Chef Jason Bailey says, “We look back into ancient Thai cookbooks and use them to get ideas for modern Thai food. They’re a revelation on technique and discipline. The recipes are so much more complex than today. I’m searching for those principals – to understand the herb ratios.”
Some of these old cookbooks contained recipes from the Sanitwong family, who are partners in the new branch of Paste that opened in Gaysorn Plaza at the end of November. Jason’s wife Bee Satongun, head chef of that operation, leads me to the tiny L-shaped kitchen of the original restaurant on Soi 49. She will show me how to make Roast Duck, Nutmeg, Curry Paste and Sawtooth Coriander on Rice Crackers, a dish based on an original Sanitwong recipe.
First she grinds dry spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seeds, cloves, star anise, white pepper and coriander seeds – into a powder. It emits a powerful aroma dominated by nutmeg. “I’ll cut through the strong dry spices later by adding red nam jim, which is sour and a little bit hot,” Bee says.
She then pounds long dry chillies, garlic and red onion into a paste, puts a small ladle of oil into a saucepan and waits for a hint of bubbles. She drops the paste in and lowers the heat, stirring vigorously. “I can tell it’s ready when it loses that raw smell,” she says.
The chef adds the ground dry spices and turmeric powder, then palm sugar and ground dried chilli. As the mix turns from black to brown, she says, “You want to get the colour right with palm sugar.” Next, the coconut milk goes in, along with salt and fish sauce. The aroma now is in the spectrum of Indian curries. “The original recipe would have been eaten with chicken and served with roti,” says Bee.
She takes the duck, which has already been roasted, shreds it, and adds it to another pan of oil. The heat is higher now, which gives the meat a crispier texture. After a couple of minutes, she takes it out and dries it. “To the original recipe, we’ve added fresh herbs – three types of coriander – pak chee Thai, Lao and Farang” she explains, combining them with the duck in a mixing bowl, along with sliced small red onions and crushed peanuts.
She has a quick taste and then adds the promised squirt of red nam jim from a squeezy bottle. To serve, she puts four rice crackers onto a plate and spoons a mound of the mix onto each.
Eating it, there’s a super rich, complex blend of flavours with great balance. The sweetness of palm sugar and coconut, the creeping chilli and fat of the duck, hints of citrus. The flavour changes as each mouthful lingers on the palate. It’s a beautiful dish that can now be enjoyed in two branches of Paste.
120/6 Sukhumvit Soi 49 | 0 2392 4313 | pastebangkok.com
Wed-Sun noon-2.30pm; Tue-Sun 6pm-late