that they will get plenty of holy basil in a month or two. So I'm planning to pick up a couple of plants and plant them outside. But I'll have to wait...

I also bought cilantro seeds, which I will plant indoors for cilantro roots, since these are also hard to find around here. Then I'm planning to freeze the roots and use as needed. Exciting!

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See pictures of last night's meal in the Dinner thread. That pork curry is sublime. And if you can do the extracting of the coconut milk, fairly straightforward as Thai dishes go - the paste is pretty simple.

Holy basil you can never count on, even here. The one place I know in Manhattan that has it often sells out. And other places mis-label Thai basil as holy basil - they are so completely different in reality!

If you grow it successfully, let me know. That would be the ticket, because it really lasts for such a short period after it's been picked.

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The photos look fantastic! I need to make that pork curry! Will let you know about the holy basil.

I have decided to give homemade coconut milk another try, inspired by all the tips in this post. Can leftover coconut milk be frozen?

I'd like to make the "Mussaman curry of chicken, page 329", which calls for 3 cups cream and 4-5 cups milk. Should I aim to use 3 coconuts to end up with roughly 3 cups of cream? If so, I'll have lots of milk leftover. Or should I aim for 2 coconuts? That would give me close to 2 cups of cream, but I would use up all the milk and cream.

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Wow, you're going for the Mussaman? One of the more ambitious curries! I've never made that one.

3 cups of cream is a lot of cream. Three coconuts yielded just over a cup of cream this time. But as I say, it varies a lot - coconuts have different amounts of meat inside, and the meat is more or less creamy (i.e. infused with coconut oil). Usually one coconut yields about 3/4 cup of cream, in my experience.

You have to allow for the possibility that some of the coconuts will be bad, so overbuy. I bought 4 coconuts for this recipe, and 1 was bad.

You will often have lots of milk left over, especially from the second pressing. But again, it depends. The recipes often tell you to reserve the milk and moisten the curry as it cooks. You have to play it by ear. Depending on the consistency of the paste, and depending on the quantity of the meat and vegetables, you may end up using quite a bit more milk. Some curries are supposed to be almost like soup, with a nice sheen of coconut oil floating on top.

I've never tried freezing my coconut milk. I'd look to see what Kasma has to say. I have bought frozen shredded coconut for southern Indian dishes and it was nothing special. But at least you'd be avoiding the floury, gloppy texture of the canned stuff.

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Kasma says the following:


"I do not recommend freezing coconut milk as this increases the likelihood of curdling when it is next used in cooking – unless you are just warming it through without boiling."

However, I think Kasma is referring to canned coconut milk.


"...it separates and gets chunky when you heat it. I’m not sure why freezing does this to coconut milk. I’ve experimented with freezing my own homemade fresh-pressed coconut milk, and the same thing happens."

This one clearly refers to homemade coconut milk.


This shows a photo of the separation that happens when using previously frozen coconut milk.

So, in summary, I think the flavor is mostly preserved but the texture is not.

Maybe I've been lucky, but the coconuts I've purchased here have never been moldy. I think I will aim for two coconuts for the Mussaman, even if that gives me less cream than what the recipe calls for. I agree with you that 3 cups of cream is quite a lot.

The recipe does seem a bit more involved than the other curries, but not by much. The only extra step is the deep-frying of the chicken, which is not hard or that time consuming.

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patrickamory: Not yet. We were planning to make it, but had too many leftovers - the worst enemy of someone who enjoys cooking :) We're going on a trip for a week now, and we'll be making this first thing when we get back.

I will for sure report on my experiments here. So stay tuned...

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  • 3 weeks later...

Did you ever get a chance to make that Mussaman curry, seabream?

I was hoping you guys would forget :) This week has been crazy at work, but I'm still planning (and looking forward to) make the Mussaman curry, with homemade coconut milk. I will report in this thread when I do.

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I am going to cook the Mussaman curry now. I am going to start by making the curry paste.

I will keep the laptop with me in the kitchen, so if you have any tips/questions, etc, I will get them while I'm cooking.

I'm super excited about dinner tonight :)

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I've attached a photo of the Mussaman curry we made. Ooh, how amazing it was!

The introduction to the recipe in the book says it all: it is the most time consuming curry I've made, and also the most delicious.

I wouldn't say it's hard to make: someone who has made other curries from this book has already mastered all the techniques needed for this curry. But it is time consuming - VERY time consuming! And so good... It combines the Thai curry flavors I love (galangal, lemongrass, shallot, garlic) with the Indian flavors I love just as much (cumin, coriander, cloves, etc).

I didn't make that many changes to the recipe. I omitted the coriander root because I didn't have any, and the cassia bark because I'm not a big fan of it (although I can see how it would go well with the other flavors, for those of you who like it). I added the lower end amounts of palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind while making the paste. After adding the paste to the coconut milk, I added quite a bit more of all three. I added the upper end amount of coconut milk, but next time I may reduce that.

I bought really nice organic free range chicken legs from my local halal store, which I think made a big difference.

Is it worth spending a whole afternoon preparing it? Once in a while, I would say yes. I think I will have cravings for this curry in the future...


Edited by seabream (log)
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Pork and green peppercorn curry - page 454. I gave this a try a few weeks ago and it was good. It is quite strange in so much as you use no garlic, red shallots or shrimp paste. Not too difficult to do and it was really good.


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