David Thompson pauses to taste a hot and sour soup, then without missing a beat, dips his hand into one of the many canisters set up around his Sydney restaurant, Long Chim, and throws a measure of whatever is in there into the wok over his shoulder as he walks away. Almost like he is warding off a curse.
He throws a few cloves of garlic and some salt in a mortar and pestle and loosely pounds it into a rough paste, takes a handful of raw, fresh sugar snap peas, and fires up a hot wok, the gas jets spewing a thick stream of blue heat. “This is an unorthodox method that no classic wok cook would do,” says Thompson, “but gives the peas a snappy redolent zing.”
He tosses them in the dry wok till their fat bellies start to blacken and blister and adds a spoonful of rendered pork fat, coating the peas in a luxuriously rich and sweet glaze. He adds the garlic, stir-fries briefly and turns off the wok. He then seasons everything with a splash of fish sauce, water and a pinch of sugar. That’s it. “The simplicity [of this dish] matches my fastly deteriorating mind – it’s a loving marriage.”
Simplicity isn’t exactly what the chef is known for. In his ‘big pink book’, the silk covered Thai Food, his curry recipes are enough to bring even the most dedicated and enthusiastic home cook to a quivering mess. His follow up book, Thai Street Food, is a love letter to the Bangkok street corners and alleys he’d been frequenting since his first visit to Thailand in the mid-80s. Capturing the memory of those flavours would be like trying to bottle lightning.
Grilled kingfish with sweet fish sauce and starfruit
180g-200g salted kingfish (see below)
100ml sweet fish sauce (see below)
1 tablespoon coconut cream
15g deep-fried shallots*
10g deep-fried Thai garlic slices*
Handful sliced starfruit
Zest and juice of a mandarin/orange/tangerine
2 large dried red chillies, deep-fried
2g coriander, chopped
Grill the fish until just cooked. Leave to rest in a warm space for 10 minutes. Break the fish into a bowl. Ladle over the sweet fish sauce, then throw in the remaining ingredients. Combine and serve.
180-200g kingfish fillet
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Large pinch salt
Large pinch white sugar
Large pinch white pepper
Pinch ground fennel, toasted
Clean and trim the fish. Roll and rub in the fish sauce, salt, white sugar, white pepper and fennel. Leave for 10 minutes. Take fish out of the rub mix and dry on a rack for two hours.
Sweet fish sauce Makes about 100ml
175g palm sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 pandanus leaf
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons tamarind water
Melt the palm sugar with the water in a small pot. Add the pandan leaf and simmer for a few minutes, skimming off any surface scum. Add the fish sauce and simmer gently for a moment or two. Stir in the tamarind water and simmer briefly before taking off the heat. Make sure the sauce is thick. Skim any scum off the surface, pass through a strainer, discarding any solids, and set aside to cool. The balance should be sweet, sour and only a little salty.
*Deep-fried shallots and Thai garlic slices can be purchased at any good Asian grocer.
Stir-fried sugar snap peas
140g/good handful sugar snap peas, rinsed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Pinch white pepper
2 tablespoons pork lard/schmaltz
2-3 tablespoons water
Pinch white sugar
Pinch ground white pepper, extra
Drizzle fish sauce or light soy sauce, to season
Top and tail the peas and pull the strings away from the pods (use your hands to do this, not a knife). Remove all of the fibre. Mix the garlic with the salt and pepper to make a coarse paste. Clean and temper your wok. Leave to cool. Turn on the heat to high when you are ready to cook. Add the peas to char for a moment. Add the garlic paste and the lard and stir-fry for a moment until fragrant and the garlic is beginning to colour. Immediately moisten with the water and season with the sugar, pepper and fish sauce. Simmer for a moment, until most of the water has evaporated and the peas have a fetching, savoury sheen and aroma.
Chicken curry with ginger, beans, eggplant and basil
150–200g coarsely chopped chicken thigh, skin and fat on
1 garlic clove
5cm piece of ginger
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground, toasted coriander seed
1 pinch ground, toasted star-anise
200g red curry paste
1 pinch galangal powder
1 pinch ground star-anise, toasted
1 large pinch ground toasted coriander seeds
1 large pinch ground toasted cumin seeds
3 tablespoons shredded ginger, extra
1 good grasp green beans, cut into 1cm lengths
2 apple eggplants, chopped into largish pieces
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn
2-3 long red chillies
Handful Thai basil leaves
Place chicken in a bowl. Add garlic, ginger and spices and toss to coat. Set aside for a few minutes. In a large wok or saucepan over low/medium heat, add curry paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add chicken mixture and one tablespoon of the shredded ginger. Simmer until cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping. Add beans, eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, another tablespoon of shredded ginger and continue to gently simmer over a low heat. Season to taste. Finish with remaining kaffir lime leaves, chillies, the remaining ginger and Thai basil leaves. It should taste rich, sharp, gingery, hot, salty and sweet with a dappling of oil glistening.
This is an excerpt from issue 2 of Swill. Grab a copy of Swill today to read the whole thing!