So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Tag Archives: Thai cooking

Cookbook of the day – The Taste of Thailand

The Taste of Thailand

by Vatcharin Bhumichitr

  • Publisher  Macmillan General Reference (September 1993)
  • ISBN 10: 0020091303
  • ISBN 13: 978-0020091301
  • This, the last cookbook review of the decade, has a literal title that can be taken multiple ways. The first is used in the sense that you would expect a cookbook to use it – taste in a literal sense. But it’s also a taste of Thai culture, with long narratives of Thai life, and finally, it’s a taste of different regional variations of Thai cooking.

    Half cookbook, half history and half cultural commentary (wait – that’s three halves!), this is a most useful book in fleshing out a cuisine, which can’t be separated from the society from which it emerges.

    It has a logical structure. Starting with the history of Thailand, it merges into basic ingredients, essential equipment, basic techniques and the home kitchen. Following that narrative, the book takes you to the country and you start with basic, easy to do recipes. the author then sends you to Bangkok and you start to get to more advanced food. Then, a section on seafood, Thailand obviously being a maritime country. Then you go up country to the North, where he explores the tribes, culture and food of one corner of the “Golden Triangle”. Following that is a segment on hors d’oeuvres, party foods, desserts and the all-important aspect of Thai cooking that you often don’t get a sense of in the US, vegetable carving. Finally, the narrative ends with a paean to eating out in Thailand and some selected “copies” of restaurant food that the author has reproduced.

    This is one satisfying sucker of a book. Laden with photographs that capture the breadth and width of the country, this is a cookbook that every chef should own, even if they’re not really big on Thai food. This might make you a believer.

    My copy of the book has the cover that’s pictured above. Mine is a paperback UK edition. There are at least 4 different covers that I have seen and the book is also available in hardback. And, beware, there’s a book called A Taste of Thailand. It’s not the same book. I haven’t seen the book and it might very well be a great book. But it’s not the book that’s reviewed here.

    The book is available at this moment from Amazon sellers in both paperback and hardback in new and used conditions. The price ranges from very cheap to very expensive as is usually the case – for out of print editions, there’s always a seller willing to sell you a book for $50 that you see listed for $4 from another seller. They also stock the current Pavillion reprint of the original book for around $14. It has a different cover and it’s questionable as to whether it has the great photographs of the original. I see no credit for the photographer, nor any photographs when I use the “Look Inside” feature that Amazon offers. If I had my druthers, I’d only buy the reprint as a last resort. 

    Here are the Amazon links:

    Original hardcover:

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Vatcharin-Bhumichitr/dp/0689119941/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

    Original softcover:

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Vatcharin-Bhumichitr/dp/0020091303

    Current softcover reprint (out of stock at the moment, but available):

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Definitive-Regional-Pavilion/dp/1862057060

    And, just for kicks and giggles, here are eBay’s current listings:

    http://books.shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p3907.m38.l1313&_nkw=The+taste+of+thailand&_sacat=267

    You’ll have to filter out the other books – look only at listings for Vatcharin Bhumichitr.

    Happy hunting!

    Advertisements

    Cookbook of the day – Asian Grills

     

    Asian Grills

    by Alexandra Greeley

    Publisher Doubleday; 1st edition (April 1, 1993)

    ISBN 10: 0385422121

    ISBN 13: 978-0385422123

    The book is a sleeper. Unassuming at first glance, this cookbook actually covers virtually all of Asia, including Indonesia/Bali, Malaysia, Singapore, the Treasure islands, Laos, Myanmar and, of course Thailand, Japan, India, China, Hong Kong and Korea. She even visits Macau and the Philipines, both usually left out of the discussion of Asian foods.

    Grilling has always been an essential part of all of these cuisines and author Greeley surveys each area with a nice mix of dishes, not all of which are necessarily grills. she offers a personal perspective and knowledge of each culture and her thumbnail sketch of each area is valuable to those of us who will never visit.

