In Pok Pok Cookbook, Andy Ricker Teaches Obsession with Thai Cookery
Image courtesy Ten Speed Press
Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
By Andy Ricker, 304 pages, Ten Speed Press, $35
Andy Ricker remembers well the moment everything changed for him: "It was like seeing a entirely new color," he writes in the introduction of his new cookbook, released late last year. This "new color" came in the form of het thwap, a bitter variety of Thai puffball mushroom he came across floating in a bowl of soup in Thailand years ago. It, he writes, "was nothing like anything I had eaten before. It was unbelievably good." Ricker had been enamored with Thailand for some time before this mushroom, but afterward, he nurtured a relationship with that country and a love affair with its cuisine that he would eventually bring to America.
Ricker opened the first Pok Pok takeout shack in Portland, Oregon, in 2005, where he found a ready following; since arriving in Brooklyn, he's had lines out the door, so much so that he opened the Whiskey Soda Lounge, another Portland offshoot, next door to accommodate the waiting masses. Ricker's Thailand was a revelation, on the front end of a wave of Isaan restaurants that has flooded the city in recent years.
In his new book, Ricker shares all he's learned with little editorializing. His author's introduction is but a few short pages. After that, the book focuses on the food. Ricker breaks down Thai ingredients, special equipment (you'll need a mortar and pestle), and technique -- from the most basic to the highly specialized.
Ricker was in Thailand when we called for an interview, but he answered our questions over email. And while he kept it brief, he touches on the virtues of Thai sticky rice, using what's available, and like so many other chefs we've spoken with, on the importance of trying again. To hear more from Ricker, check Laura Shunk's 2013 interview with the chef.
What is the oldest (oldest in history, or oldest to you, whatever) recipe in your book and where did you come from, specifically?
That would have to be the recipe for sticky rice. It has been a staple of [Thailand's] Northern and Northeastern regions for more than a thousand years. It's more of a technique than a recipe, and it is something I learned probably 20 years ago, I cannot remember exactly.
If you could give one piece of cooking advice to home cooks, what would it be?
If a recipe doesn't work for you the first time, try again. And again. Often we humans make mistakes, and even small mistakes (in reading, timing, measuring, heat levels, etc.) can make a big difference in the outcome of a recipe.
Last year in NYC, we saw a spate of new Isaan places and more nuanced takes on Thai cookery. What developments in American Thai cooking would you like to see in the years to come?
I'd like to see more specialized vendors, [or see] folks who concentrate on a particular type of food or dish from the Thai culinary canon...Thai curry shop anyone?
What is one essential recipe that's been a hit at Pok Pok, that is also reasonably easy/doable for home cooks?
I've been telling folks to start with jasmine rice and yam khai dao (egg salad), because both are easy to make and very satisfying. Start with that, and hopefully that'll encourage people to dig a little deeper.
How do you adapt Thai cooking, or food generally, from a tropical climate, to the intense seasonality of North American produce?
Easy! Use what's available. Luckily most everything in this book is pretty gettable at a well-stocked Southeast Asian market.
What is your favorite winter seasonal ingredient and one recipe you like to use it in?
Brussels sprouts. [Use them in the] phat khanaeng.
Click to the next page for a recipe.