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003 - Spicy Honeymoons and Hot Dates
Lessons learnt from 3 weeks eating in Thailand and a day spent with Lagomchef, the “Food Waste Disruptor”.
Thank you for subscribing to Food Team Monthly! In this email, find out what really went down on Kush’s honeymoon a few weeks ago and how you can level up your Thai cooking at home - the two are connected…we promise! Read a little further for food waste tips from TikTok royalty @lagomchef and not 1, not 2, not even 3, but 4 amazing Thai recipes you should cook this weekend.
Slater: I sat across the table from Kush at Som Saa. It would have been a great date location. But we weren’t here for romance, in any case, it was two weeks after Valentine's day… and three weeks since he had come back from a romantic honeymoon… with his wife. We were here to eat, learn and argue about how we could write a relatively succinct newsletter following his trip. A total mood killer if you ask me.
It had been nearly 7 years since pop-up slingers Andy, Mark and Tom had secured the best part of one million pounds to open their stripped back, modern Thai restaurant and it has gone from strength to strength since. Conveniently for us, this London institution was situated a mere pork skewer’s throw away from the studio. A perfect place to pick Kush’s brain about his trip, and for him to school me on all the gaps in my somewhat limited knowledge of Thai cuisine.
Kush: For my wife and I, Thailand was always the 1st choice for our honeymoon. We are not ones to spend a full week on a beach, we love to explore global cultures, traditions and food. Having visited South East Asia together on numerous occasions, we knew Thailand promised everything from jungle trekking and island hopping, to one of the busiest cities in the world with a vast food culture. We travelled for three weeks, starting in Chiang Mai in the north, to Phuket in the South, Koh Samui for some island life and then finished the trip in Bangkok.
Slater had previously been to Thailand but on a very different type of holiday - less bucket list, more…cocktails consumed from buckets on the side of the road. My colleague paid the price for his lack of planning. I didn't have a bad meal when in Thailand but sadly Slater travelled on a rocky road of discovery with some hits and misses. I can get a bit obsessed with research, which is just as well, as a lot of my time at Sorted is spent digging into all things food. I had formed a pretty solid idea of where I would drag my wife for each meal and what we would order - who says romance is dead?!
I first visited Som Saa with Ebbers, well before I was welcomed into the Sorted flock. We made a habit of exploring new restaurants together in London thanks to a friendship formed around food at University that had endured ever since. The thing that attracted me to the restaurant (and has kept me coming back since) is their commitment to importing quality Thai ingredients and uncompromising approach to the cuisine. While the dishes feel polished, they aren’t softened or dumbed down too much for western palates.
Slater: Kush ordered with all the confidence of a pub regular. I strongly dissuaded him from flexing his newly acquired (very limited) Thai vocabulary to an unsuspecting waiter and he begrudgingly obliged. I'm not sure whether he did this for me, or to protect his own dignity after scanning the restaurant and seeing very few Thai employees who could at least stand a chance of understanding him.
Tender chicken skewers set the tone. Well cooked, nicely prepared meat, lovingly spiced with turmeric and paired with a sauce that exuded balance. A sour, sweet and just-hot-enough Som Tam salad far out-performed the sum of its parts. It’s easy to allow a stray, not-remotely seasonal cherry tomato when pounded and dressed with all the right things - fried shrimp chief among them.
Kush: Returning to Som Saa filled with knowledge from my trip to Thailand gave me a better understanding of how things are “meant” to taste. It also made me appreciate how good the food at the restaurant is. The Jungle Curry took me back to Chiang Mai. I added a few extra chillies (much to Slater’s dismay) for a good kick of heat that I thought it lacked slightly. We ordered another round of glutinous rice to soothe Slater’s pain.
How to level up your Thai cooking at home
1. Keep it simple - In Thailand, the ingredients do the talking. Great leafy greens fried with garlic, oyster sauce and soy beans is sometimes all you need. Try it with Cavolo Nero right now for a simple fix.
2. Herbs are a salad - Serving soft herbs like coriander or mint whole, on or alongside soups, curries or just about anything, can transform them into something a lot more interesting as each bite can be customised and different from the next.
3. Start in the supermarket - Aubergine peas, green peppercorns and palm sugar make great additions to Thai food - but you needn’t buy them initially. Start small in the supermarket by getting your hands on fish sauce and good curry paste. Northern Thai cuisine is influenced heavily by China. Soy sauce, oyster sauce and egg noodles make great additions to a Thai pantry.
4. Garlic is king - You might want to consider buying bags of peeled garlic cloves. Whether it's sliced and deep fried or pounded into raw salads, Thai food craves the stuff.
5. Everything is about balance - The balance of sour, sweet, salt and spice is a pillar of Thai cuisine. Get this right across either a single dish or a meal and you are 90% of the way there. Lime, fish sauce, sugar and bird’s eye chillies are great tools to initially use for this.
