Introduction

Introduction

By
Martin Boetz
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742708201
Photographer
Jeremy Simons

German boy, Asian food … it’s not an association that springs readily to mind, and it’s a testament to Australia’s diversity that chilli and fish sauce happen to do it for me more than a confusion of West meets East. Thai food is the food I most enjoy eating and creating; I love the flavours, and working to bring out the best combinations of sweet, sour, salty and heat. For me, the smells of Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and chilli just call to be mixed into a stir-fry, curry paste or fragrant salad – I can imagine the finished dish even as I buy the ingredients at the market. Other people play golf or paint; balancing flavours is my creative pursuit. I’ve been cooking Asian food for over twenty years now, and there’s still so much to learn about the flavour combinations, ingredients and cooking techniques. You will never tire of it if you are interested in bringing this cuisine into your repertoire, and your friends and family will be well impressed.

My love affair with Thai food began at Darley Street Thai in Sydney’s Kings Cross. I was totally blown away by the restaurant and the range of amazing flavours in the food. The first time I went there with Catriona, a friend and fellow chef, we sat in the front room and started with mandarin segments filled with caramelised pork, prawn and peanuts. I then had my first ever betel leaf with prawn, pomelo and toasted coconut, and tasted my first real Thai green curry. It was a taste experience that I’ll never forget. We were oohing and aahhing so much throughout the meal and dissecting the flavours that we drew the attention of the waiter, Martin, who asked if we would like to meet the chef. We said yes, and out of the kitchen came David Thompson, charming and so full of information. When he walked away from the table, I knew Darley Street was where I wanted to work.

Little did I know that the same charming man would go on to make me cry and laugh so much – not to mention what I then saw as ‘torture’, as he booted me into (necessary) shape and the direction that led me to become the cook I am today. Other such charming ‘torturers’ include David King, Michael Voumard and Ross Lusted, to name a few. Thank you – you’ll all be pleased to know I’ve joined the best of the ‘torturers’ myself.

So on to my many years at Longrain, the restaurant I co-founded in Surry Hills, Sydney, where I developed a fresh and modern take on Thai food. I have to say, my thirteen years at Longrain – in Sydney only to begin with, then opening Longrain Melbourne in late 2005 – went very fast. Maintaining a consistently high standard of food in two cities was difficult at times, but we managed to do it very well – me and the many amazing cooks I had through the kitchens. To those girls and boys, thanks for making it flowing and easy most of the time.

The food evolved during those years, and so did I – choosing to use the best possible produce, learning where all the meats, fruit, vegetables and seafood came from and forging great friendships with the producers, growers and suppliers of all the diverse foods that are on offer in Australia and that we used at Longrain. This was a segue into my new path, promoting local produce from the Hawkesbury region in Sydney’s north-west, growing fresh produce myself and becoming a supplier in my own right.

My Thai food

I am terrible when it comes to writing things down during or immediately after the making of a dish. As a result, many of my best dishes have never been the same again – mainly because I’ve forgotten that little pinch or splash of whatever I had in front of me at the time. Sitting still with pen and paper and computer and getting these recipes down for New Thai Food has been quite a challenge.

Here they are. While some are typical of the food I served at Longrain, this is a book written for the home kitchen and the home cook. It includes some of my favourite dishes.

Cooking Asian food may be a new experience, but if it is, my advice is to relax and enjoy it. What I really want to stress to you is that much of the success of each recipe relies on tasting throughout the cooking process. The art of ‘tasting’ was never emphasised to me as a young apprentice, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to taste how a dish evolves, from being something quite bland to becoming something quite amazing with the addition of fish sauce, lime juice or sugar. The strength of some herbs and spices changes with the seasons and with different water levels. Coriander leaves, for example, may taste stronger in, say, December than in June. Tasting as you go – more than quantities and methods – is the big secret to the success of the finished dish.

As with other forms of cooking, there are always opportunities to fix things that go wrong. For example, when something is too hot, add some sugar. When something is too sour, add some salt, sugar and chilli. If something is too salty you can either rescue it by adding some lime juice or … throw it out and start again.

Also remember that the Thai food you prepare is more than likely going to be eaten with rice. The dish must be well seasoned so that it works when eaten and enjoyed as a dish in its own right or when mixed through rice. There is nothing worse than mixing a dish through rice and finding that the flavours are totally lost. Season generously.

The Asian table

The Asian table is a communal table. All the main meals in New Thai Food are designed to be shared, and to be eaten with steamed jasmine rice. Most recipes feed four unless otherwise stated.

Accompaniments are an integral part of the Asian table, which means that the individual tastes of each person can be catered for. Those little bowls of tasty sauces and side dishes allow you to add your own touch. For heat, there are sliced chilli rounds, perhaps in soy sauce or fish sauce. There is sugar for sweetness, and vinegar if you think a dish needs a bit more of a kick. Soy sauce adds saltiness and depth, and peanuts a nutty taste and texture. An accompaniment that is always to hand on the Thai table is nahm pla prik, a mixture of chilli, fish sauce, finely sliced red Asian shallots and lime juice.

My favourite relish is a mixture of finely sliced cucumber, ginger, chilli, coriander and red Asian shallots with sweet vinegar – I could eat spoonfuls of this cucumber relish all on its own. It is a great accompaniment to a delicious yellow curry (just spoon it over the top and mix it through the rice and curry) and with eggnets.

I hope the recipes in this book will help you become more familiar with Asian food. Most make use of ingredients that are readily available from Asian grocers, good greengrocers and supermarkets. The Basics chapter offers recipes for curry pastes and dressings, and methods for making flavourings such as fresh tamarind, fresh coconut milk and coconut cream, and crisp-fried red Asian shallots and garlic.

I have no secrets. What I know, I’ve passed on to you in this book, including all the hints and tips that come from years of hard work in the kitchen.

Enjoy!

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