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Pestle and Mortar.

An essential requirement for gaining the true flavour of traditional curries.

For the purpose of grinding herbs both the handle and the bowl need to be very hard and very tough. The use of granite for this purpose is time proven and the implements although heavy are  easy to clean . 

Twice I have had the opportunity for a very rough comparison of curries. One made by mortar and pestle and the other machine homogenised. The comparison was conducted in good faith by the proprietors of 2 different cooking schools unrelated and in different cities. 

One was a green curry chicken. The steps in preparation of the curries were identical from firing up the wok to adding and cooking the chicken. 

I tried the machine buzzed curry paste sample first and it was just a great curry. Nothing wrong with it at all. Then tried the handmade curry and it was noticeably nicer. The second curry test was a red curried pork and a similar experiment. Once again the handmade curry was noticeably better.

The aspects that weren't proven the same were the blends of the curry or the curry recipe. I have no idea what the proportions of ingredients were or the quality was. Both the commercial curries were bought in the morning of preparation at local food markets. The blend could very well be the significant variation rather than the pestle/mortar vs the machine homogenised curry paste.


Technique:

The mortar needs to be sitting on a firm and solid foundation and in Asia this is commonly the floor or on a stone step. The base of the mortar is generally placed on a thickness of toweling to protect the bottom surface of the mortar from chipping and  to protect the resting surface from impact damage from the very hard granite vessel.

Generally dry ingredients are ground first. The technique is to raise the pestle and bring it down onto the contents and release firm grip just before contact. Repeat this action until the quality of grinding has been reached. The reason for not following through is to prevent fatigue and soreness of the arms and shoulders.

The addition of moist and wet ingredients follows in that order.

Cleaning:

Generally just a quantity of dish washing detergent and water, swirl the contents and wash with a kitchen cloth. Pour fresh water into the bowl and over the pestle and then drain dry. The granite is impervious so if the surface is clean then there won't be any carry over of aromas into subsequent mixes. The implements can be sterilised with a 1 in 50 dilution of hypochlorite bleach and stood for 10 minutes. This must be done after initial washing as organics contamination will inactivate the hypochlorite. After sterilising, simply rinse with plain water and dry.

Availability:

Widely available and in a number of sizes. Unless you are preparing huge quantities of spices and curry pastes a bowl size of some 5 inches is adequate.

In the US an excellent online and at very reasonable prices is importfood.com. Their granite mortars and pestle sets are here and if you wish to purchase the earthenware khrok din and saak, the same supplier will sell this to you also.



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Granite pestles (saak)  and mortars (khrok) for grinding spices 

 

papaya salad preparation bowl with pestel


This glazed earthenware mortar is called khrok din and the wooden pestle called a saak.  It's not used to grind spices and curries like the stone items but rather to bruise fruit for dishes like papaya salad (Som Tam) and Savoury Fruit Salad (Tumpolamai). The whole dish is created in this bowl and then transferred to a plate for serving.



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Metal Steamers.

There are a few types used in the Asian kitchen and fortunately easy to manage and inexpensive. There is the aluminium three tiered steamer used for cooking things like buns, amok, hor mok and various deserts. The tiers should be oiled with veg oil prior to each batch to prevent food sticking to the surface while cooking. Water is added to the base container and placed over the heat source to boil the water. The items to be steamed are placed on the oiled tier racks and carefully lowered into the base container.

The lid is placed and the timing begun.
Removing the contents: Take care. Steam is very easily overlooked and it has a much higher heat value than boiling water. Most of the aluminium steamers have external handles. Lift the tier with both handles and place on a wire grill to cool momentarily. The cooked items can removed with tongs or by lifting the tray insert with a hook arrangement and then sliding the items onto a plate. It is important to re-oil the tray before placing the next addition of items into the steamer. 

To buy this online in the US please check out importfood.com. Their aluminium decked steamers are exactly the same as these used in Thailand.





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Aluminium & Glass-ceramic tiered steamers (Lang theung) (with others) 


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Bamboo Steamers:

These work very well for smaller quantities generally than the aluminium steamer described above. These steamers have a fixed base of slatted bamboo. The bamboo lid fits neatly onto the arrangement.  The steamer is placed onto a boiling pan of water which may be the base of the aluminium tiered steamer or even a wok with water in the pan. The lid is steam permeable so please be careful and remember not to reach across the top of the steamer while it's cooking. Steamers of the same size can be stacked and the steam penetrates from the lower to the upper levels. One dangerous aspect of steam is that it can be invisible or nearly so but the heat is still there.

