Pok Pok by Andy Ricker
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
While we were contemplating books through the year, Austin Bush's Food of Northern Thailand was suggested. One thing led to another and we realized he is Andy Ricker's protégé of sorts. Andy Ricker has written several books on Thai food and also runs a wildly popular chain of restaurants, unsurprisingly called Pok Pok too. So cooking from the namesake book seemed like a no-brainer.
Jonathan Gold beautifully wrote about the man and the book in 2015. https://www.latimes.com/food/jonathan-gold/la-fo-1226-gold-20151226-story.html
A guide to bold, authentic Thai cooking from Andy Ricker, the chef and owner of the wildly popular and widely lauded Pok Pok restaurants.
After decades spent travelling throughout Thailand, Andy Ricker wanted to bring the country's famed street food stateside. In 2005 he opened Pok Pok, so named for the sound a pestle makes when it strikes a clay mortar, in an old shack in a residential neighbourhood of Portland, Oregon. Ricker's traditional take on Thai food soon drew the notice of the New York Times and Gourmet magazine, establishing him as a culinary star. Now, with his first cookbook, Ricker tackles head-on the myths that keep people from making Thai food at home: that it's too spicy for the American palate or too difficult to source ingredients.
Ricker shares more than fifty of the most popular recipes from Thailand and his Pok Pok restaurants—ranging from Khao Soi Kai (Northern Thai curry noodle soup with chicken) to Som Tam Thai (Central Thai–style papaya salad) to Pok Pok’s now-classic (and obsessed-over) Fish-Sauce Wings. But Pok Pok is more than just a collection of favourite recipes: it is also a master course in Thai cooking from one of the most passionate and knowledgeable authorities on the subject. Clearly written, impeccably tested recipes teach you how to source ingredients; master fundamental Thai cooking techniques and skills; understand flavour profiles that are unique to Southeast Asian cuisine; and combine various dishes to create show-stopping, well-balanced meals for family and friends.
Filled with thoughtful, colourful essays about Ricker’s travels and experiences, Pok Pok is not only a definitive resource for home cooks, but also a celebration of the rich history, vibrant culture, and unparalleled deliciousness of Thai food.
Apparently, there's also a Pok Pok Phat Thai a few blocks south of his flagship restaurant. Someone from our meetups in Pune plans to cook to Phat Thai And there's a new book Andy Ricker has written called Pok Pok Noodles. We'll get around to cooking from it someday, we will.
Taruna had been "banned," for lack of a better word, from making a roast chicken, so she made one as part of her personal project -The Roast Fowl Project. The Kai Yaang called for 26 hours of marination and dressing in different stages and she thought that led to one of the juiciest, tastiest whole roasts she's ever had.
In case you're interested, you can read more about his restaurants on his website, here - https://pokpokrestaurants.com/about
Sunday, Nov 17th, a few of the Pune folk met at Joravar and Priyank's place for lunch.
The food, though seemingly simple, turned out delicious. The clear winner, of course, was Priyanka Sachdev's Khao Tom (Thai Rice Soup). She made it with chicken bones and chicken meatballs, instead of the pork counterparts specified in the book, but the dish was a total winner nonetheless. Joravar's Khao Soi Kai came a close second. A Northern Thai Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken, that we know more commonly as Khow Suey in India, was packed with flavour and scrumptious.
Priyanka Anand kept it simple by going with a recipe that came under "Foreign Foods" or Aahaan Farang, on the book. She made some Stir-fried Yunnan ham with chiles, that acted as a wonderful salad with all the mains.
Shubra made an authentic Phat Thai. So, though the flavours were a little different and possibly tones down from what we get at Indian restaurants, it was also extremely gratifying. There were also enough leftovers, so the Khannas were more than happy to polish off the remains that night. Shubra thought the book was very lengthy and a bit confusing at times. But she did concede that the recipes made delightful dishes. Amita, host for the second meet for the book, also thought the book was verbose. What Varun said, however, was on point. It is a good, leisure read especially if you wish to follow Andy Ricker's story and how he discovered Thai food. However, if one picks the book up just to cook a recipe, some effort and a good understanding of cooking are needed to put the steps in order or to patch together one's dish in entirety. That said, he made the fish sauce chicken wings. He added some extra lemon juice to balance the fishiness of the dried shrimp. The NaamPhrik Phao n the book calls for only chillies and oil. However, the paste they usually make at home also has garlic, shallots, dry shrimp and tamarind. So he used that instead and it all gave the wings a good flavour.
For the cookbook potluck, Taruna picked the Khanom Bataeng Laai - a Northern Thai melon custard. Taruna didn't like her dessert all that much. Maybe it just wasn't that good. Maybe it was the melon. Maybe it was a roast chicken withdrawal.
The book focuses a lot, clearly, on Northern Thai food. So recipes for the more commonplace massaman curry or red curry seemed missing.
There's an interesting mention of red curry in the book.
In Thai, the category of dishes called kaeng phet is sometimes mistranslated as "red curry" but literally means "spicy curry." To order it mild is as absurd as ordering Kaeng Jeut Wun Sen ("Bland" soup) and saying "Can you make it spicy?"
And for green curry, it is called "Kaeng Khiaw Waan Luuk Chin Plaa." So then, I've been looking up the origins of massaman curry. It is also known as Matasaman curry and is believed to have been introduced to Thailand by Persian merchants. It soon became an integral part of the Thai Muslim cuisine. In fact, historical writers believe that the name Massaman could also have been originated from the word 'Mussulman' which is another word for Muslim.
One thing led to another and I have been led to believe that the book's recipe for Puu Phat Phong Karii (Crab stir-fried with Curry Powder) comes closest to a yellow curry that forms the base of Massaman curry.
The Thai language employs the word karii to refer to kaeng with strong South Asian influence (kaeng karii, for example, a relatively mild yellow-tinted curry whose paste mostly contains dried spices associated with Indian cuisine) or dishes that contain curry powder (itself a British invention meant to approximate the spice mixtures common to Indian curries), such as Puu Phat Phong Karii.
The plating was impeccable - dishes, cake stands, everything.
The content of the book also sparked another healthy debate. Varun thought the writing pattern was free-flowing, something he hasn't seen in a majority of recipe books. I, of course, lap up most things verbose and well-written. Amita and Shubhra felt the book was too long. Amita also thought the book was not organized well, it wasn't something you could just pick up and plan a meal around at will. Though that made me think about what Varun said, it wasn't for the noob cook for sure and needed some good reading of the book and its recipes. Husein also thought the some of the recipes were unnecessarily confusing. And that some of the sauces and pastes are best made if made a few weeks or up to a month ahead. There was also some mention of cookbooks being written to "reach laymen." I firmly believe that some cookbooks are access to restaurant menus for the pro home cook and therefore need a good knowledge of cooking in general. Other books are 101 books for the new learner. Neither kind of book is bad. And picking a book to cook out of and opinionating about it is fine too. I think, what is key, is our understanding of the target reach of the book - the pro-home-cook or the noob home-cook.