Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cookbook Club: Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Last weekend, our cookbook club had a potluck featuring restaurateur Andy Ricker's cookbook Pok Pok.   His Oregon restaurant started out as a food cart....and it's touted as "quintessential Portland".

I got the book out of the library and was immediately put off by the hard to find ingredients and cooking utensils required for each recipe.   I scanned through the book looking for a recipe that I might be able to make from ingredients I could buy at Meijer, to no avail.   The closest I could find was stir fried Yunnan ham with chiles.  The recipe called for a Chinese ham but said "smoky Serrano or country ham" could be substituted.   Oddly, Serrano and country ham aren't typically smoked, but okay, I decided to go for it.   Meijer didn't have the ham, so I trekked to Morgan and York  to purchase the 1 1/2 oz. piece required for the recipe.   I was aghast to discover that this small amount of ham would cost me $8.   This better be good!

I got home to prepare the recipe and it was an odd conglomeration of units....tablespoons, ounces, grams, and cups were all called out.  Really? Exactly what does a "scant tablespoon" mean when in the next line, I am asked to weigh out 7 grams of something else? Furthermore, the recipe said it served "2 to 6 as part of a meal".   That's a pretty big variance.   How much should I make?  I didn't really know for sure. Also, it called for Thai thin soy sauce (not available at Meijer) but it was diluted with water so I just used the soy sauce I had in the pantry.  The recipe was written in a tone that sounded like the author had a strange combination of ADD and OCD.  It careened around in a crazy fashion, requiring many dishes to be dirtied, and then required unnecessary precision, such as cooking something for 45 seconds.   I didn't have my stop watch handy, or the required wok or Thai mortar and pestle, so I decided to wing it.   I was fully expecting to find the recipe to be a complete disappointment, but it surprisingly wasn't.  I'd definitely make this dish again, especially when the summer sweet corn is at the farmer's market.   I'd also make it with regular old smoked ham...the $8 worth of Serrano was totally lost in this dish.   Here's my interpretation of how I'd make it again, no special ingredients or equipment required.

Stir Fried Yunnan Ham with Chiles

1/4 c. water
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 inch slice of smoked ham (a couple slices of fried bacon would be great option, too!) diced
2 large Hungarian wax peppers, seeded and diced
1 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into match sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ears of sweet corn raw kernels cut off the cob
2 oz. oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced against the grain
2 peeled carrots,sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch green onions, but into 2 inch lengths.

In a measuring cup, measure water and add soy sauce and sugar to make a sauce.  Whisk until dissolved.   Heat oil in large skillet, when it begins to smoke, take it off the heat and add the ham, chiles, ginger and garlic and stir fry for about a minute.   Return to the heat and add all the remaining vegetables, reserving green onion and stiry fry until the carrot is cooked through.  Add the sauce and stir until the sauce is reduced until it's almost gone, a few minutes.   Add green onions and stir.

I was surprised at how tasty everything was....despite it all.   Some folks in the group went out of their way to find the unusual ingredients and they deserve extra credit.  It was a delicious meal!   Despite the poorly written recipes, the cookbook itself was a very interesting read.   Lots of background on Ricker's time in Thailand.  It's also beautifully photographed.   Would I recommend this cookbook?   It depends - do you buy cookbooks to cook from, or do you like to read them?   This is definitely one for the "reader type" that is an ambitious cook that likes the challenge of hunting down odd ingredients.

1 comment:

Raymond Muno said...

The acquisition of the Pok Pok cookbook, in my case followed a visit to Andy Ricker's original Pok Pok location in Portland last year. We were out there visiting family and a friend recommended we visit since they knew we would probably enjoy it. It is a restaurant that started out as an old house that sold carryout food through a window. It expanded to have seating and we were pretty much just sitting at a picnic table in an enclosed front yard. I mention this because this place was about food and nothing else. It was not just some contrived place meant to look kitschy. We ordered a couple of dishes for the four of us. We chose Kaeng Hun Leh (Burmese Style Pork Belly Curry) and Kai Yang (Roasted Chicken). It was very surprising in that the first dish was chosen by my son who is an extremely picky eater. I am not a fan of eating at restaurants since I dislike paying a lot of money for food I could probably make better at home. In the case of Pok Pok, I will have to say it was some of the best food I have ever had in a restaurant. My picky son was so impressed, which was even expressed to our server, that he got a tour of the kitchen. What impressed me was the dishes were not simple. They were complex with many subtle layers of flavor.
After returning home to Minneapolis, I sought out recipes for dishes we had. I found some on line and then also found the Pok Pok cookbook. My son was so impressed with the food he had that we decided to try and emulate it for his birthday later that month. He went shopping with me as we sought out some of the more obscure ingredients. In the days leading up to his birthday, he helped prep all the ingredients, pounding the ingredients in the mortar to prepare the curry paste for the pork belly and the stuffing for the chickens. The recipes were complex and they were not something you did the day of the meal. In the end, we were rewarded with a meal that very much emulated what we had in Portland a few weeks earlier, a meal we enjoyed at the picnic table in our yard. Later in summer, we went on a camping trip with a group of friends, a group that are a bunch of foodies. My son and I made Kai Yang (Roasted Chicken) for the entire group. A memorable part of our trip was sitting around the picnic table with friends, taking turns pounding lemongrass, ginger, and garlic in the mortar to prep the chickens for roasting. (The name Pok Pok is an onomatopoeia for the sound the pestle makes as you pound ingredients in the mortar).
I have a lot of cookbooks and Pok Pok is one that I actually read cover to cover after I purchased it. The recollections of his travels and the background of the food lays the groundwork for the recipes. His development of recipes was to satisfy the needs of a professional chef in a restaurant so the conversion of that to satisfy a home cook is not always successful. In this case, I think it is. Perhaps I can relate to the OCD/ADD side of things. To me, cooking is therapy. It is something that I like to escape in to. I like complexity in cooking, if the result is rewarding. Pok Pok, the restaurant and the cookbook, let me and my family experience some food tastes we had not experienced before.