18th Century Metropolitan Chili Relish: A Recipe with Over 20 Ingredients
Originating in the early 1800s, Metropolitan Chili Relish is cheerful and complex, yet unassuming – a subtly epic relish composed of more than 20 ingredients, some of which are seasonal. The relative absence of this relish from contemporary menus could be attributed to its difficult-to-assemble ingredient list, coupled with a dwindling number of chefs who are adept at its preparation.
However, despite its intricate composition, the relish adheres to the same foundational culinary principles of other shrimp paste (kapi) chili relishes. Here, though, the savoriness is strengthened with smoke-dried fish, grilled shrimp and pork fat crackling; and the relish is seasoned to a citrus-infused, fruity, sour-sweet leading and salty to follow flavor profile, to which numerous sour and sour-sweet elements are mixed in – akin to a deep-rooted tree extending its branches to bear colorful fruits that shine in varying shades of a tartness.
In her book Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (MKHP), Lady Plean Passakornrawong notes that the relish can be enjoyed with fresh vegetables or mixed with rice. She also mentions that the recipe for Metropolitan Chili Relish comes from the house of Phraya Bhuthorn Raphai (เจ้าพระยาภูธราภัย) (นุช บุณยรัตพันธุ์), a nobleman who lived from 1808 to1875, and served in various capacities under King Rama III and King Rama IV. Phraya Bhuthorn Raphai was initially a police officer; he later became a general who led successful campaigns against the Khmer and also led the Siamese troops in the Burmese-Siamese Chiang Tung War of 1849-1855 (สงครามเชียงตุง).
As well, Phraya Bhuthorn Raphai was involved in religious activities, including the renovation of Wat Kreu Walai Worawihan (วัดเครือวัลย์วรวิหาร), a temple on Arun Amarin Rd.
Phraya Bhuthorn Raphai’s roles were not just military but extended to civil governance. He was part of a cadre of Siamese leaders, collectively known as “Hua Mai (หัวใหม่)”, who were united by age and ideology. The group included King Pinklao (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปิ่นเกล้าฯ), Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Sri Suriyawongse (สมเด็จเจ้าพระยาบรมมหาศรีสุริยวงศ์) the Regent of Siam and Kromluang Wongsathiratsanit (พระบรมวงศ์เธอพระองค์เจ้านวม), a physician and scholar.
“Hua Mai” members took it upon themselves to study the natural sciences of the various colonial Western powers looming over Siam and were determined to modernize their homeland as a strategic move to protect it, not just from neighboring countries like Burma and Annam, but also from the encroaching Western players. Phraya Bhuthorn Raphai passed away at the age of 67 during a fever outbreak and his cremation was a royal affair.
In a different culinary take, Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj (ม.ร.ว.คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช), a former prime minister of Thailand and a renowned scholar, presents a slightly different version of Lady Plean’s Metropolitan Chili Relish. Although Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj does not provide any further details on the dish’s origins, he is an engaging writer who charms the reader even as he fortifies the relish with smoke-dried fish (ปลาย่างรมควัน), grilled shrimp and crispy pork lard cracklings. These three elements give the relish a body of flavor and texture; they would also have dominated the color of the chili relish.
Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj’s version of the dish should not be overlooked: He was a member of the esteemed Pramoj royal family, known for their significant contribution to Thai culinary traditions and service to the royal kitchens of Krom Khun Worachak Tharanuphap (กรมขุนวรจักรธรานุภาพ), particularly during the reign of King Rama V.
The title “Krom Khun (กรมขุน)” is a noble designation, typically bestowed upon individuals of high rank and denoting a role in service to the royal family or the state. It is thus likely that the Pramoj family would be familiar with the traditional version of this relish, savored during these days of culinary refinement.