Slater: We were reminded of balance once again a couple of weeks later when we had a visit from Martyn Odell. On entering the development kitchen, Kush presented him with a shot of homemade vinegar… obviously! We talked about how important acidity in food is, and how vinegar is often overlooked as a seasoning. My mind turned to countless recipes we had developed for Sidekick (our app) that benefited from the addition of vinegar. From tomato sauces for balance, through to fatty pork chops that benefited from a good hit of pickled apple.
It had been just over a year since Martyn had started making TikToks under the Lagomchef moniker. In a short time he had amassed millions of followers and become something of a literal poster boy for the app, appearing in adverts just about everywhere. His message was simple; reduce food waste, learn to cook and have fun while doing it. He felt like the perfect candidate for a Ready Steady Cook-style day in the studio using only leftovers from the previous day's filming and our seemingly endless store cupboard of weird and wonderful ingredients.
Kush: I presented him with the items we had casually knocking about the studio. Instantly he honed on to the aged Comté, a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk that were on the table and his 1st words were “soufflé!”. Soufflés are a great way to use up eggs and good cheese if you have them…as they don’t contain much else. They are also far easier to make than you might imagine. If you have little energy to visit the shops and are in possession of a stand mixer - a simple cheese soufflé can actually make for a super simple midweek meal. The responsibility did however fall to me as I had the recipe burned into my brain after years working for Raymond Blanc - find it here.
3 top tips for the perfect cheese soufflé
Use a low moisture cheese that is high in flavour - Comté and Gruyère work really nicely as they won’t make the mixture too wet and their flavour won’t be overpowered by the eggs or mustard.
Preheat your oven well in advance - This gives the oven a chance to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the soufflé’s cooking.
Keep things last minute - Fold the mixture together as close to baking as possible. This will keep things fluffy, light and at their best.
Slater: Martyn turned his attention to a duck carcass with very little meat and a packet of quail eggs. Without hesitation, he announced that he would endeavour to make a duck and quail scotch egg.
He realised that there wasn’t enough meat on the duck to use on its own unless it was stretched out with other ingredients. When faced with a small amount of meat, it is wise to think of dishes where it can easily be bulked out or stretched. For example, 200g of mince can be stretched to feed two people if you make meatballs from it. Onions, breadcrumbs and milk can be added to the mix to make it go further and provide a more tender texture once baked. We tend to do this a fair bit on Sidekick to bring down shopping costs.
Kush: Once cut carefully from the carcass, the duck meat and some of its fat were blended with pancetta to bulk it out. Martyn wrapped the duck meat around soft-boiled and peeled quail eggs - which also made sense as he realised there wouldn’t be enough meat to wrap around hen’s eggs. Another food waste lesson, when using leftovers, you have to be willing to creatively adapt recipes on the go.
I thought back to Thailand and how often in the good places, the really good places, the menus were creatively adapted to suit whatever had come in that day - and the food was better for it. Ingredients would never be served unless they were at their best, as the cooks there would know how to cook whatever was good that day and roll with the punches. While most people take pictures, write diaries or god forbid…vlog their honeymoons, I wanted to immortalise mine by writing 4 recipe recreations of the best dishes I ate time and time again whilst there.
Khua Kling (Dry Pork Curry)
This simple looking dish is from southern Thailand and was one that I had to request at restaurants as it was never listed on the menu. It was also recommended by the head chef at one of the hotels we stayed at in Phuket who I badgered for local food intel. Once the curry paste is made, this dish takes all but 8 minutes to throw together and really shows how hot Thai food can be!
For the paste
20g dried Thai bird’s eye chilies
30g fresh Thai bird’s eye chilies
60g garlic, peeled weight, about 2 bulbs
30g fresh turmeric
1 echalion shallot (or 5 thai shallots)
5 stalks of lemongrass, outer layer removed
8 Makrut lime leaves
1 tbsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp salt
2 tbsp shrimp paste
For the curry
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp southern Thai curry paste (above)
500 g minced pork, 20% fat
1 tsp palm sugar, grated
2 stalks lemongrass, outer layer removed, finely shredded
12 Makrut lime leaves, finely shredded
2 Thai bird’s eye chilies, finely sliced
This paste would traditionally be made using a large Thai pestle and mortar and take up to an hour to pound and grind. I prefer, for sheer convenience, to place all the paste ingredients in a large food processor and blitz the mixture for 5-8 minutes until a relatively smooth paste is formed. This paste will keep in the fridge for up to a month or 6 months frozen.
Place a large frying pan or wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is nearly smoking, add the curry paste and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until darkened and aromatic - you might want to turn your extraction on to high and open a few windows as this has a kick!
Tip in the meat and continue to cook, stirring all the while, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and breaking up the meat for 5-8 minutes.
Tip in the sugar and ¾ of the lemongrass, lime leaves and chillies and quickly stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar.
Serve alongside steamed rice, then scatter over the remaining lemongrass, lime leaves and chilli.
Moo Ping (Grilled Coconut Pork Skewers)
By adding cornflour to the marinade you both thicken it so that it clings to the meat better as well as adding texture. The fat from the pork and the intense heat combine with the cornflour to add a delicious textural crust to the meat as it cooks. This technique is also used across India for Tandoori items where a little chickpea flour can be added to marinades to give the same effect.
