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Food ingredient of the day – galangal


What in the hell is galangal?

Don’t worry – it’s not as weird as you think, but if you like Thai food and wonder why your homemade Pad Thai never tastes exactly like the Pad Thai at your favorite restaurant, this could very well be the reason. You’re probably using regular ginger for your dish. While that’s acceptable, you might want to see if you can get ahold of galangal, which is “Thai ginger”. It looks a lot like ginger, but it’s quite pink.

On the left is young galangal and on the right is old galangal (the kind you’re likely to find in the store if you can even find it).


It’s a species of the genus Alpinia, which includes the more common types of ginger. However, it’s got quite a different taste than ginger. It’s milder, without that very sharp “hot” flavor of ginger. It’s got a more citrusey overtone and it’s a little sweeter. The Thai name for it is Kha. The famous Tom Kha Gai literally means “Soup with galangal and chicken”. If you see Kha in a Thai recipe title, it means that you’re supposed to use galangal. Of course, you can always substitute ginger; it just won’t be as authentic tasting.


It’s not easy to find in many communities. You can even get dried Kha, but it’s not as effective. You should try to get the root whenever possible. The unused root can be frozen and used for a year (it will lose a little of its flavor over time, even when frozen).

You might find yourself using galangal in place of ginger in other recipes as well.

Galangal is your friend. Invite it over for a cooking session. You won’t regret it.

Foodie Link of the day – Rouxbe


One of the best instructional/cooking school/recipe sites on the planet.

Lots of instructional step by step videos on everything from proper knife skills to making the perfect demiglace. Especially useful for even advanced cooks is the “drill-down” section. Here you’ll find everything from basic to advanced concepts of cooking. You can learn about the “water test” for testing the heat of a pan, removing tendons from chicken, how to make a balsamic reduction, deglazing a pan, and many more tasks and skill sets.

When you sign up, they give you 30 days of free access to everything on the site. After the 30 days, you can join for a yearly membership fee. If you don’t join, you’ll still have access to much of their content, but you lose most of the videos. The videos are clearly organized and easy to follow, even when the dishes and techniques are complicated.

This should be in everyone’s Favorites folder. Hands down.

Food Item of the month – the humble food mill


If you don’t have one of these contraptions in your kitchen, you should.

“But I have a  blender”, I can almost hear you protest.


The food mill have been around for years, but it’s fallen out of favor with the “plug it in and let it run” generations.

The food mill isn’t cheap. A decent one will cost you $40 to $100. It doesn’t have a small footprint either. It takes up a bit of space due to its wide mouth.

However, a food mill provides a texture that a blender or mixer just can’t provide. It retains more of the original texture, which is why old school mothers prefer it for making home-made baby food.

Food isn’t chopped or beaten, it’s mashed and ground against various corrugated plates. Therefore, it will make a miraculous mashed potato dish.  And, if you want to make a truly authentic lobster bisque like you had on your visit to Provence last year, you’ll use a food mill to extract all of the essential oils from spent lobster shells. The flavor of a true lobster bisque doesn’t come from lobster meat, it comes from lobster “oil”.

A food mill will give additional structure to creamy soups. It creates a velvety texture for sauces and it enables you to make purees without skinning fruits and vegetables. A food mill makes the absolute best apple sauce.

There’s something primal about passing cooked vegetables through the mill, grinding as you go. Every decent cook should experience this every once in a while.

There are a couple of types of manual food mills that you can get. They generally have the same form, the best of which have replaceable mill plates for different textures. The main difference is that the cheaper ones will be “tinned” – the inside will be coated with tin, and eventually, if you use one enough, it will have to be re-tinned eventually, like old school copper tinned pots. The more expensive models are 100% stainless steel. If you can afford it, get one of those. If not, do what I did and find a tinned version. Make sure you get the largest model that you can afford. A 4 qt or larger mill is recommended. there are plastic ones around, but I wouldn’t recommend them. I don’t really have any experience with them, but I suspect that they will eventually pick up flavors that you might not want to introduce to whatever you’re currently processing, plus, there’s the chance that eventually it might wear to the point of unusuability due to warping.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself one of these contraptions. Now. so that you can do this:


