Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand is scheduled to be released at the end of this month (you can pre-order the book now here or here). The book profiles the mostly regional Thai dishes served at the Portland, Oregon and New York City restaurants of chef/restaurateur, Andy Ricker. Andy and JJ Goode collaborated on the writing, and I did the photos.
That’s a distinctly unceremonious introduction for something that’s pretty big deal for all of us involved. But how to begin? It’s nearly impossible for me to look at the book objectively. For one, it’s a thick book that covers a lot of ground — 70 recipes, to be exact — and one that comes as the the result of many, many months of work. Yet it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was up in Chiang Mai with Andy and JJ, shooting the pics. It was a pretty tough gig — there was a lot of stuff to be photographed in a relatively short period of time — and there were times when I felt like I was in over my head. But I learned a lot. And It was also a lot of fun.
A typical shoot, such as the one for the dish pictured at the top of this post, would go like this: Andy would tell me which recipe he was going to do, and on which dish it would be served. I would then flip through the psychedelic Thai tablecloths we had strewn across the yard (to make them look aged, of course):
proposing two or three alternatives. Some combos clicked immediately, I shot them, and the resulting pics look, if I don’t say so myself, awesome. Others seemed to go together at the time, yet looking at them now, I’m not convinced that they work. But ultimately I’m happy with the fact that every image in the book looks real. There was no food stylist hovering over each dish with a pair of tweezers and a bottle of glue; Andy cooked each dish just as if it were meant to be eaten, ran it out to my ‘studio’ (a wall-free plot of concrete covered by a tin roof), perhaps sprinkled a garnish over it, and I shot it.
That was the process for every single image. And as a result, the dishes in the book look exactly like they came from a home, stall or restaurant in Thailand because, well, they did. And that’s something I’m proud of.
I’ll be profiling three recipes from the book, coupling them with interviews with the guys involved. For my pick, I thought I’d go with kuaytiaw khua kai, wide rice noodles fried with chicken and egg. I chose this not only because the introduction to the recipe describes the time when I took Andy to this stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown, but also because it’s one of my favourite Bangkok-style Thai dishes, not to mention one that doesn’t require any particularly obscure ingredients (in Thailand, the dish is made with a type of preserved squid, here Andy suggests fresh squid or cuttlefish as a substitute).
Kuaytiaw Khua Kai/Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken, Egg and Cuttlefish on Lettuce
Reprinted with permission from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with J.J. Goode, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Serves 1 as a one-plate meal (to make more, double or quadruple the ingredients, but cook each batch separately)
6 ounces fresh wide (about 1.5-inch), flat rice noodles
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Thai oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Pinch ground white pepper
10 or so 2-inch pieces torn green leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons rendered pork fat, fried garlic oil or vegetable oil
4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup sliced green onions (about 1/4-inch lengths), plus a little extra for finishing
2 ounces fresh raw cuttlefish or squid bodies, cut into bite-size pieces
To serve alongside
Toasted chili powder
Prepare the noodles
Carefully separate the noodles. Unless you’ve found freshly made noodles, either microwave them briefly or
briefly dunk them in boiling water (for a few seconds) just until they’re pliable enough to separate without crumbling. Drain them well before proceeding.
Stir-fry and serve the dish
Combine the egg, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl and beat together well. Line a large shallow serving bowl with the lettuce.
Heat a wok over very high heat, add the fat, and swirl it in the wok to coat the sides. When it begins to lightly smoke, add the chicken and stir-fry (constantly stirring, scooping, and flipping the ingredients) until the slices are barely cooked through, about 1 minute.
Add the cuttlefish, stir-fry briefly, then push the chicken and cuttlefish to one side of the wok. Add the noodles to the center, prodding and stirring them lightly so they don’t clump together. Decrease the heat to medium-high, scoop the chicken and cuttlefish on top of the noodles, and cook them, undisturbed, for 20 seconds or so. Ideally, the noodles will bubble and blister at the edges.
Stir the egg mixture once more, pour it directly onto the noodles, then sprinkle on 1/4 cup of the green onions. Use the wok spatula to flip over the noodle-egg bundle onto the chicken and cuttlefish and cook undisturbed for about 1 minute.
Use the wok spatula to break up the bundle and stir- fry until the cuttlefish is completely cooked, about 1 minute more.
Transfer the noodles to the lettuce leaves, and sprinkle on the extra green onions. Season to taste with the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar-soaked chiles, and chile powder.