    She has a well-rounded glossary and she draws distinctions between similar ingredients in different countries, warning when substituting one for the other will dramatically change the character of the dish. She distinguishes between Singaporean and Malaysian Laksa, for instance, although she only gives the recipe for the former. It would have  been nice to have both recipes. Her Thai green curry seems reasonable (I haven’t made it) and I would have liked to see a red curry recipe as well. She has a red curry dish, a grilled duck recipe, but it uses a commercial red curry paste. Of course, Thai curries are usually used more in “stews/soups” type of preparations, but it’s nice to see it used for grilled dishes as well.

    I’m anxious to try the Grilled Balinese Duck, a banana leaf wrapped smoky/spicy duck cooked directly on low coals for 8 – 10 hours.

    I highly recommend seeking this book out, It will expand your horizons greatly and any of these dishes can be cooked on a decent sized kettle grill. Well-written and well-researched, this is an enjoyable survey of the world of Asian grilling.

    Balinese grilled duck. Photo by Jean Marc D at Yelp.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/l2CuOXGfLMzNQ-mSf8ylKA?select=0Cc-isET5wNucxwMTGxWaA

    Cookbook of the day – Lemongrass and Sweet Basil

    Lemongrass and Sweet Basil

    Lemongrass And Sweet Basil: Traditional Thai Cuisine

    by Khamtane Signavong

    This slender volume would make a good companion piece to my previously recommended book, True Thai by Victor Sodsook. True Thai didn’t have any photographs of dishes and this volume has copious photographs that will give the chef a good idea of plating, presentation and composition.

    It’s not as in-depth as the previous book and I don’t recommend it as ones only Thai cookbook, but it does cover a lot of ground and is ideal for the beginning chef.

    There’s a pretty good cross-section of recipes and a concise bit of background information. As I said, for me, the main utility is the number of photographs of the various dishes.

    The author says that fresh chili pastes can last in the refrigerator for “up to three months”. I find this quite optimistic. My experience has been that you have about two weeks max before the chili paste starts turning.

    That quibble aside, I recommend this volume to anyone just getting interested in Thai cuisine, or anyone who has taken my recommendation and bought True Thai.

    spicy-bbq-beef-salad-lg 

    Photograph of Waterfall Beef Salad courtesy of:

    King and I Thai Cuisine

    West Des Moines, Iowa

    Thailand on this weeks “No Reservations”

    anthony-bourdain-no-reservations

    Regular readers of this blog know how enamored I am with the cuisine of Thailand. So I am happy to point out that the newest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s great show, No Reservations, takes place in Thailand.

    I can’t wait to experience Tony’s descriptions of the distinct flavor and texture profiles of this great and noble cuisine. And I’m sure there are going to be some passing references to debauchery and decadence as well.

    I suggest that just before you watch the show, that you dust off a copy of Alex Chilton’s song Bangkok and listen to it at maximum volume.

    This makes me very happy indeed.

    The show airs on The Travel Channel at 9pm CDT Monday night.

    Be there. Aloha.

    ab_thailand_episode_350

    http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Anthony_Bourdain

    http://anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com/

    Cookbook of the day – The Original Thai Cookbook

    thai cookbook

    The Original Thai Cookbook

    by Jennifer Brennan

    Publisher Perigee; Reprint edition (31 May 2002)

    ISBN 10: 0399510338

    ISBN 13: 978-0399510335

    This book claims to be “The first complete, authentic Thai cookbook published in America”.

    Since it was first published in 1981, I suspect that this might very well be true.

    And you should pick it up.

    Half recipes and half cultural and historical overview of a very interesting country in Indochina, this book will inform your culinary education and compliment the book True Thai by Victor Sodsook that I’ve previously reviewed. His book is mostly recipes, but this book has a lot of “background info”.

    You’ll learn how the cuisine of Thailand is bound by the logistics of their native kitchens, and you follow the evolution of a cuisine that has many parents due to its history of being ruled by various regimes and peoples. You’ll learn little tips like simmering chili paste-infused coconut milk uncovered instead of covering in order to prevent curdling.

    And you’ll have plenty of recipes with which to compare with the True Thai cookbook and you’ll discover which ones you favor over the other. If you are a vegetarian, you’ll find plenty to work with here.

    What you don’t get is a bunch of pretty pictures. This book is all business.

    Thai Fish Soup

    My foolproof way of cooking basmati rice

    When I watch Top Chef, I’m amazed how many times rice is the downfall of a cheftestant.

