The cuisine of Thailand is a sum of many parts: wonderful, fresh ingredients; culture; history; geography; landscape; and people all combining to make glorious, distinctive and very different food. Diverse topography and microclimates across the country mean that cooking can vary from one area to the next — which leads this to be one of the most exciting places in the world to travel and eat.
Set across a wide alluvial plain, Central Thailand is home to the Chao Phraya River and other smaller waterways, coming together to form a basin — bringing rich soil and plenty of water, allowing much of the land to be filled with rice paddies, orchards and vegetable gardens. The region is influenced by its neighbours and nearby Bangkok, so the food here offers a wide range of flavours. Coconuts are abundant and are used to thicken and flavour curries and soups, as well as being grated as a garnish, with the oil used to fry dishes. This means that the cuisine here tends to be sweeter than elsewhere in the country, although this is often tempered by a squeeze of lime; the citrus fruit also abundant in these parts. Cashew nuts and pineapple are similarly ubiquitous. In terms of dishes, tom yum goong originates from the Central Region. Tom kha, coconut milk soup, is also a staple, along with gaeng kiew waan, green curry.
Phetchabun, in the lower northern part of Thailand, is surrounded by green forest and is the country’s richest source of sweet tamarind — in fact it’s nicknamed ‘the town of sweet tamarind’, and each year hosts a festival dedicated to the ingredient.
Two types of tamarind are grown in Thailand, but it’s the sweet variety that are local to Phetchabun and nearby Loei, with the harvest between November and February. Turned into a silky sauce, the spice perfectly complements roasted duck legs.
Duck with tamarind sauce
By Mrs Nom Chunprasirt, head chef at Thai Square Trafalgar Square
2 duck legs with thigh joints
1 pinch sea salt
1 unpeeled garlic clove, sliced, plus 1 garlic bulb, halved
300g goose fat or enough to totally submerge the duck legs
1 tsp black peppercorns
5 star anise
3 small pieces cinnamon
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 good-size ginger root
1 The day before cooking, put the star anise and cinnamon in a dry pan and toast until slightly coloured and aromatic.
2 Remove to a board and crush them with the blade of a knife.
3 Mix with five-spice powder and few tbsp of duck fat (liquid form).
4 Rub the mixture over the duck, scatter with crushed ginger root, black pepper, salt and sliced garlic and chill for 24 hrs.
5 The next day, put the duck in a cast-iron casserole dish and cover it with the goose fat or duck fat, but don’t wash off the marinade. (The salt extracts the water from the meat cells, which will be re-inflated with fat as the duck cooks gently. If you wash it, you will simply re-inflate the cells with water.)
6 Add the halved garlic bulb and cook for about 2½ hrs, or until the meat is almost falling away from the bone. You can store the duck by placing it in a pudding bowl, covering it with the fat and keeping it in the fridge: as long as it stays covered with fat it will last for weeks.
7 When you’re ready to cook the duck legs, remove them from their fat. Heat a frying pan until it’s hot, and add the duck legs, skin-side down (with some fat on), and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the legs and transfer the pan to the oven for 30 minutes, until crisp
8 To serve, place fried duck legs on plate, top with tamarind sauce and accompany with jasmine rice.
For the tamarind sauce
This recipe makes around 2 cups of tamarind sauce (6 servings).
30 ml soya sauce
125g brown sugar
1/2 cup tamarind paste
250g dry tamarind
1 Clean up dry tamarind (you can find it in Asian supermarket), check for any seeds, skin or unwanted particles and discard them.
2 Soak tamarind in 1 cup of hot water for about 45 to 60 minutes in a large bowl. Mash the tamarind as much as possible and pass through a filter to a tall, heavy-bottomed pot.
3 To make the sauce, put all the ingredients in a pot. Bring it to boil and simmer for 10-25 minutes.
4 Continue stirring until the mixture thickens enough to fully coat the back of your spoon and is as smooth as silk. If it becomes too thick, add a bit of hot water. Strain and set aside. The sauce can be kept in the fridge for 2 weeks because, preserved by the sugar and high acid content of the tamarind.
Pair with: Monsoon Valley Shiraz
This Shiraz is a dark ruby red with a violet hue and expresses classic varietal characters of dark plum, cherries, toffee and spices. The fruits and sweet spicy flavours are from oak-ageing barrels, adding length and structure. It’s also good with kaeng massaman beef, panang curry, red curry and meat dishes.
For more information and stockists, head to monsoonvalleywine.co.uk.