If we could strip away the spices, the seasonings, the vegetables and the herbs from savory dishes we could uncover their naked flavor profile core. There, we would encounter a strong savory-umami, sometimes coupled with other basic elements of smoke and fat. This flavor core is, for us humans, the sought-after taste of protein; our first sip of mother’s milk, and the primal experience of burned game meat on the fire.
Today we would like to highlight a powerhouse for umami creation: the fermentation process. We will focus on fermented fish innards from southern Thailand (dtai bpla ไตปลา), one of about a dozen fermented products used in the country. We will show you how chefs for the capital’s elite, as early as or, before the reign of King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II, 1767-1824), harnessed its wild nature and created a dish similar to what we present today - a salad with infused fermented fish innards dressing.
Yam sohm choon is a sour green mango salad served with grilled fermented shrimp paste; roughly chopped shallots; sweet pork condiment, deep-fried fluffy grilled catfish and seasoned with fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice and topped with deep-fried dry chilies cut into small pieces.
If you follow Thai movies and TV dramas, you probably remember Sohm Choon, the adorable boy ghost character from the period romance movie Reun Mayura (1997), which was a love story between a beautiful woman and a handsome man living in different periods of time.
This salad recipe is adapted from the book “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa” (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์), published in 1971 as a memorial for Jao Jaawm Phit (เจ้าจอมพิศว์). Jao Jaawm Phit was the daughter of Thanpuying (Lady) Plean Passakornrawong, who was a pioneer of noble Thai cuisine.
Chef Thapakorn Lertviriyavit (Gorn) brings us a rare perfumed and colorful starter [salad] dish that was rediscovered in a cookbook written by a former governor of Nakhon Ratchasima (พระยานครราชเสนี - สหัด สิงหเสนี), which contained a recipe that called for rose petals, called ‘Yum Gularb' or ‘Rose Petal Salad'. But I'd prefer to rename it, ‘Yum Gleep Kuppatchka'. You will soon understand why....
Generally speaking, laap is made from raw or cooked, minced meat, to which, depending on the type of laap and the region where it’s made, different ingredients and seasonings are added--the animal fat, skin, internal organs, blood, bile juice, and gastric juice, along with simple or complex flavorings, comprising at a time of up to twenty kinds of spices and over thirty types of herbs – in various combinations – create a wide range of principal dishes – namely: Laap (ลาบ), Saa (ส้า), Luu (หลู้), Koi (ก้อย gaawy), sohk-lek (ซกเล็ก), leuuat bplaaeng (เลือดแปลง), dtap waan (ตับหวาน) and the popular nam dtohk (น้ำตก).
A marvelous Luang Prabang style fish salad recipe (Koi Pla), which is very easy to prepare and even though it looks simple, its flavors are complex and clever.
Fresh fish fillet is sliced into thin strips which are quick blanched in lemongrass infused boiling water - a cooking method that presenting it’s natural flavors with an uplifting citrusy notes. The white fish slices are then mixed with, deep golden brown caramelized mix of fried garlic, shallots and lemongrass, which are not just visually pleasing but also add a unique sweetness and richness to the dish.
In 1833 Prince Mongkut, who later became King Rama IV, found a square stone inscription, known today as “The Ramkhamheang’s Inscription”, believed to be written 541 years earlier, in 1292, by King Ramkhamheang - the third king of The Sukhothai Dynasty (1279-1298).
In this inscription King Ramkhamheang tells the story of the Sukhothai regime; He includes details of the systems of law and describes how he ruled the people wisely, in a kind and personal, like father and son manner. King Ramkhamheang – (who was an outstanding warrior, statesman, scholar and diplomat who expanded his control from the Khmer kingdom of Angkor in the east, through much of what is today central and southern Thailand, to northern parts of Laos and Burma) – gives a picture of his kingdom as idyllic and free of constrains.