Made with fermented rice noodles and an aromatic, multi-sour coconut-based chicken sauce, this is a brilliant dish that is relatively easy to prepare. While considered a light meal, the dish is just as fulfilling as the full-fledged Siamese style khanom jeen naam phrik meal set. And while the latter would have required a full day to prepare and was therefore unsuited for a casual lunch, this clever – and somewhat quicker to make – recipe is bright and delightful, a hallmark of Lady Gleep Mahithaawn’s cooking style (ท่านผู้หญิงกลีบมหิธร) (1876-1961).
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Light on ingredients, the dish is seasoned and tinted red by ordinary chili jam; it is enriched with roasted peanuts, and deploys the basic saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) – the Siamese trio of coriander roots, Thai garlic, and white peppercorns – to draw flavor. The dish also demonstrates Lady Gleep’s stellar culinary skills: She intuitively created an impactful, strong, and meaningful flavor profile foundation by cleverly layering the umami, fat, and smoke elements, yet allowing the dish to burst in a lively and fresh multi-sour expressive style.
I often use this dish in my teachings as an example of creative Siamese flavor layering; as it is composed of just a few ingredients, patterns can easily be identified, and the layering techniques are clearer to trace.
“Slice the chicken into small pieces, almost like mincing, and cut the firm pork in the same way”
(หั่นเนื้อไก่เล็ก ๆ เกือบเหมือนสับ มันหมูแข็งหั่นเหมือนเนื้อไก่).
Lady Gleep starts by preparing the chicken meat and firm pork fat. “Slice the chicken into small pieces, almost like mincing…,” she writes, “…and cut the firm pork in the same way.” It’s obvious that Lady Gleep could simply have minced the chicken meat and firm pork fat and thus completed the task more quickly. Instead, she chooses to take her time, to use a sharp knife and clean cuts to achieve a uniform and precise texture and, in the process, avoid the crushing force and uncontrollable results of actual mincing.
Technically, the preparation involves cutting the ingredients into thin wide slices, which are further divided into long, narrow strips. Finally, these strips are chopped into tiny, equal size pieces. If performed patiently and calmly, this “cutting – almost mincing”, technique results in a consistent texture that retains the gracious characteristics of the animal it once was.
Putting aside the culinary poetry, Lady Gleep encourages us to plan and take control of our cooking techniques, even those we may take for granted, like mincing. The recipe is also a revealing example of how we should listen to the author’s voice when reading a recipe, and how old recipes can spur us to innovate and discover new nuances in basic cooking methods we might not otherwise reconsider.
After cutting the meat, the chicken carcass is used to make a stock, which Lady Gleep uses later to dilute the noodle sauce. The recipe contains no specific instructions on how to make the stock, so you can simply simmer the chicken bones with coriander roots, garlic and white peppercorns. I, however, prefer to use a “well-layered, all-purpose chicken stock” to further diversify the amino acid range, and to introduce a wealth of ribonucleotides, the umami synergetic intensifiers, which are crucial for the pleasant perception of the umami. You can refer to the chapter, “Introduction to Thai Clear Soups” where I discuss in detail the preparation of this stock.
After the chicken and firm pork fat are ready and the stock is simmering, Lady Gleep squeezes coconut cream from grated mature coconut. She then cooks the coconut cream and, as it thickens and starts to crack into fat, she reserves a small portion to make a flavoring paste, leaving the rest of the cream to cook and fully separate into fat (น้ำมันขี้โล้; naam man khee lo:h).
When the coconut cream has fully separated into oil, she adds and fries the chicken and firm pork fat in it. This frying method has a significant flavor-enhancing impact on the dish. First, Lady Gleep draws proteins and fats from a range of sources – poultry, mammals and plants – further diversifying the content of the amino acids in the dish and thus effectively intensifying the umami sensation. Moreover, the frying process installs the smoke element and activates the Millard reaction – a complex non-enzymatic reaction between reducing sugars and proteins that produces a plethora of diverse and complex flavors.
Even as the firm pork fat is cooked and the chicken mixture starts to caramelize to a solid flavor foundation, Lady Gleep is building on it. She prepares and adds to the pan a saam gluuhr paste (สามเกลอ) (coriander roots, Thai garlic and white peppercorns) enriched with roasted peanuts, chili jam, and the reserved thickened coconut cream. The paste is fried with the chicken mixture to remove the rawness of the saam gluuhr elements. Each of the elements in this flavoring paste helps redefine the umami, fat and smoke elements by echoing them into a new layer and a new dimension.
In addition, the chili jam installs the initial seasoning of the sour-sweet and salty profile and shades the color of the dish. While Lady Gleep instructs us to use just a “small amount of chili jam”, I usually gauge the amount by how much is needed to produce a dish with a rich and pleasant orangey-red color.
When the paste is cooked and the dish is tinted to the desired hue, it is diluted with chicken stock. Whether you use plain chicken stock or the well-layered version, the liquids should be considered as an additional layer of flavor. “Add chicken broth to a consistency just enough to coat the noodles when mixed together”, Lady Gleep writes. So keep that in mind as you add the stock, and focus on the visuals she describes.
“Add chicken broth to a consistency just enough to coat the noodles when mixed together (เติมน้ำไก่ให้ข้นพอคลุกขนมจีนติด)
The dish is seasoned to a sour, sweet, and salty flavor profile using fish sauce, palm sugar and a trio of citrus juices – bitter orange juice, green mandarin orange juice (น้ำส้มเหม็น) and kaffir lime juice. “The more sour ingredients, the better (หลาย ๆ ส้มยิ่งดี)”, according to Lady Gleep, a statement that echoes the favored Central Plains aristocratic culinary practice of using more than one sour-inducing component, to create a multi-sour leading flavor profile in which each ingredient is evaluated for body, sharpness, aroma, sweetness and bitterness tints. In fact, sourness, rather than being a singular taste, manifests itself in a succession of qualities: some are sharp and dramatic, and others are surprising combinations of shifting citrus aroma patterns. The playfulness of the citrus is a game-changer, instantly transforming what could be perceived as an oily, concentrated and heavy dish into a light, airy dish with a lively mouthfeel.
Since citrus juices are heat sensitive, turn off the heat before seasoning. Start by seasoning the salty ingredients first, and then estimate the amount of the sour and sweet ingredients required to achieve the desired flavor profile based on the volume of fish sauce used.
“The more sour ingredients, the better” (หลาย ๆ ส้มยิ่งดี)
The dish is garnished with pounded roasted peanuts, crispy fried garlic, and lengthwise sliced pickled garlic; it is served with fermented rice noodles and similar side dishes as served with khanom jeen naam phrik meal set are collectively called meuuat khanohm jeen (เหมือดขนมจีน)
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- 1 cup chicken breast (อกไก่) sliced thinly, almost minced
- 1/2 cup firm pork fat (มันหมูแข็ง) sliced thinly, almost minced
- 1 1/2 cups coconut cream cooked into coconut fat (น้ำมันขี้โล้) reserve a small portion for the flavoring paste
For the chicken stock
- 1 chicken carcass (ซี่โครงไก่)
- 3 pieces coriander roots (รากผักชี)
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1)
- 4 cups water (น้ำเปล่า) / or use
- chicken stock (น้ำสต๊อกไก่)
For the flavoring paste:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 3/4 tablespoons Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 2 teaspoons white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted roasted shelled peanuts (ถั่วลิสงคั่ว)
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream cooked into coconut fat (น้ำมันขี้โล้) reserved from making the coconut fat
- 3 tablespoons chili jam (น้ำพริกเผา)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chili (พริกป่น)
- chili jam (น้ำพริกเผา) As needed, to adjust the dish color
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- 1/2 part lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- 1/2 part kaffir lime juice (น้ำมะกรูด)
- 1 part bitter orange juice (som.saa)(น้ำส้มซ่า) or /
- green mandarin orange juice (น้ำส้มเหม็น)
Serve with: (เหมือดขนมจีน; meuuat khanohm jeen)
- fermented rice noodles (khanohm jeen) (ขนมจีน)
- morning glory (ผักบุ้งไทย) sliced into small pieces and blanched in water
- winged beans (ถั่วพู) sliced thinly and blanched in water
- batter-fried leaves and flowers (ใบและดอกไม้ชุบแป้งทอด)
Prepare the chicken and the firm pork fat:
- Slice the chicken along the grain into thin slices. Then cut each slice along the grain into elongated threads and cut the threads into tiny slices.
- Cut the firm pork into the same size slices as the chicken.
