To all the Thai food enthusiasts out there who like to precede the eating of this dynamite cuisine with the paste pounding, spice grinding and hours of preparation that it generally requires: hold onto your knickers because here’s a cookbook that is potentially going to blow them right off.
Recipes mirror the Chin Chin menu, so this chilli fire-powered almanac is The Real Deal: think three days to prepare some of the more complex dishes. Readers are constantly redirected to the “basics” section at the back of the book for directions on how to make pastes, dressings and relishes from scratch and there may be several basic components to each dish, which is where the preparation time adds up — big time.
You can cheat, if you must. Cooper, who worked previously at Wokpool in Sydney and Nobu in London, includes a “recipe hack” section “for people who don’t have all day to be doing these things”. Or psyche yourself up for a major kitchen session, salute the pestle and mortar, and pound, pulverize, blitz, boil, crush, chop and grind (anyone who invades your kitchen sanctuary) myriad fresh, dried, roasted and fried ingredients that are incorporated into Cooper’s multi-component, and not for the feint hearted, dishes.
If you’re going to take the ‘bring-it-on, no-cheats’ approach, factor in a trip to your local Asian shopping strip to stock up on fresh essentials such as lemongrass, shallots, coriander, chillis, Thai basil, galangal, garlic and kaffir lime, and replenish your Asian larder with staples such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, palm sugar, shrimp paste and various oils — because you’ll need plenty of them. It’ll also save you a return journey once you’ve tasted the first dish — pinched yourself to check you’re not really in Thailand, or indeed at Chin Chin — and are compelled to keep on cooking from this very impressive book.
When you’ve made a robust red curry paste and slathered it over salmon fillets which you’ve marinated overnight, wrapped in banana leaf, then grilled; or marinated beef brisket in kecap manis overnight, cooked it in a braising liquid for five hours, added a massaman curry paste that comprises 14 ingredients and must be cooked — prior to adding it to the dish — on the stove top for about an hour; or made a kick-arse yellow curry paste for a curry of roast pumpkin, grilled tofu and cherry tomatoes — you’ll see that the hard yards pay off, in spades.
These are unadulterated Thai flavours, restaurant quality dishes, and frankly quite addictive recipes that deserve to be revisited and shared with high-voltage food-appreciative friends.
A bonus is that many of the “basic” recipes make large quantities. I have enough massaman curry paste in the freezer to make eight more curries — (you beauty!) so i’m particularly pleased that that little number was a winner!
At times the recipe writing is inconsistent: when you’re told to add turmeric, does that mean fresh or dried? But the book is padded out with superb photography and “helpful hints” about ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as explanatory pages about curry making.
If you like a hands-on approach to Thai cooking, this is a book you won’t want to put down.
Note: The Food Sage received a review copy of the Chin Chin cookbook.
RRP: $44.95. Order online.