Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Why seven kinds of soy sauce?

A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that a lot of soy sauce has accumulated in my kitchen during the course of my cooking adventures. On counting the bottles, I discovered that I have no fewer than seven different types: regular shoyu (Japan), usukuchi shoyu (Japan), tamari (Japan), light soy (China), mushroom soy (China), mushroom-flavored soy (Thailand) and kecap manis (Indonesia). Not as many as the 17 kinds of tea from a previous culinary counting exercise, but many more than most people need to have around the house.

You might have figured out that I enjoy cooking Asian food. I have loved Japanese food since childhood and once I got my own place, I decided to try making it myself. But a funny thing happened. Through the influence of some terrific cookbooks and a move to a location where my nearest market is a well-stocked Asian supermarket, I began to drift a bit. I edged out to Chinese and Korean dishes, then started to include the odd Thai, Malaysian and Burmese meal. Now I find myself about to stick a toe into the great ocean of Indian food. The way I figure it, I'm working my way around the culinary world one meal at a time.

I'm not a gourmet. I'm not an expert. I just like learning new things. Cooking has turned into a great way to learn. I didn't expect it to work out this way, but I'm happy it did.

13 comments:

Thorath said...

You know any Thai dishes that are easy to prepare. I like the food but the 10-20 ingredients always made me back off.

Winslow said...

Hi Thorath,

I'm still a beginner when it comes to Thai cooking, so my repertoire is limited in that department. Having said that, maybe the simplest approach would be to use a prepared curry paste, stir-fry some of it in coconut milk, and add your choice of ingredients (meat, veggies, tofu) to cook in the sauce. I've cooked the Thai Beefsteak Curry from Marnie Henricksson's Everyday Asian, which calls for beef, tomatoes and green beans. Her recipe also involves sauteeing an onion in oil before adding the rest of the ingredients, as well as adding fish sauce, Kaffir lime leaves and basil leaves. If you wanted to be really minimalist, you could cook the curry paste in coconut milk and pour it over noodles or rice.

Thorath said...

After eating Thai food a few times, it is clearly underrated, it was some of the best meals I have had in years. I have the "Simply Thai Cooking" but the vast number of specialty ingredients for each recipe made me a bit hesitant. It was not so much the cooking as the buying . I was hoping for a simple recipe such as throw some noodles in, add lime juice, peanuts, and your gourmet meal is ready.I guess I was temporarily delusional, time to give it a try. Do you have any Thai recipes for whole fish?

Winslow said...

Hi Thorath,

The thing that put me over the edge in terms of Thai food was a fabulous meal at a really good restaurant with some friends a few months ago. Before that, I had this idea of Thai food as strange, very spicy stuff. But this meal was simply prepared yet delicious food. I knew I had to learn more. So I know what you're talking about. The "problem" with Thai food is that it's about the interplay of different tastes in one meal. That adds up to lots of ingredients.

The whole fish treatments I've seen in my cookbooks are either for grilling or steaming (I haven't tried any yet; my fish cooking has been confined to fillets and steaks so far). Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients has a recipe for steamed fish with ginger-coconut sauce and fried shallots. All that you do with the fish is score it with a knife, sprinkle it with salt and steam it for about 15 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is. The sauce and garnishes require most of the work. First you cook 15 sliced shallots in 1/2 cup of peanut oil until they are golden, then you fry one cup of coriander leaves in the same oil over high heat for 10 seconds. Set them aside to drain; they will be the garnishes. Strain and reserve three tablespoons of the oil. Briefly stir-fry one cup chopped ginger, the bottom third of a stalk of lemongrass (minced) and two to four small red chili peppers (minced) in the reserved oil. Add 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk and a cup of water and bring them to a boil while stirring. Lower the heat to medium and add 1/4 cup fish sauce. Let it cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring periodically, "until sauce has reduced by one third or slightly thickened." Cost says you can prepare the sauce ahead of time. Once you've steamed the fish, you pour the sauce over it and garnish it with the shallots and coriander. I haven't tried it but it sounds good. It's supposed to serve four.

Thorath said...

Thank you, our experience with Thai food is the same. I had Thai food at a restaurant about a year ago and it was great. Why I said in my last post it is underrated, more like a secret. I also concur that it has a complex range of flavors; explains that 20 ingredients. Thanks for the fish recipe. I am going to go ahead and buy the 15-20 spices/sauces ingredients and start the learning process.

Winslow said...

Good luck and a delicious journey!

Thorath said...

I am going to try it this weekend and let you know. My wife says it had better be great (her parants are coming for dinner). I will risk it. LMAO
Thanks again

Thorath said...

Try your fish Thai dish.

Winslow said...

Whew, Thorath, you're very brave! I hope it works and everyone likes it. I look forward to hearing about it.

Thorath said...

Not brave just hoping my Mother n Law chokes to death on a fish bone ... LMAO

Winslow said...

I'm not going there!

Thorath said...

Ok it was great, I used Salmon. I suggest you try this one.

Winslow said...

I'm glad it worked out so well. I'll add that to my (long) list of things to try in the future.