    I rarely have to cook mass quantities of rice, so it’s possible that it’s more difficult to cook rice for 10 or more people. But if you have to cook rice for less than 10 people, rice isn’t all that difficult, especially with basmati, my favorite rice (jasmine rice, a close cousin, is a close second).

    First of all, for basmati, it’s very important to rinse well. You need to get rid of a little of the starch that’s on the outside, plus, occasionally you’ll find small grit and tiny stones that have to be eliminated. You need to rinse 4 or 5 times, or until the rinse water is clear and not cloudy.

    I usually don’t measure, but most people think that a cup of cooked rice per person works pretty well. That’s about a half cup of raw rice.

    The traditional ratio of rice to water is 2 parts water to 1 part rice. But I don’t worry about measuring. Here’s my trick, as taught to me by an accomplished Indian cook – add the rinsed rice to a pot and add enough water to be one inch above the rice.

    I add some salt and ghee (although you can certainly use butter or vegetable oil – for an even more exotic flavor, you can add a dash of light colored sesame oil as well, but only a couple of dashes, because it’s quite strong in flavor). You put it on high heat and bring to a roiling boil. As soon as it hits the roiling boil, immediately turn down the heat to a simmer and cover.

    Don’t peek until you get to the 12 minute mark. If you have a small amount of rice (say for 2 or 4 people), the rice will just about be finished. You’ll probably need to cook for another couple of minutes. How do you tell if it’s done? There will be steam holes on the top when it’s close. Take a chopstick and carefully open up the middle of the rice and expose the bottom. If there’s still a little water in the bottom, you’ll need to cover and continue to cook for at least 2 more minutes. Never stir the rice. This will make it gummy. Check again after 2 minutes. If all of the water has evaporated, you’re done! If not, cover and check every minute.

    If you are cooking larger amounts, you’ll probably have to cook a little longer. You still want to check at the 12 minute mark just to see how close you are. You’ll basically be judging by the amount of water left in the bottom. After you cook a few batches, you’ll get a feel for how long it will take to evaporate the remaining water.

    I like to leave just a tiny amount of water in the bottom, cover and remove from the heat. The rice will continue to cook off the remaining water even when it’s off of the heat if you keep it covered. If you do this, you won’t risk scorching the bottom of the rice.

    When serving, take a large spoon and scoop it out, trying not to disturb it too much. It should be light and fluffy without having to “fluff it up” with a fork as is sometimes suggested.

    If you follow these instructions, you’ll never have a problem with basmati rice.

    New link added – The Thairade

    First of all, I’m a sucker for a well-turned phrase, double meaning, pun, or clever wordplay. So the name of this blog, The Thairade, would have attacted my attention on its face. But the producer of this blog had the good taste to praise my blog in a comment to a recent post, plus, I have a great affinity toward Thai food, so we’re adding it to ye olde blogroll.

    Fortunately, it’s also well-written and witty. It’s also, as I might have said during my times living in Germany, Nagelneu (literally “new nail”, but means brand new or new as a shiny nail), so get in on the ground floor and watch it grow. It’s fairly unique because I haven’t seen any blogs from waiters in ethnic or exotic restaurants. Should be fodder for some interesting stories.

     http://thairade.wordpress.com/

    PS, I give it the same number of stars that I demand from my Thai food – 5 stars (Native Thai, extremely hot).

    cookschool

    Cookbook of the day – The New Professional Chef

    5184Z03AGCL__SL500_AA240_

    The New Professional Chef

    by The Culinary Institute of America

     

  • Publisher:Van Nostrand Reinhold; 6 Sub edition (November 7, 1995)  
  • ISBN-10: 0471286796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471286790
  •  

    This is the basic textbook of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It’s big and expensive. I don’t recommend buying it new, but you can sometimes find it at used bookstores for $20 – $30.

    Obviously, it has a lot of basic information about things that a chef needs to know about nutrition, safety concerns, kitchen tools, food prep and food ingredients. However, I think that some of the other books that I’ve recommended that focus on specific things like ingredients, cooking techniques for specific cuisines, etc. is money better spent.

