For those following closely, my love for great cookbooks is no surprise. One of the cookbooks I received in a family gift exchange that has stood out as a “top of the pile cookbook is Pok Pok by Andy Ricker. I am not sure what the formula is for being one of those books, the kind that you cook from over and over again despite having others just waiting to be read, but this one joins The Art of Cooking Vegetables, Joe Beef and Momofuku in that club.
Recently, cookbooks have tended to be in two categories – beautiful, inspirational, but ultimately uncookable or a little dumbed down swimming in shortcuts. Pok Pok is beautiful, inspirational, and cookable. It is really well laid out, features interesting recipes, provides context for ingredients and techniques, and does a great job of laying out essential building blocks which are needed for many of the recipes included. Ricker embraces, and then flips the bird, to authenticity at the same time – drawing a line in determining what a cuisine is not being dogmatic about which a cuisine can include.
It is with that attitude that I did not want to wait to get a duck to make laap pet isaan when I had goose parts (flesh, skin AND offal!) just sitting around. Laap is a major section of the book and is described within as a minced meat salad. That description is really a misnomer, but I can not think of a better one. There is minced meat, but this tart, funky, and herbaceous bite is it’s own thing. I like Ricker’s recipe as it brings much more tartness than some of the laaps I have eaten in Chicago which focus more on the funk.
With that I did a little each day for four days – when I said “no shortcuts”, I meant no shortcuts. From making khao khua (toasted sticky rice powder) to phrik phon khua (toasted chili powder to galangal paste (galangal paste), there is lots of toasting and even more pounding in a mortar. The finally work ahead was portioning the goose breast and chopping it finely with a cleaver which was left in one of the two kitchen drawers we had when we moved in. Finally I boiled the goose heart and skin in diluted fish sauce and minced them both.
With all the work ahead steps done, I set them up with the remaining ingredients at the ready and I am glad I did as the cooking was as quick and the prework was laborious. From turning on the burner to putting the laap on the plate, there were minutes; fewer than ten of them. If everything was not done in advance and organized next to the skillet, there would have been problems.
Cooking this laap was really rewarding. If you want to make something complex, this is it – aromatic toasty rice powder, deeply browned chilis, hyper-acidic lime and funky goose, skin and offal. There is a lot happening on this plate, but the steps in its creation are challenging enough to keep your attention but not too much so to deter you.
While I love the creative process of cooking, cookbooks are a real inspiration to me. Enough so that I am thinking of featuring recipes from books which have gripped me. If you have feedback on this, please let me know in whichever way you want and if you have cookbook ideas, leave those too.