Prepare the chicken stock:
- Prepare a concentrated chicken stock following the instructions described here; alternatively, simmer chicken bones with coriander roots, garlic and white peppercorns to make a simple chicken broth.
Prepare the coconut fat (น้ำมันขี้โล้; naam man khee lo:h).
- In a skillet, heat the coconut cream until it thickens and oil appears. Scoop out a small portion to use in the flavoring paste.
- Continue to cook the coconut cream over low heat while stirring constantly, until the clear oil renders out and the khee lo:h oil is ready for use. Turn off the heat and set it aside.
Prepare the flavoring paste:
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) – coriander roots, Thai garlic and white peppercorns.
- Add roasted peanuts and pound to a fine paste.
- Dilute the paste in chili jam.
- Mix in the reserved coconut cream.
- Adjust spiciness with ground dried chili. Set aside.
Cook the dish:
- Reheat the coconut fat (น้ำมันขี้โล้; naam man khee lo:h) and add the sliced firm pork fat and chicken meat.
- Keep frying until the meat and the fat are cooked and a good amount of oil appears.
- Add the flavoring paste and mix well; cook until the paste loses its rawness.
- Assess the color of the dish: if needed, add more chili jam until the dish’s color is a vibrant orangey-red.
- Dilute with the chicken stock into a consistency suitable to serve with noodles. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar at the ratio indicated.
- Add the citrus juices at the ratio indicated.
- Roughly pounded roasted peanuts, crispy fried garlic, pickled garlic thinly sliced lengthwise, and hand-picked coriander leaves.
How to serve the dish:
- Place a portion of the fermented rice noodles in a serving bowl.
- Using a ladle, pour the chicken coconut broth over the noodles.
- Serve the dish alongside blanched winged beans and morning glory
- Optional: serve with batter-fried leaves or vegetables.
Khanohm Jeen Naam Yaa (ขนมจีนน้ำยา) – Fermented Rice Noodles with Minced Fish in Aromatic Coconut Curry
In the Central Plains of the Kingdom, fermented rice noodles are inextricably linked to a dish known as naam yaa. Composed of a dense, coconut-based minced fish curry, the dish is infused with layers of salted fish and possesses the distinctive, invigorating and purifying notes of fingerroot. Typically, naam yaa is served with fresh lemon basil as the herb of choice along with an array of side dishes collectively known as meuuat khanohm jeen (เหมือดขนมจีน). These include blanched bean sprouts seasoned with a touch of turmeric for color, fresh lemon basil leaves, thinly sliced three colored chilies, and ground chili for added heat. More elaborate versions will add blanched Chinese bitter gourd slices, batter-fried young morning glory shoots, and fresh shrimp minced and fried with its tomalley in pork lard, as well as crispy-fried shallots as the finishing touch.
Sour-Sweet Savory Crispy Rice Vermicelli with Bitter Orange (Mee Krob) (หมี่กรอบส้มซ่าทรงเครื่อง ; Mee Graawp)
mee graawp sohng khreuuang (หมี่กรอบทรงเครื่อง), is an exquisitely regal dish of crispy rice vermicelli. The delicate noodles strands are washed and dried, then fried to a crisp light-golden hue. They retain their brittle crunch and airy texture even after being stir-fried with a clinging sticky sauce that encases the noodles in a thin layer of sheen. This sauce, mixed into the noodles together with other ingredients such as thin slices of pickled garlic and bitter orange peel, impart the dish with a light, fresh sweet and sour, and slightly salty and citrusy glaze.
c1936 Arabian noodles – Princess Maao Thongthaem’s Siamese-Orientalist fermented rice noodles light meal (ขนมจีนอาหรับ อย่าง เม้า ทองแถม; khanohm jeen aarap)
From the royal house of t […]
Slices of firm pork fat a […]
c1933 Water-based spicy curry of fatty chicken and seven spices (แกงเผ็ดไก่น้ำมัน พ.ศ. 2476; gaaeng phet gai naam man)
This water-based, spicy chicken curry is made with corn-yellow rendered chicken fat instead of coconut cream. Dark reddish-brown in color, this full-bodied and fatty beak-to-tail curry presents the chicken identity and personality in both a corporeal and tasty manner. Spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, mace and clove are added into the curry paste to temper the gamey-irony flavor of the offal and deodorize the meat, resulting in a luscious dish that is beautifully layered with textures and flavors.