    I’m recommending this book to those who have the occasional need to produce food for large gatherings. if you occasionally throw large dinner parties, patio barbecues for family and friends, or do the occasional catering gig, this book is invaluable because it had many many recipes for basic sauces, stocks and classic dishes that are designed for 10 or more people.

    Most restaurant chefs in quality restaurants keep this volume handy, and it’s a short-sighted professional caterer that doesn’t also use this volume often. It’s also useful for the non-pro as well, but only if you cook for large families and gatherings occasionally.

    Cookbook of the day – Splendid Soups

    splendid-soups-james-peterson-hardcover-cover-art

    Splendid Soups: Recipes and Master Techniques for Making the World’s Best Soups

    by James Peterson

    Publisher: Wiley (September 22, 2000)
    ISBN-10: 0471391360
    ISBN-13: 978-0471391364
     
    Once again, I don’t have the most current edition of this book. I have the 1994 edition, which clocks in at 100 less pages than this new edition. Mine has a different cover as well:

     

    JPeterson_04

    I’m assuming that Peterson has added some modern variants of classic soups, as he has presumably done with the updated edition of his Sauces book that I reviewed yesterday. This could be considered a companion edition to Sauces, but even this earlier edition has a wider scope than Sauces, with non-Western ingredients such as bonito flakes, Udon noodles, miso, and various soups from the Far East and other places included in this edition. You’ll find soups from India, Japan, Morocco, Thailand and other far-flung corners of the globe.

    This is another of Peterson’s “reference” works. As such, you won’t find a single photograph. It’s all recipes, tips and techniques. Some recipes are for intermediate or advanced cooks, but even the beginning cook can find a lot of practical advice on soup-making that will help them move past the basic into the more advanced levels of cooking.

    If you have Peterson’s Sauces, this should sit next to it on your bookshelf.

    Cookbook of the day – A World of Curries

    A World of Curries

    A World of Curries: From Bombay to Bangkok, Java to Jamaica, Exciting Cookery Featuring Fresh and Exotic Spices (Paperback)

    by Dave DeWitt and Arthur Pais

  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (P); 1st edition (March 1994)  
  • ISBN-10: 0316182249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316182249
  • If you say “curry” to the average American, they’ll think of curry powder and curried rice or chicken. Say “curry” to a Brit and she’ll think “Indian”. Say “curry” to the average foodie and the mind wanders to Thailand and Vietnam in addition to India. But there’s a whole world of curries out there that’s just begging to be exposed. And Dave DeWitt, the famous chile pepper author-dude, is just the guy to do it, with a lot of help from Arthur Pais.

    If there’s a more comprehensive book on curries around the world, I don’t know what it might be. For instance, there’s a whole chapter just on Spice Island curries, in which they roll in most of Indonesia (Bali, Java, Malaysia, Sumatra, etc.) There are discussions and recipes of Caribbean curries, a detailed roll-call of African curries, from the well known  Saharan harissa and ras-al-hanout based dishes to the more exotic Nigerian and Ethiopian varieties of curry dishes. Fiji gets into the act and even New Zealand and Australia aren’t exempt. Obviously, there’s a lengthy discussion of Indian and Thai, and includes other neighbors such as Laos, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (formerly Burma). It includes in its recipes the main difference between Vietnamese and its close cousin Thai (the addition of potatoes/taro root/sweet potatoes in Vietnamese is one of the things that differentiate the very similar flavor profiles, although some US Pho shops seem to unfortunately take the easy way out and do bascially a Chinese curry powder verson). Cambodia is even covered.

    Hell, there are 6 pages just on the origins of the word and the various internecine arguments between cultures as to what a curry is (and isn’t). Each region gets a comprehensive history and cultural lesson that’s as complete as an Encyclopedia Britannica entry (probably more so). Lots of antique woodcuts of camels and Rajes and no photographs of dishes at all. This is pure knowledge at its best.

    Well-researched and well-written, this is the one book to own if you were to only own one book on curry.

    Indonesian chicken curry

    Indonesian Chicken Curry (Kalio Ayam)

    Photo courtesy of Dhita Beechey. See her great cooking blog, Cooking Etcetera at http://www.cookingetcetera.com/