Heat, smog and cooking to kill for

Fresh lemon grass, hot ginger, cool coconut ... Simon Hopkinson has returned from Bangkok with his chef's palate whetted It seems that a Thai restaurant opens every day somewhere in London. I could not be happier. It is a style of cooking that refreshes

Having first eaten Thai food at Chiang Mai, in London's Soho, I had always longed to taste the food at source. So it was with much excitement that I finally arrived in Bangkok for a three-night stay, en route to Australia.

It is a smoggy, smelly, hot and steamy city, with a traffic problem that beggars belief. But life and soul seem to be held together by food, the cooking of it, anywhere, any time, anyhow.

Stalls fill the pavements. It does not seem to matter one jot whether a rickety charcoal grill is only going to dispense maybe five or six servings of pork satay over a lunchtime, the vendor seems content. I was, too, and returned for a second helping.

It seems that a Thai restaurant opens every day somewhere in London. I could not be happier. It is a style of cooking that refreshes and perfumes the senses quickly and with vigour.

I can smell the frying and steaming from those street woks now; the fragrant whiff of lemon grass and lime leaf, the sting of chilli with pungent ginger and acrid coriander leaf, and the familiar savoury "eat-me" niff of fried onion and garlic. All this calmed by a constant river of sweet and cooling coconut milk.

These ingredients, along with the proteinaceous seasonings of kapee (dried shrimp paste) and nam pla (fermented fish sauce), seem to me to be the backbone of Thai cuisine.

While in Bangkok, I was invited to dinner at a place where the fare was far more sophisticated than that of the street vendors, but the vibrancy of flavour and freshness of taste were the same. One of the other guests was a charming fellow called Chalie Amatyakul, who used to be the chef of the renowned cooking school at the Oriental Hotel. He took me through some of the dishes he had chosen for dinner, in particular the curries.

One of these turned out to be remarkably strong both in spice and depth of flavour. Chalie explained: "The sauce here uses dried fish, where the stomach has been allowed to ferment."It was one of the finest things I have tasted. The other two curries both used duck; one was "thick and creamy" made with red curry paste, and the other a lighter, green curry that included fresh green peppercorns.

But what really differentiates these curries is chillies - red and green - and the thickness of the coconut milk. The red curry's thickness is achieved by letting the coconut milk cook until it almost separates, and clings to the meat. The green curry was "hotter", more aromatic and very liquid.

I met Chalie again two days later, when I was treated to an elaborate Thai picnic. There were strips of fish and prawn in wrappers that had been deep-fried, and with appropriate dips; crisp little disks of puffed rice on which to smear a hot and sweet sauce, peanut I think, and little hollowed-out towers of cucumber filled with a spiced and finely minced chicken salad. The dish is called laab gai. There is an almost identical version made with prawn.

But a discussion of Thai food would not be complete without a mention of the famous Thai condiment, nam prik. It is the ketchup of Thai tables, and a meal is unthinkable without it.

Nam prik is best when fresh. The ingredients are inexpensive so don't fret if you have some left over, It can be used the following day, but does not quite have the same zing. Use this for grilled or cold shellfish, grilled steak, chicken or lamb cutlets.

The dried shrimps, or paste, are essential, and one of the most common ingredients in oriental grocers, but if you cannot obtain either, the sauce is still quite good without them. I have used mashed up anchovies with some success. Don't be afraid of these unusual ingredients. Discovery is one of the most exciting aspects of cookery.

Nam Prik (Thai chilli sauce)

Enough for 4-5 as a dip

Ingredients: 2 tbsp dried shrimps, or shrimp paste

8 peeled cloves of garlic

4 dried red chillies - seeds removed or not, depending how hot you like it

11/2 tsp sugar

3 tbsp fish sauce

3-4 tbsp lime juice

2-3 fresh green chillies, seeded and finely chopped

Preparation: Process everything briefly in a food processor. Add a touch of water if it seems too stiff. Against all tradition, I like to add some coriander leaves too, but that's just personal.

Chalie's Recipe for Laab Gai Enough for 6 people nibbling

Ingredients: 450g/1lb cooked and finely chopped chicken meat

2-3 small and thin cucumbers, cut into 2 cm/3/4 in slices, centres slightly hollowed out with a teaspoon

1tsp shrimp paste

10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

10 purple, Thai (or French) shallots, peeled and crushed

10 red chillies, dried or fresh; seeded or not

1tbsp finely chopped fresh galanga ginger or ordinary ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped

1tbsp fish sauce

1tsp palm - or ordinary - sugar

2 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp finely sliced lemon grass - tender bulbous part

a few leaves of mint and or lime leaves, shredded

3-4 tbsp vegetable oil

Preparation: Dry roast in a medium oven, or non-stick pan, the first five ingredients until golden and toasted. Grind to a paste in a food processor. Add the second five ingredients and fry everything in the vegetable oil until "fragrant". Now add to the chicken, mix thoroughly and pile on to the cucumber cups. Garnish with coriander leaf.

`Roast Chicken and Other Stories' (Ebury, £17.99) by Simon Hopkinson, with Lindsey Bareham, has just won this year's Andr Simon Award.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe
art
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Timeshift: The Ladybird Books Story (9pm BBC4 Sun 22 Dec)
BooksLadybird drops branding books for boys and girls
Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines