Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
We almost clap our hands like little children when the dough starts to float in the hot oil like a gracious lotus flower. We are taking the Spice Spoons Thai cooking class in Phuket Anantara Layan Resort and what makes us jump with joy is a brilliant cooking technique we learn to master. Our appetizer course is Krathong thong, golden flower-like cups, deep fried to a paper-thin crispiness and filled with a spicy savory filling. Frying the dainty cuplets is the fun part of our cooking class, and particularly interesting for me, filling another gap in my quest of searching frying molds across the world.
Our chef Noon gives the instructions precisely as we prepare the batter for the fried flower-like tartelettes, giving the crucial hints like using the pink limewater instead of ordinary water to achieve extra crispiness. I get excited as some of these little secrets once used to exist in traditional Ottoman cooking; such as using ash water in fried dough sweets making the dough alkali and extra crisp and light, or using limewater in sweet fruit preserves making them extra crunchy. Such details are hidden in all world cuisines, and apparently Thai cookery has lots of such exciting secrets to explore. Another revelation is the technique we use in frying our dainty cups of delight. Four tiny brass tartelette molds are attached to a single handle on top; the molds are lowered into hot oil heated in a wok until very hot and then taken out of the oil leaving at least two thirds of oil still inside the molds, and carefully dipped into the batter up to the rim of the molds until an even coating of batter films around them, and then when returned to the sizzling oil the miracle happens. Count to 10, leave the mold standing in the wok for a few more seconds, shake slightly the handle, and voila! Four little flowers start swimming in the wok as if swaying in a lotus pond. That is when we cannot help yelling with triumph.
The technique is quite familiar as we also have a dessert called Demir Tatlısı, which translates exactly as Iron Sweet in Turkey, and funnily it is usually associated with one Eastern town in Turkey, Erzurum, which claims ownership to the sweet. However, such fritters made by dipping a decorative metal mold consecutively in hot oil, then in batter, then back in hot oil is a technique used worldwide. Either applied for savory snacks, or sweets dusted with powdered sugar or dipped in syrup, these fried flower like fritters are a feast to the eye and a joy to munch on. The earliest recipe of such a fritelle published in the western world appeared in an Italian cookery book in 1570 by Bartolomeo Scappi. Many European countries, especially Nordic countries have such fritters, often made for special days. The ones in Germany are called Eisenkuchen, meaning iron cakes.
Years ago, when I was working on a piece on Turkish sweets, I realized that the technique travelled almost globally, most countries having their own versions, I started to trace mold fritters in the countries I visited. One particular moment in the back alleys of Damascus, trying to scribble down the recipe while the mold maker was passionately explaining to me how to use it, but in a mixed language of Arabic and French, and me trying to get a few words sensible out of it was particularly memorable. Each country has poetic names given to the fried fritters, the one in Iran
is particularly descriptive. Nan-i Panjara, is easy to understand with some imagination by Turks; it means Window Bread, as the word Nan (bread) was used in Ottoman Turkish, and Panjara is Pencere in Turkish, which is the word for window. The intricately shaped Iranian fritters do look like stained glass rosette windows. Apparently the fritter technique is widespread in all Asian countries, and travelled toward the west as a brilliant idea. There are so many brilliant ideas and tastes to discover in Thai cuisine; luckily our Spicy Spoons cooking class proves to be a discovery journey, one full of flavors and surprises. And that was only the appetizer course!
Bite of the Week
Recipe of the Week: Noon, our chef at Anantara Layan, gives the instructions precisely. Mix one cup each of flour and rice flour with two generous pinches of salt and sugar, add one egg yolk, and enough water to make a runny batter similar to a crepe batter. There is a secret hidden in the water though, it is the limewater which makes the fried tartelettes extra crispy. Water is mixed with the powdered pink lime stone of the island and left to stand until the lime particles settle down to the bottom. The clear water on top is used in the batter; Noon says as a substitute, ice-cold water or mineral water can be used, I assume any kind of slaked lime can be used to obtain the limewater. When the batter is ready, the ritual of heating the mold in hot oil, dipping the mold carefully in batter, then returning it back to hot oil is repeated many times, within minutes, lots of dainty flowerettes are ready to fill, and to be nibbled naked secretly. The filling is easy; minced garlic, coriander root, minced shrimp or finely chopped cooked chicken is briefly stir fried in oil, finely chopped mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, sweet corn and peas added, all spiked with a good helping of curry powder and turmeric, a sprinkle of sugar, a few drops of sesame oil and a dash of fish sauce, and the filling is ready. Just fill your golden flowers with the golden shiny turmeric colored filling, decorate with a thin needle of red chili and green coriander leaf, the most delicate appetizer is in your plate shining like a star.
Fork of the Week: Spice Spoons Cooking Class is offered at most Anantara properties, all complete with a visit to the market, followed by cooking three courses, and enjoying each one upon cooking; plus receiving an Anantara shopping bag, a cutting board, and a recipe card set as a gift, complete with a Cooking Class Certificate. Cooking is fun, but the visit to the market is even more interesting. At the end of the day, our friendly cook Noon was kind to buy the frying molds for me, complete with the Phuket pink lime stone powder. What else could I ask for, I explored, I learned, I tasted, and I’m now equipped with the right gear to experiment by myself!
Cork of the Week: When in Thailand, another gastronomic experience would be to explore Thai wines. These delicate appetizers are perfectly paired with a cool white. I found Monsoon Valley 2015 in the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard by Siam Winery just right to enjoy our golden flowers. If visiting Anantara Mai Khao resort, another discovery chance is to take their wine tasting class, but be sure to ask about exploring Thai wines.