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Pound separately first then pound together:
- 1 tablespoon smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน)
- 1 tablespoon shrimp (กุ้ง) grilled and shredded
- 2 tablespoons pork fat cracklings (กากหมู)
- dried Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแห้ง) roasted with the salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 15 cloves Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) roasted
- 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 teaspoon dried shrimp pounded to powder (กุ้งแห้งป่น)
- fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง)
- fresh bird’s eye chili (kee noo suan) (พริกขี้หนูสวนสด)
Seasoning: Season to sour-sweet-salty
- 1 1/4 tablespoon palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- 1/4 tablespoon kaffir lime juice (น้ำมะกรูด)
- 1/2 tablespoon bitter orange juice (som.saa)(น้ำส้มซ่า)
Mix in, light bruise
- green mandarin orange juice (น้ำส้มเหม็น) unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes
- bitter orange (som.saa)(ส้มซ่า) unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes
- lime fruit (ลูกมะนาว) unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes
- madan (sour cucumber, มะดัน)(garcinia schomburgkiana) sliced into small cubes
- hog plum (กมะกอก) sliced into small pieces
- green mango (มะม่วงเปรี้ยว) sliced into very small cubes
- hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk) (มะอึก) slice thinly
- salacca (สละ หรือ ระกำ) slice thinly
- young tamarind pods (มะขามอ่อน) The peel is scraped and then sliced into very small cubes
- fresh red and green long chilies (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง และ เขียว) roasted, seed removed and sliced thinly
Step 1: Pound separately, and then pound together.
- Smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน), grilled: Collect the meat only, discarding the fish abdomen and bones. Pound the grilled smoke-dried fish meat into powder. Set aside.
- Shrimp (กุ้ง), grilled and shredded: Peel and devein the grilled shrimp, then shred them into small pieces. Set aside.
- Crispy pork fat cracklings (กากหมู): Cut firm pork fat into small equal-size cubes; place them in a pan with enough water to cover, and then cook slowly until all the water evaporates, and the fragrant lard starts frying and the fat takes on a light golden color. Strain and set aside.
- Dried Thai bird’s eye chilies (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแห้ง), roasted with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล): Roast the dried Thai bird’s eye chilies until they become fragrant and slightly charred. Pound them together with the sea salt into a fine powder. Set aside.
Step 2: Add to the mixture and pound to a fine paste.
- Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย), roasted: Roast the Thai garlic until it is soft and slightly browned. Set aside.
- Fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ), grilled: Grill the fermented shrimp paste in banana leaves. Set aside.
- Dried shrimp: Wash, dry roast, and then pound the dried shrimp into a fine powder. Set aside.
Step 3: Add the following ingredients and bruise them lightly.
- Fresh red long chilies (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง): Slice them into small rounds.
- Fresh bird’s eye chilies (kee noo suan) (พริกขี้หนูสวน): Slice them thinly.
Step 4: Season to a sour-sweet-salty flavor profile.
- Add the palm sugar and mix it with the relish: Taste, and make sure that the flavor profile is sweet-salty to your liking. Adjust the final sweetness and saltiness intensities; at this stage it should taste sweet first, with a clear salty taste to follow.
- Add the citrus juices: You will need lime juice and kaffir lime juice (น้ำมะกรูด) in roughly the same volume as that of the kapi; and then the same volume again in green mandarin orange juice (น้ำส้มเหม็น).
- At this stage, it should taste sour, sweet and salty.
Step 5: Mix in the following ingredients.
- Green mandarin orange fruit (ส้มเหม็น): unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes.
- Bitter orange fruit (som.saa) (ส้มซ่า): unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes.
- Lime: unpeeled, sliced into very small cubes.
- Madan (sour cucumber, มะดัน) (garcinia schomburgkiana): sliced into thin elongated slices.
- Hog plum (มะกอก): sliced into small pieces.
- Green mango (มะม่วงเปรี้ยว): sliced into very small cubes.
- Hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk) (มะอึก): sliced thinly and then halved.
- Salacca (สละ หรือ ระกำ): peeled, with the membrane removed, and sliced thinly.
- Young tamarind pods (มะขามอ่อน): the brownish peel is scraped and the tamarind is sliced into very small cubes.
Step 6: Mix in the grilled chilies
- Fresh red long chilies (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง และ เขียว) roasted: Roast the fresh red and green long chilies until they are charred on the outside. Once roasted, allow them to cool.
- Peel the charred skin off the chilies and scrape away all the seeds. Slice the roasted chilies into elongated 45-degree thin slices.