Bamboo steamers are most often used for cooking/heating dumplings.






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Pressure Cookers.
These are very commonly used and recommended for the cooking of Daal. They reduce the cooking time from hours to minutes. It's extremely important to follow the instructions, inspect before each use and to maintain the cooker . Modern pressure cookers generally have safety features which will prevent opening while there is pressurised steam in the vessel. Pressure cookers are available for use with an external heat source or electric models. Not a cheap initial outlay. The benefits are many including less energy requirement and lower heat escape into the cooking area. A definite consideration for houses in hot climates with internal kitchens.



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All in together daal with dry ingredients. 30 minutes and it's cooked in a pressure cooker. 







 



 

Sticky Rice steamer.
(Nhwat and Mo Neung)

This is a wonderful traditional arrangement of boiling vessel generating the steam and a holding vessel for the rice while it is being cooked.

Sticky rice is its own type of rice, it's not as some say overcooked ordinary rice. Sticky rice or glutinous rice is a small grained opaque rice grain. generally it is white but is also available as red and black rice. These are throw backs to original types and used for specific dishes such as some deserts. Now it is a boutique item and many Asian restaurants will specify a certain dish with "red-rice".

The rice is prepared by first washing the rice and removing any foreign objects. The washing should be reasonably thorough. next the rice is placed in cold water for several hours, generally over-night but three hours has been reported as adequate. This allows hydration of the grains.

The soaked rice is then placed into the woven basket and allowed to drain. The bottom of the woven basket shouldn't be immersed in the boiling water of the generator vessel. This would make the rice in contact just gluey. A fitting cover from another pot is placed over the top of the rice and the contents steamed for 15 minutes. The rice should be turned at this point and the steaming resumed. The cooked rice may then be removed from the steam base and the base emptied and then returned as a holder with a damp cloth covering draped across the top. If you have a sticky rice container this is perfect. Rice in Asia is never left uncovered. the advantages are two fold. reduce likelihood of contamination when traditionally this sticky rice is prepared once a day and served throughout and keep the rice ideally moist. The sticky rice holder is called a "krathip".

The Mo neung and the nhwat are available online in the US through importfood.com



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The boiling vessel is called a "mo neung" and the basket,  "nhwat"

Automatic Rice Cookers.

These were an invention of the Japanese in the 1940's by Mitsubishi Electric but not really developed as an automatic cut-off until 1956 by Toshiba. Since then the acceptance of this kitchen implement has penetrated approximately 95% of Japanese homes.

Rice cookers are available as gas fuelled, electric conduction and electric induction models. They have come through dubious periods of electrical  safety and now appear as a safe implement. There are however many non-safe models still being produced such as in Thailand by extremely well known brands and unfortunately they do injure and kill numbers of users and children yearly. There are tens of thousands of older models still in use all around.

Basic principle of operation.

The bowl in the rice cooker is usually removable, and beneath it lies a heater and a thermostat. These form the main components of the rice cooker. A spring pushes the thermostat against the bottom of the bowl for good thermal contact to ensure accurate temperature measurement. During cooking the rice/water mixture is heated at full power. The temperature cannot go above 100°C (212F) — as any heat put into the rice/water mixture at that point will only cause the water to boil. At the end of cooking, some of the water will have been absorbed by the rice and the rest is boiled off. Once the heating continues past that point, the temperature exceeds the boiling point. The thermostat then trips, switching the rice cooker to low power "warming" mode, keeping the rice no cooler than approximately 65°C (150F). Simple rice cookers, may simply turn off at that point.



Automatic Rice Eater.



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Krathip

The krathip as mentioned is for holding the cooked sticky rice. It has a base and lid and generally the lid is threaded with some kind of twine affixed to the base. To use the krathip, you remove the lid, place the base in the inverted lid and take out the rice you want by hand. Generally sticky rice is eaten by hand.You then re-cap the krathip.It is best to line the krathip with a cellophanne or plastic bag liner. Rice holders are quite difficult to clean and sticky rice sticks! Rice is well known as a source of substrate for nasty bugs to grow and the liner will prevent rice from sticking to the bamboo or grass weaving.

Sticky rice isn't served very hot but it can be placed in a small steam vessel for a couple of minutes while remaining in the krathip to refresh.




