CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 18 Made in America: Part III - Page 74

W W W. C R A F T BY U M H . C O M SII KHRONG MUU TAI NAAM Pork ribs cooked ”underwater“ When I set out to write this book, my goal was to both report on my favorite versions of aahaan kap klaem and learn about a few I’d never had. To that end, I chatted up friends and vendors, chefs and beer barons, then spent a troubling number of late nights fol- lowing leads down alleyways in Bangkok, into dirt lots scattered with tables up North, and sausage factories in Isaan. Yet this dish came to me in Slovenia of all places. On a detour to catch a leg of the farewell tour of my pals’ band, I met up with the great chef David Thompson and his colleague Part. Over Slovenian sausage in Ljubljana, Part turned me onto an Isaan dish called pik kai tai naam (chicken wings cooked “underwa- ter”).  Pork Ribs 2¼ pounds / 1 kg pork baby back ribs, cut crosswise through the bone into racks 2 inch- es / 5 cm wide, then into individual ribs  3 g / 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced fresh or frozen makrut lime leaves (stems removed if thick)  2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce  4 g / 1 teaspoon granulated sugar  2 g / ½ teaspoon MSG (optional but highly recommended)  2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as rice bran or canola)  1 (10-pound / 4.5 kg) bag ice  10 g / 2 tablespoons sliced (¼ inch / 6 mm) green onions  4 g / 2 tablespoons thinly sliced sawtooth herb  4 g / 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves) Its unusual method caught my eye—after the chicken is marinated, it’s cooked in a pot topped with a bowl of ice water, whose sides seal the pot. (Get it, “underwater”?) As the meat cooks, it releases its juices, yet instead of ultimately escaping as steam, they hit the cold bowl, condense, and drip back down. The same principle is at work in the distillation of lao khao, where big woks filled with cool water rest on the opening of vats of simmering fermented-rice liquid. The setup strikes me as so similar, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the dish’s technique had been devised by someone sitting around observing a lao khao operation. No matter the origin, I’ll tell you this: delicious- ness ensues.  Make the paste Combine the dried chiles and salt in the mortar and pound firmly, scraping and stirring with a spoon occasionally, until you have a fairly fine powder, about 3 minutes. Add the lemongrass and pound, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides of the mortar, until you have a fairly smooth, slightly fibrous paste, about 2 minutes. Add the galangal, turmeric, and cilantro roots and do the same. Add the garlic and do the same. Finally, add the fresh chiles and do the same.  After plenty of discussion and some heavy Googling in Thai, I was ready to try it out. Once I got back to my lair, I gave it a shot, using pork ribs instead of chicken wings and fashioning a paste from fresh turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, and both fresh and dried chiles. And while I’ll admit to missing the mark on practically every first crack I take at an unfamiliar dish, this one was a rip-roaring success. After cooking in their own fat and juices, the ribs are tender with a pleasant chew. All it needs is sticky rice and your tipple of choice. Cook the pork ribs Cut the pork racks into individual riblets. Combine the ribs, paste, lime leaves, fish sauce, sugar, and MSG in a large bowl and mix well with your hands, firmly rubbing the seasonings onto the ribs.  ◊ serves 6 to 8 SPECIAL EQUIPMENT A Thai granite mortar and pestle  An 11-to 12-inch / 28-to 30-cm round, heavy pot  A heatproof mixing bowl, big enough to rise above the lip of the pot and form an air- tight seal against the rim Paste 5 g stemmed dried Thai chiles  3 g kosher salt  15 g thinly sliced lemongrass (tender parts only), from about 2 large stalks  8 g peeled fresh or thawed frozen galangal, thinly sliced against the grain  2 g peeled fresh or thawed frozen yellow turmeric, thinly sliced against the grain  2 g cilantro roots  20 g peeled garlic cloves, halved lengthwise  20 g stemmed fresh red or green Thai chiles You’ll have about 75 g / ¼ cup paste. You can use it right away, or you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Heat the oil in the heavy pot over medium-high heat just until it begins to smoke. Add the ribs in a single layer and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the ribs, lower the heat to medium-low, and set the heatproof bowl into the pot, creating an airtight seal. Fill the bowl with ice, then pour water into the bowl until the water level is just above the rim of the pot.  Cook, stirring the ice mixture occasionally, until the ribs are tender with a nice chew, 30 to 35 minutes. This is important: keep the water in the bowl cold. Whenever the ice is nearly melted, quickly but carefully empty the bowl, return the bowl to the pot, and refill it with ice and water.  Transfer the ribs along with any juices to a platter, sprinkle with the green onions, saw- tooth herb, and cilantro, and serve right away. Reprinted with permission from POK POK The Drinking Food of Thailand by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode, copyright © 2017. Photography by Austin Bush. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Ran- dom House. © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.