All posts by enassar

Pok Pok: Wild Duck Laap, Thai Pork Fried Rice, Cucumber Salad


duck laap 4

I travel a lot for work typically for a project in one city that could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. Travelling every week for a few days to the same city can be weary. The upside to this latest particular engagement is that it is in the lovely city of Portland, Oregon. The weather is just perfect for me, the scenery is beautiful and the food is brilliant. I honestly have not had a bad meal in this city. One of the places that I had on my list to visit in a city full of good eats is Andy Ricker’s Thai place, Pok Pok. I’ve eaten several fantastic meals over there so far so getting the book and trying a few of the dishes at home was of course to be expected.

galangal paste

We’ve enjoyed several meals from the book and all have been very good. The papaya salad I tried first was pretty much identical to what I had at Pok Pok. The stir fried rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli and soy sauce (Phat si ew) was an excellent one dish meal. So, I was very pleased when Nathan chose a few recipes from Pok Pok for our Friday dinner. The recipes are pretty simple but involve a lot of chopping and prep work. The fried rice, like all stir fries, really needs all the ingredients ready to go in order into the very hot wok or else you end up stressed and the your stir fry crappy!

Thai mise

Pok Pok refers to the sound cooks make when using the mortar and pestle. That’s where many of the “salads” are prepared like this cucumber salad. Strictly speaking this is my version of Ricker’s cucumber salad (Tam taeng kwaa). I simplified it a bit and removed the noodles he serves with it since we are already having rice. I prepared it like I do the papaya salad in the granite mortar by mashing some garlic, limes, palm sugar and salt together. Then the sliced cucumber goes in and gets a bit bruised along with cherry tomatoes before being seasoned with more lime juice and fish sauce. I garnished the salad with crushed peanuts for texture and because they taste wonderful with the cukes and the rest of the menu.

cucumber salad2

Laap is another dish that in typical Thai menus in the US is referred to as a “salad”. I’m not sure why that’s the case honestly, but really these are mixtures of minced meat (pork, chicken, fish or game) that are cooked fairly quickly with lots of traditional Thai aromatics. This version is labeled as Isaan minced duck salad (Laap pet Isaan) and is a bit more complex than previous versions I’ve cooked. Typically Laap is flavored with lime juice, shallots, lemongrass and some herbs with a sprinkling of toasted rice powder for crunch. This Isaan version adds more spice in the form of a galangal-garlic-shallot paste. I first broiled the sliced galangal along with the shallots and garlic then wrapped them in foil and let them bake and soften. These were then pounded in the mortar to form the paste.

duck laap2

I still had boneless skinless wild duck in my freezer from my hunt in the fall. It made perfect sense to use those in place of store-bought ducks. The wild duck’s gamy flavor worked great in this heavily spiced and fragrant dish. I used my cleaver to slice and mince the duck meat to maintain a nice texture and it’s quiet relaxing really. It took maybe 10 minutes to reduce the duck from breasts to minced meat.

duck laap

The duck is cooked with the paste and sliced shallots until just cooked through then flavored with sliced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, dried chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. Before serving I tossed in plenty of herbs (Thai basil, basil, mint) and toasted sticky rice powder. It’s a very exotically flavored delicious dish with more toasted rice powder sprinkled on top for more crunch.

duck laap3

The Thai fried rice is really simple, but like I said before it works much better if you prepare all the ingredients and have them ready to go into the wok (or large skillet).  The whole cooking process takes maybe 6 or 8 minutes and you do not want t be chopping shallots in the middle of that. I’ve really been enjoying using my outdoor propane burner (a.k.a turkey fryer rig even though I’ve never fried a turkey) for stir-frying in my large carbon steel wok. I use that same rig to brew beer and whenever I deep fry anything. Using the wok on it though is such an exciting way to cook and feels like playing with fire! I get all my ingredients on the outdoor table next to my wok and start tossing them in one after the other sizzling and charring where needed before getting the sauce in to bring everything together. It’s quiet the rush! For this recipe first goes the shallot oil, then the egg followed by shallots and garlic. Everything gets tossed with pork…stir…toss (up in the air if you feel like it) until the meat is cooked through. In goes the rice and gets fried for a minute then a sauce goes in made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and some lime. Done and delicious with fish sauce marinated chilies.

Thai fried rice

 

 

Somm (Jason Wise – 2012) B+

It’s a documentary that follows four guys hoping to pass their exam to become Master Sommelier, aka Somm. Of course, everyone knows about a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant but I had not heard of the “levels” in the profession that go up to Master Sommelier. A Somm is very tough to achieve and there are only a few hundred in the world! The amount of work, very high expectation, stress and effort these guys have to go through is insane. The doc portrays that very well and gets us interested in these guys’ pursuit along with their various motivations to become a Somm. The film does not use any flashy techniques or recreations, just a camera following the hopefuls and some interviews with their family and other Somm officials and judges. The topic is very interesting to me and that coupled with the characters made for an engaging documentary.