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Sticky rice holders ( Krathip) 


 






Wok: (krata)

Using Cleaning and Maintaining a steel wok.
Carbon steel woks are the best in the selection range. They are able to be seasoned so that food is easily and cleanly cooked with no sticking or carry-over.

The wok works best on a very high flame and high flow regulators are available for the specialised gas rings best used for these. {Please take trade or professional advice on any modifications or installation of gas equipment and accessories. Don't take anything for granted.

The wok should be seasoned initially. This is most easily done with a clean and dry wok. Heat the wok until it's hot and then pour a small amount of a neutral vegetable oil into the wok. Swill it around to completely cover the inner surface of the cooking vessel. Keep heating until smoke begins to rise. Remove from the heat and tip off the excess oil. This can then be allowed to cool and quickly wiped out with paper and allowed to hang for its next use. 

To use a wok. Heat the initial oil to hot and generally until it's just smoking. Transfer the food items as outlined in a recipe and generally stir fry the contents until cooked. Turn off the gas or remove from the heat. Transfer the food to plates. 

If the next dish is very different in flavour or is chillie free where the previous dish had significant quantity of chillie then the wok can be cleaned most easily by adding an amount of water and turning on the gas fully to bring to a near boil or boiling. With a long wooden handled stiff bristled brush, rub the inner surface of the wok with the brush until it's cleaned. Turn off the gas and discard the water wash.

Ignite the gas add the oil and resume with the next dish. This can be performed until all dishes are cooked. 

At the end of the shift simply do the hot water wash and hang the wok for storage.

The wok shouldn't accumulate carbonised material to any great extent. Diners generally don't like to see flecked carbon material with their plate of food. If you notice that this is building up then wash it with the boiling water method. If this isn't successful then you can partly scour the surface and rewash. Check the seasoned surface.

If the wok looses its seasoning then you need to scour the wok completely with detergents and scouring pads. Re-season and continue as described. 

An high quality carbon steel wok set can be purchased from importfood.com online in the US




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"Anyone else for Crepe Suzette?... How about Bomb Alaska?....Anyone?"












Brass pots

Pots of brass are used to make many of the deserts that require prolonged boiling. This material is selected for its non-reactivity with ingredients commonly employed like large amounts of sugar, the higher than water boiling temperatures of the mixture and he excellent distribution of heat around the base of the pot. the same reasons they are chosen in western cultures.

Two handled brass cooking pots are available online through importfood.com in the US




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Kratai:

Grating coconut is a routine task for many people in Thailand. It's the way to harvest the coconut milk and coconut cream from the coconut itself. 

The coconut is split and the inside surface is scraped on the serrated edge of the attachment affixed to the stool. When the flesh has been scraped out then it is placed into some water and squeezed collecting the oil rich milk. This can be repeated twice and the extracts kept separate. 

The milk is allowed to separate into oil rich and oil reduced layers. The oil rich layer is the so-called coconut cream. This is decanted and depending on the amount of cream vs milk required may be kept separate and used or mixed back with the oil poor liquid to make a standard coconut milk. The milk and cream have very short shelf life and if the intention is to keep it beyond immediate use then it is boiled to sterilise the liquid and refrigerated. This may prolong the usefullness for an extra day or so.



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Kratai: Coconut scraper

On the left is the stool with the serrated edged scraper attached. On the right is a demonstration of the process of using the scraper. The operator sits on the stool and scrapes the inner surface of the coconut over the serrations. This scours out the meat and it's collected into a vessel immediately below. The production of the milk is a secondary follow on process. 








 







 

The Tandoor oven.

This vertical cylindrical oven is presumed to be part of the evolution of the oven from the original ground pits to the "modern" horizontal masonry ovens seen commonly. Its origin may go back as far as ancient Mesopotamia and not be a semitic creation at all.

The Tandoor is used for cooking in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Transcaucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia as well as India and Bangladesh. Its effectiveness comes from both radiant and convectional heat. It operates at temperatures up to 480 C ( 900 F) and is traditionally fired with charcoal or wood.

There are modern designs that operate either on electricity or gas. The high operating temperatures has probably been associated with the cuisines where the Tandoor is typically used and lower heats would change the whole character of the foods. There are many restaurants around the world with Tandoor ovens and some very adventurous DIY people who build them in their backyards.



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Charcoal Stoves (Tao Fai).