food mill

My favorite kitchen tool


This is my Shun 10 in. chef’s knife (technically, this is Shun’s stock photo).. I use it to smash garlic, slice meats, cut veggies and just to admire. It’s a sort of “faux Damascus” knife. Damascus is the process of folding two or more different steels many times to get a layered and stronger blade.  There are 16 layers of two different strength steels, but the layers that you actually see are just etched on the blade and not the actual “ends” of the steel. I’ve got a couple of actual Damascus blades in a pocketknife and a bowie knife and they are very cool because they’re made of carbon steel and not stainless steel, and this isn’t quite the same (they have a nice color and texture difference between the layers). A “true” Damascus blade would cost lots more. But this is a lot easier to maintain, and you get some of the advantage of a Damascus and that’s the fact that it’s stronger than a single type of steel (much like pine plywood is stronger than the corresponding thickness of solid pine). Plus, the etching helps with the prevention of sticking when cutting through a thick piece of meat or cheese (much the same way that scallops, or the “hollow ground” on a blade prevent sticking). It creates tiny air pockets that help the blade glide more smoothly.

I’ve got another 10 or so different kitchen knives like santokus, nakiris, yanagis, paring knives, cleavers, etc., but this is the one that I turn to the most. It’s well-balanced and has a nice heft. Every cook should have a nice chef’s knife, a knife that they feel comfortable with. Some people like the Global style, where the handle is actually a continuation of the blade and as such, is metal itself. Personally, I don’t happen to like the feel of the handle, but this is a personal decision that  everyone should make for themselves. The handle can’t be too thick or too thin and the knife itself should feel balanced in the hand.

This knife is more of a European style than the typical Asian knife. It’s a little more narrow than most European knives but it generally follows their shape. More and more Westerners are adopting the santuko, which is the more traditional type of Asian knife. The santuko is flatter on the ground edge, which gives more contact with the cutting board, but it’s not quite as useful when you need to do something like mincing parsley or anything operation that requires a rocking motion.

My various sushi knives are single-ground, whereas this chef’s knife is double-ground (unusual for Japanese knives). This also makes it similar to European knives but one also has to be aware that the angle of the edge is slightly different than the standard European knife. A typical Henckel or similar European blade has a recommended angle of between 12 and 18 degrees depending on your preference, whereas the Shun  is set for 20 degrees. I’ve got a special Shun sharpening steel that is set up to guide this particular angle when steeling.

Due to their single-sided edges (think of one side of the edge being more “l-shaped”  rather than “v-shaped”) the sushi knives are  wickedly sharp, but also a little more fragile. You want to use them for precise cuts and you don’t want to use them on things that have a dense mass.

We’ll talk about knives more in the future, and discuss why steeling a blade isn’t actually sharpening it, and talk about the various types of knives and their uses, so stay tuned for more geek talk about knives.

And I’ll also be talking about other tools that any well-equipped kitchens should have in future installments.

Cookbook of the day – True Thai

51M7P9CREVL__SS500_True Thai: The Modern Art of Thai Cooking by Victor Sodsook

William Morrow Cookbooks

ISBN-10: 0688099173

ISBN-13: 978-0688099176

This 476 page cookbook isn’t noteworthy for the great photographs or graphic design. In fact, there are scarcely any photographs at all. This is just the best Thai cookbook that I’ve found yet.  The Tom Kha Talay (Bangkok Fisherman’s soup) from his recipe is simply one of the best things that you’ll ever put in your mouth – simple, yet unctious with coconut milk, brilliantly spicy from the red chili paste, and totally soul satisfying.

His various curry pastes are easy to follow and his dishes are well-chosen for their diversity. And, everything I’ve cooked from it has the sense of a lack of compromise in ingredients and techniques. I’ve never been to Thailand, so this is just conjecture on my part, but, there are times when I’ve cooked recipes from other cookbooks of various cusines where you could just sense that it wasn’t quite right. You don’t get that sense from this cookbook.

And, there’s a good section on vegetarian food for our vegetarian friends.

If I could only have one Thai cookbook, this would be it. The only thing I don’t like about it is the lack of color photographs. But, in a way, it lends a little more authenticity to the cookbook. It doesn’t fall back on food porn.

This book deserves your attention.