Simple Thai Food
(pik kai thot sot sam rot)
Serves 2 or 3
The so-called three-flavored sauce is one of the most versatile sauces in Thai cooking. Although it is usually served over fried fish, it can also be used in other ways. Grilled or pan-seared scallops, grilled or baked lobster tails, grilled jumbo shrimp, batter-fried fish, and even tempura style vegetables are all amazing when anointed with three-flavored sauce. When I was a hungry, busy, cash-challenged student, this benevolent sauce saw me through. All I needed was a jar of it, a pot of rice, and whatever was on sale at the market—chicken wings, most of the time. I have always told people that once they have learned how to make this sour, sweet, and salty sauce, they can create many modern dishes with a traditional Thai flavor profile. I still stand by that. In this recipe, the three-flavored sauce is reduced until thicker and stickier than it usually
is, then used to coat hot, crispy deep-fried chicken wings the moment they come out of the oil.
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You Will Need
To marinate the chicken, combine the chicken, oyster sauce, and fish sauce in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 to 5 hours or up to overnight. To make the sauce, in a food processor, combine the chiles, garlic, shallot, and cilantro
roots and pulse into a coarse paste with bits the size of a match head. Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the paste and fry just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the palm sugar, granulated sugar, water, fish sauce, and tamarind
pulp and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until reduced to about 3⁄4 cup. This will take about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Let
Spread the flour on a plate. One at a time, coat the chicken pieces with the flour, shaking off the excess. Arrange the coated pieces, not touching, on a baking sheet and allow them to sit for 10 minutes. This resting period is important because it allows the
coating to absorb the moisture on the chicken and form a crust, which will become very crunchy when the chicken is fried.
To fry the chicken, pour the oil to a depth of 3 inches into a wok, Dutch oven, or deep fryer and heat to 300°F. To test if the oil is ready without a thermometer, stick an unvarnished wooden chopstick into the oil; when the oil is hot enough, tiny bubbles
will slowly rise from the tip of the chopstick. If you see a steady stream of bubbles rise up rapidly, lower the heat a bit. Line another baking sheet with paper towels and place it near the stove.
Add the chicken pieces (in batches if necessary, so as not to crowd the wok) to the hot oil and fry, turning the pieces as needed for even browning, until deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the pieces to the
towel-lined baking sheet.
Put the fried chicken into the sauce bowl and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the chicken on a large platter, sprinkle the cilantro over the top, and serve immediately.
Homemade Tamarind Pulp
(nam ma-kham piak)
Makes 2 cups
Prepared tamarind pulp, sometimes labeled “tamarind juice” or “tamarind juice concentrate,” is available in most Asian markets and online. But because ready-made tamarind pulp is
almost always too watery, I prepare my own tamarind pulp from seedless tamarind sold in 14-ounce blocks. In some recipes, the excess liquid does not matter that much.
Other recipes, such as stir-fried noodles, can be ruined by too much moisture, however. In those cases, it is difficult to impart a good sour flavor without adding too much liquid.
I have found that the water-to‑tamarind ratio that works best for me is to 2 tablespoons warm water to 1 ounce seedless tamarind.
In a bowl, immerse the tamarind in the water and let sit for 15 minutes. Then, with your hands, break up the tamarind until you have a mixture of smooth pulp along with the
stringy veins and seed-covering membranes that are often included with the pulp.
To separate out the undesirable membranes and veins from the pulp by hand, grab a handful of the tamarind mixture and squeeze very hard. The pulp will seep out between your fingers, leaving the tough membranes and other bits in your fist, which
you can then discard. Repeat the process until you have only smooth, membrane-free tamarind pulp, which is ready to be used in a recipe. This is my preferred method.
If you do not like the idea of squeezing the tamarind mixture by hand, you can strain it through a fine‑mesh colander. The pulp will be quite thick. You will need to use a rubber spatula to press the pulp against the colander, forcing it through the holes, and to scrape off the thick pulp that clings to the underside of the colander. This may prove just as challenging as the hand-squeezing method, plus you may end up having to thin out the unstrained pulp mixture with water just to strain it. That means you
will have more pulp to strain, and the end product may be just as thin as store-bought tamarind pulp.
Regardless of which method you choose, store the strained tamarind pulp in a nonreactive container, such as a glass jar, in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 1 week. For longer storage, freeze the strained pulp in ice-cube trays, pop the frozen
cubes out of the trays into a resealable plastic bag, and keep them in the freezer indefinitely, thawing only as much as you need each time.