Gravity (2013 – Alfonso Cuaron) A

A truly beautiful movie with pitch perfect performance by Sandra Bullock and confident direction.  Cuaron utilizes music to great effect here since the film is set in space where there is no sound. It’s intense and has no minute of waste. That does not mean that it’s non-stop action, but that even when the Bullock character is taking a short nap it’s still a superb shot of her in a fetal position in zero gravity as the camera zooms out. My only regret is that I did not get to see this on the big screen. Just like his Children of Men or Y Tu Mama Tambien, this is a film I will be watching often.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch – 2009) D-

Oh man..this one really tested my limits! After seeing the wonderful Jarmusch film Broken Flowers I noticed this one on Netflix as well. I remember the name but knew nothing about it. I had to restart this movie twice and then took me maybe 4 starts to finish it…I kept nodding off. I hated it really. I hated its pointlessness. I hated how pretentious it felt. I hated the main character and felt like punching him after ordering his two espressos in “two separate cups” for the 10th time or after sitting there staring at some other ramblig character without saying anything. I’m all for movies that do not pander for the audience, the ones that expect you to think and figure out who’s who and what’s what. For a movie that might be about a loner criminal and set in Madrid and Andalusia it really has no “what” or anything else for me to care about. We’ll see how the next Jarmusch film I see fairs…

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch – 2005) A

Really fantastic film and probably one of Bill Murray’s best performances. He plays an aging single well-off playboy aptly named Don Johnston who receives an anonymous letter from an old flame that he has a son who is possibly looking for him. After much prodding from his amateur detective neighbor he goes on a cross-country tour to identify who sent the letter. It’s a simple plot but Jarmusch has a unique style that works very well here. We have recurring shots that occur over and over (Johnston putting the same CD in the car’s stereo for example), the screen fades to black repeatedly on seemingly random times, the color pink plays an important role (or maybe not), and so on. The music also with the same note plays over and over. It should be annoying I would think but it is not. I found myself waiting for it to start again.

I loved the film and the journey that Johnston goes on. I loved all the other characters as well from his likable detective neighbor to the various women he visits and their various reactions. Murray plays Johnston stoically with long little outward emotion. Some might say he does not change much but I think that is not the case. The character we leave at the end of the film is a different man that the one who opened it while being dumped by his girlfriend. It’s a movie that balances perfectly being an artsy drama while at the same time capturing my attention and getting me invested in what is going on.

Smoked Salmon and White Asparagus, Sour Cream and Vattlingon

Salmon-Asparagus-Sour Cream4

There is so much fantastic looking salmon in the market this time of year. Asparagus is also all over the place. Recipes combining these two lovely spring ingredients can be found in many books, sites and on restaurant menus. This recipe based on one from the book Neue Cuisine: the Elegant Tastes of Vienna by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner uses salmon that gets lightly smoked and serves it with the classy white asparagus and a sour cream sauce. It hits all the right buttons. The flavors are harmonious and robust and the plated dish looks refined even though it is very straightforward to prepare.

Salmon Curing

The fish is cured lightly and then smoked. You really do not need a major rig to hot smoke a few pieces of fish at home. I use an old wok following a method that I learned years ago from Barbara Tropp’s book China Moon Cookbook. To smoke the fish (or Chinese-style steamed duck or chicken) put a rack that fits in the wok but remains several inches above the bottom. Oil the rack a bit so the meat does not stick and then put the meat on the rack. Put in some wood chips in the bottom of the wok and any other aromatics you like and allow them to start smoking over high heat. Close the wok with a tight lid and smoke the food as long as needed over medium heat. That’s pretty much the exact process chef Gutenbrunner uses in this recipe. The salmon takes maybe 20 minutes or so.

Salmon-White Asparagus

 

Salmon Smoked

Before smoking the salmon I wanted to make sure it comes out well seasoned and juicy so I cured it lightly. All that means is that I sprinkled the fillets with a mixture of salt and sugar, about a third sugar and two-thirds salt. These then sat for about 30 minutes as I prepared the rest of the meal. I then rinsed the fish and patted it dry. It’s amazing that in only thirty minutes the difference can be both felt and seen. The fish is firmer and has a nice gloss on it.

Salmon-Asparagus-Sour Cream2

I cooked the asparagus simply in a pot of water with salt and butter and kept them warm until dinner. I really should’ve peeled the bottom of the stalks a bit since the bottoms were a bit woody on the outside.  The red orbs in the picture are the Vattlingon. I read about these in the book Faviken by chef Magnus Nilsson from Sweden. He puts up lingonberries in a jar with water and puts them away for a few months. Following Hank Shaw’s idea to use cranberries instead (he serves them with salmon as well) I put some up back in the fridge  around December so they are ready about now.

Smoked Salmon-White Asparagus-Sour Cream1

The sauce is sour cream, dill, chives and some lemon juice. Some more of those cranberries would’ve been good on each plate, but other than that the flavors were spot on and the plates looked lovely.

Salmon-Asparagus-Sour Cream3