Early in December @TenSpeedPress tweeted that Daily Candy “dares you” to cook from @pokpokpdx in a post titled Four Books Destined for the Coffee Table. Never one to pass by a challenge, I said I would cook from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker soon and report back. Then the holidays happened and frankly after all of that eating, drinking, and cooking I needed to lay low for a while. On Saturday I decided to try and recover my cooking spirit and cracked open Pok Pok. Folks have been swooning over this book–it made all sorts of best of the year lists, best gift to give, etc. I’ve seen a hard copy with it’s lovely, colorful design and it is a marvel. My copy is a galley so it’s all black and white, with no pretty pictures to distract me!
I read through most of the book before deciding what to make. I’ve had a whole frozen chicken from a meat share that I’ve been wanting to cook so decided on Yam Jin Kai (Northern Thai Chicken Soup). To accompany the chicken I would make Phat Khanaeng (Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts) and Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice). One of the things I noticed in this book is that each recipe often requires one if not more of another smaller recipe, as simple as fried garlic or as complex as a broth or a homemade shrimp and spice paste. This didn’t deter me. No, it was the rare ingredients that made me pause for a second, but it also meant I could trek up to the Burlington H Mart and wander the aisles. So I did that yesterday and guess what? H Mart doesn’t stock kaffir lime leaves or galangal and the Whole Foods near me which usually does was also out. I did what any self-respecting cook does. I went to Russo’s in Watertown which had all of these things and more, even culantro (not to be confused with cilantro, of course). Yes, reader, I went to three stores to get the ingredients for this meal. Anyway, I digress. I really just wanted to share with you my enthusiasm for cooking from this book.
I managed to find everything except for gouramy (a preserved fish of some kind), two kinds of specialized peppers (pippali and mak hwen) and Vietnamese mint. I skipped the extra fish and used extra Thai peppers and regular mint.
The soup calls for adding aromatics like lemongrasss, galangal, and cilantro stems to a pot with a whole chicken and shrimp paste, covering it all with water, and simmering until the chicken legs start to fall off. Then you remove the meat, strain, and make a soup. It was pretty straightforward, actually, and once I had the broth made the soup came together quickly: combine more lemongrasss, galangal, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, more spices, more shrimp paste, and 6 cups of the broth. Add green onions, cilantro, and culantro. Simmer for 5 minutes and done. Serve with a bit more of the herb mixture and some fried garlic. You get a rich chicken soup filled with funk and herbs until it’s opaque.
The brussels sprouts were even easier. Blanch and sauté the sprouts, then add an easy-to-make sauce of oyster sauce and fish sauce. Tasty!
And there you have it. My first and certainly not my last meal from Pok Pok. The book is worth reading if only for the lovely introductions to the recipes. Now that I own something called Thin Soy Sauce I’ll have to continue exploring this fine addition to my cookbook collection, though perhaps one day I’ll get the color version.