These are a great creation. They allow for the efficient capture of the generated heat which means only small amounts of fuel, normally charcoal is burned as the fuel.

before gas these were often the primary cookers used throughout countries like Thailand and Malaysia. They are still a commonly used stove in Laos, Cambodia and Burma. China uses a variation of this where by the stove is created to hold one block of compressed black-coal. This is an exceptionally efficient stove but the smoke and bituminous smelling fumes produced by the burning of the inferior coal doesn't allow for open cooking but rather for closed cooking in pots. China has what is best described as ovens with a hole in the top for the wok, generally of a very generous size, to sit in. This is then fired by small amounts of charcoal and occassional timber and straw. The heat is generally applied at a very intense level for a very short flare time of the fuel.



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Charcoal stoves

 















 

Knife Sharpening Technique.

Sharpening/honing kitchen knives takes seconds and should be performed each time the knife is used.  A sharp knife is safer and easier to use. 

The technique for honening a knife with a "steel" is very easy and straight forward and is within the ability of food preparers. The video explains the process very clearly.

If your knife is beyond honeing then you need the bevel to be reground. This requires the use of a grinder or special grinding stone. Most easily done by taking your knives to a tradesman or maybe to your local butcher.

The purpose of honeing is to adjust the edge so that it is straight. A straight edge gives you the optimum cut.




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Khanom Krog Pan 

Khanom Krog are a delicious Lao confection or desert made with coconut cream and rice flour. They are one of the discovered delights by some travellers to both lao and Thailand. 

Traditionally served as a breakfast food and available as street food or market food. They are wickedly delicious and quite easy to prepare.

The unique requirement is the Krog Pan or cooking platter that is set above the heat source. Once again a good quality supply is from Importfood .com in the US




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Bahulu Mould

Bahulu moulds are used for making confection and savoury cakes in  Malay cuisine. It's very similar to the Khnom Krog pan in that it's a metal pan with indented cups to hold the batter as it cooks. The Bahulu mould has a patterend base and motifs are variable sometimes indicating the type of bahulu that it is. Once again traditionally it was placed over a heat source of glowing charcoal, greased and filled with the batters which may have been a single or multiple addition. 

The Bahulu mould may be difficult to find out of Malaysia and once again the intuitive place to locate these in Malaysia would be a bakery supplies outlet. In other countries I really think that your only potential source would be a Malaysian restaurant or Malaysian family who may be able to advise you on possible availability.

There's the hit and miss possibility of web searches as these things may appear from time to time.

The listed recipe, Bahulu Berayam / Engkak (Savoury Chicken Cakes) uses such a mould pan.



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© Used with the very kind permission of Lydia Teh.  







 










 

Tiffins 

The classical stacked tins are still commonly used in SEA and very noticeable in Thailand and Malaysia. They are extremely efficient for carrying multi component meals and banquets to another place. Not so commonly do you see the great older decorated enamel ware tiffins but rather the more robust, lighter and lower maintenance stainless steel and plastic versions.

Tiffins still come in various sizes and shapes







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Kruang Prung (Thai condiment set)
 Table top condiments are usually placed in a matching set of 4 containers. The containers can be ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Generally there are small spoons in each container of condiment and the condiment range is typically ground chillie powder, sugar, dilute fish sauce with diced chillie and a chillie infused vinegar.

This really varies considerably for example if you are dining at a stall serving Phad Thai their condiments will be sugar, chillie powder, ground peanuts and fish sauce/chillie. A Red pork on rice stall would have the khao man muu nam jim, spring onions and others.

Most frequently the set of condiments contains four items but not invariably and it tends to be relevant to the dishes served. In home or finer restaurant settings you may find naam phriks set in bowls, if there are Chinese dishes then there may be flat dishes of sweet soy sauce, Chinese mustard and a chillie sauce.

A Lao/Isaan  kiosk or diner would provide fresh garlic cloves unpeeled and small chillies whole with a couple of dipping sauces related to the served dishes.




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Karahi
 A karahi (pronounced /kəˈraɪ/, Hindi: कड़ाही kaṛāhī, Urdu: کڑاہی; also kadai, karai, kadhi, kadahi, or kadhai) is a type of thick, circular, and deep cooking pot (similar in shape to a wok) used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Also called a cheena chatti, kadai are useful for the shallow or deep frying of meat, potatoes, sweets, and snacks such as samosa and fish, but are most noted for the simmering of stews or posola, which are often also named karahi after the utensil.

Karahi are traditionally made out of cast iron, although other materials like stainless steel and copper are sometimes used, and non-stick varieties do exist.



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