After our tour of the Thai gardens and taste landscapes, we moved into the kitchen where each of us had a station for cooking our own meal. The cook had a separate station at which we could gather to watch her prepare each meal first. The school had also prepped most of our ingredients. Mis en place makes me very happy, friends.
We actually started with dessert, but you have to wait until tomorrow to read about that. Next up was the Chicken in Pandanus Leaves. This is the kind of meal I love to learn at a cooking class since it’s absolutely not the kind of thing I would do on my own at home. We first marinated the raw chicken in a combination of sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and white sesame plus dry ingredients like coriander root, black pepper seeds, lemongrass, and garlic that we first pounded in a mortar and pestle. Then when it was ready we wrapped it in the pandanus leaves, essentially knotting the leaves around the chicken. Then it was time to fry the whole packet. When the oil was good and hot, we tossed our set of chicken knots into the bath and jumped back a bit to avoid being burned. The chicken cooked quickly, but the marinade ensured it stayed moist and flavorful. You can peek down through the top of the knot to check the consistency of the chicken to make sure it was, in fact, done. When the chicken had the right firmness, it was time to fish it out with tongs to a drying rack. After letting it cool for a few seconds, I simply cut off the excess leaf (important to this point for grabbing the thing with tongs), leaving a happy little packet. The chicken in leaf is served with a simple soy-sesame sauce.
While waiting for the chicken to marinade, we also worked on the Papaya Salad. This is a staple for street vendors throughout Thailand. This also meant we needed a second mortar and pestle, switching to a larger “Thai salad bowl” for the procedure. The entire salad eventually went into the mortar, which was kind of fascinating. We started by pounding the garlic and chilies coarsely before adding roasted peanuts, which we then crushed. After that the larger items like string beans and tomatoes went into the mortar and were likewise crushed, though only lightly. At this point, we paused and prepared the papaya itself. The salad is made with young, green papaya, not the coral-colored variety you may be used to seeing. There are two different ways you can slice the papaya: the traditional way with a knife or with a hand-held julienne slicer. The knife technique is essentially just making a series of small cuts and then slicing perpendicular to them to release the strips. This allows the papaya to stay crisp but takes longer. But before we could add the papaya to the salad, we needed more seasonings. We added lemon juice, fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar, dried shrimp to the mortar and mixed it into the other items until the sugar was dissolved. Sugar should always be dissolved. Finally, we added the papaya and mixed everything together before plating the dish with garnish.
Come back tomorrow to read about making a red curry and the famous sticky rice with mango.
Title quote: Chicken in Pandanus Leaves & Papaya Salad