500g pork neck
200g pork back fat
5 cloves garlic
3 coriander roots or 2 tbsp chopped coriander stems
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
35g palm sugar
1 tsp white pepper, ground
2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
100ml coconut milk
½ tsp MSG powder
2 tbsp cornflour
20 bamboo skewers.
Place the pork neck and fat in the freezer for 15-30 minutes to firm up. This will make it easier to slice.
Meanwhile, prepare the marinade by placing all the remaining ingredients in a measuring jug and pureeing with a stick blender until smooth.
Remove the pork and fat from the freezer and carefully slice into ½ cm thick and 3cm wide slices and the fat into 2mm thick and 2cm wide slices.
Place the meat and fat into a large bowl and pour over the marinade. Mix everything together well to ensure that the meat is fully coated and then cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
The next day, soak the skewers in water for an hour. Drain the skewers and then thread on the meat and fat slices, folding each over itself to like an accordion. Alternate each slice of meat with a slice of fat until all the meat and fat has been used up.
Light your BBQ or preheat your grill to its highest setting.
Cook the skewers for 8 minutes, turning every minute or so until they are golden brown and charred on all sides. Baste the skewers with the remaining marinade for the first 5 minutes. Serve alongside sticky rice or just as a snack while you crack open a 4th beer!
Fried Fish with Crispy Garlic and Seafood Dipping Sauce
Every time we ordered seafood in Thailand we were always served the same sauce - commonly known as “Seafood sauce” or “See Keow”. It works tremendously well with BBQ’d seafood as well as our favourite - whole fried fish. Use whichever fish you can source - as long as it's fresh and fits in your pan!
3 Thai bird’s eye chilies
30g coriander, stalks and leaves
5 cloves of garlic
2 limes, juiced
6 holy basil leaves
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
Fried fish with garlic
1 whole sea bass or bream, gutted and scaled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp MSG
3 tbsp rice flour
3 tbsp plain flour
1 ltr vegetable oil for deep frying
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 Thai bird’s eye chillies, thinly sliced
Small handful of coriander
Add all the ingredients for the sauce to a mini food processor and blitz until smooth.
With a sharp knife make 3-4 deep slits into the flesh of the fish on both sides. Season evenly with the salt and MSG. Mix together the rice and plain flour on a rimmed baking sheet.
Fill a large deep sided pan ½ full of oil and heat to 190°C. Make sure that you use enough oil to cover your fish.
Have a slotted spoon and sieve ready, as well as a paper towel lined tray. Once the oil is hot, tip in the sliced garlic and fry for 30 seconds until lightly golden brown. Use the slotted spoon and sieve to quickly remove the garlic from the oil and tip on to the lined tray to drain.
Coat the seasoned fish in the flour mix, making sure to evenly cover the whole fish. Shake off any excess flour and then deep fry the fish until it is golden brown and cooked through.
Remove the fish from the oil and transfer to the lined tray to drain. Place the fish on a large plate and tip over all the golden garlic, sliced chillies, coriander and serve alongside the dipping sauce.
Khao Soi (Northern Thai Noodle Soup)
This dish is also known as “Chiang Mai” Noodle soup as it is ubiquitous with the main northern city in Thailand. Taking influence from centuries of trade with other nations, you see glimpses of Indian style spices, chinese noodles and it all comes together in what can only be described as a huge hug in a bowl.
For the paste
4 large dried red chilies, stemmed, halved, seeded
2 medium echalion shallots, peeled
8 garlic cloves, peeled
30g ginger, sliced
10g coriander stems
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 black cardamom, ground
1 tsp black peppercorns, ground
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp shrimp paste
6 Makrut lime leaves
For the soup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
600g chicken drumsticks and thighs, bone in skin on
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste (store bought)
400ml coconut milk
300ml chicken stock
300g egg noodles
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 red onion, sliced
200g bean sprouts
10g coriander leaves
50g crispy fried onions
2 tbsp chilli oil
1 lime, cut in to wedges
200g pickled mustard greens
50g deep fried egg noodles
1 tbsp chopped fresh chillies
Place the dried chillies in a small heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain the chillies, reserving the soaking liquid. Place the chillies along with the remaining paste ingredients into a food processor and blitz for 4 minutes until smooth - add a little of the chilli soaking water to help the machine work.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy based saucepan over a medium heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken thighs, drumsticks and colour on all sides for 4-5 minutes.
Once evenly golden brown remove the chicken to a plate - it will be cooked fully later.
Tip the curry paste into the same pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until starting to darken and smell aromatic. Add the store bought red curry paste and then the coconut milk and chicken stock and bring to a boil and add the chicken back to the pan.
Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is fork-tender, about 20–25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a clean tray and allow to cool slightly before removing the meat from the bone in large chunks.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package instructions.
Return the deboned chicken to the soup along with the fish sauce and sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the soup and noodles between bowls and top with the garnishes.