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This week in Food & Drink I wrote about Thai celebrity Chef McDang who's in town early next week to present four demos to culinary students at Le Cordon Bleu on the principles of modern Thai food. McDang, known to millions of Thais, is a crusader for the fundamentals of his country's cuisine, which he maintains are widely abused and neglected both at home and abroad. But as long as long as they are adhered to, he says, it can be as adaptive and modern as any other.
One crucial tenet, which he lays out in his book The Principles of Thai Cookery, is that all Thai food begins with a pounded paste made of several key ingredients (that's except for soups like tom yam, which are based on infusions). However, he acknowledges that cooks in the U.S. won't have access to Thai shallots and garlic, which are more pungent than those here, or Thai chiles, which are hotter, or cilantro roots, which you can't find at all unless you grow them yourself.
To that end he says it's OK for home cooks to use store-bought curry paste and punch it up with fresh ingredients. "Most of your curry paste that they import to America is not very good," he says. "They use too much salt as a preservative. If you find your curry paste that comes in a can or from a cryovac bag is too salty and doesn't have that fragrance, try to get some fresh galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and fresh cilantro roots and then pound them and add them. You've got to work with what you've got."
McDang's demos aren't open to the public, but to get a good idea of how to faithfully adapt Thai principles to a modern recipe check out his green curry osso bucco after the jump:
5-6 pieces beef shank, 2 inches thick
1 cup coconut cream
6 cups coconut milk
3 T green curry paste
2 T fish sauce
2 T palm sugar
1 cup Thai baby round eggplant or any eggplant, diced
1/2 cup large red and green chili peppers, sliced on the bias
10 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 cup Thai holy basil leaves
1. Sear beef shank pieces, and bring to a boil with the coconut milk. Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Reserve.
2. Bring coconut cream to a boil until oil starts to separate from the cream. Add curry paste and stir-fry on medium heat until cooked and fragrant, being careful not to burn it.
3. Add the curry paste to the beef shanks, and deglaze the pan with some of the simmering liquid from the shanks before pouring it back into the pot. Add the Kaffir lime leaves and continue to simmer.
4. Once the shanks are tender, add the eggplant, being careful not to cook too long—they should remain a little crunchy. Season with fish sauce and sugar.
5. Add the chili peppers and basil and turn off the heat. Stir to wilt them and serve with black rice or a warm crusty French baguette.