Top Shelf: by Chef Timothy MacDonald
At or around 6 a.m. on the 25th of April, people gathered in their driveways in Australia to pay their respects … Anzac Day.
Chasing the rising sun and the Southeastern dragon, I stand at Soi 1 Maenam, Surat Thani Province. Lemongrass candle in hand in the driveway of the condo complex, I spot another Aussie 20m down the soi. We both acknowledge and snap a salute. The connection brings tears.
Like the uncorking of a bottle of Krug, the tears flow. In these days, inner strength is measured by resilience. Regime the only way out! Foreign brothers in a foreign land acknowledging a foreign past war but now fighting a foreign silent enemy in a present war.
COVID-19. It’s a bitch. It’s a Scorsese street fight with more than five points. Defense using pistols is useless. This is a bricks, baton and cut throat razor street fight. I don’t even think Bill ‘the butcher’ Cutting would outlast this brawl.
Bouncing around Koh Samui on Proud Mary, my 125cc scooter, I feel a fortunate son. Granted a stay of execution for another two months by the Thai government, amnesties on visas may well see out this vile period experienced by all.
Approaching the Soi 7 Myanmar market, I am first hit by the rangoon creepers’ fragrant perfume, next the Issan pork sausage barbecue. Charcoal smudges my nostrils. Next the smell
of victory, steamed jasmine rice, the first smell that always hits you as the nuclear humidity blast hits your face when the airport exit doors slide open.
Lastly, and to bring it all back to reality, the smell of rotten fish guts festering in the mid-day 35-degree sun as the blooded waste runs down the laneways. A stench that will hook your nostrils like a snagged marlin and yank you back down on your seat blocking any further advancement.
The slurry will reach a point and then stop, stagnate, and reach the point of explosion late in the afternoon. Not even the diseased local mongrel dogs with their first broken and then twisted un-reset mangled legs will touch this muck. Their tick-ridden unkempt fur coats turn away from this puddle of death in favor of the odd scrap of chicken coming from the green mango and fried chicken stall.
Stopping on the byway further up Soi 1, I stop for my allotted legal dose of exercise. I lift the seat on Proud Mary’s “helmet in” option and the trapped steam dances past my nostrils.
Bing Lee 4 has been busy during the virus and the takeaway containers contain the who’s who of the Harlem Globetrotters of Thai cuisine. Like an Edward Hopper painting, all the stars
are there. Pad Thai, Tom Kha Gai, green curry fried rice and, my favorite, Pad Kra Pao.
It’s the Thai version of the London cab driver’s beans on toast. If it positively has to be the last thing I’ll eat in the event of a nuclear holocaust, it’ll be Pad Kra Pao gai! Sweet, sour, salty, fragrant and spicy, it’s a welcome break from the usual boring wagyu boiled-in-the-bag protein intake that your boss is used to.
And if you have a difficult Russian charter, the principal will take to this like a duck to water.
Pad Kra Pao Chicken
Fry the smashed garlic and chilies till golden, then add the coarsely minced chicken breast. Stir fry for two minutes.
Add the oyster sauce, sugar and Kecap Manis and stir for another minute and then shut the heat off.
At the last minute add the leaves. The trick is not to let the aromatics wilt and die. (My old mate Jan Robson always used to say ‘you eat with your eyes’.)
Serve with jasmine rice and a soft fried egg.
Tim MacDonald (timothymacdonald.weebly.com) has more than 20 years experience as a chef. He was named Concours de Chefs winner for Yachts over 160 feet at the 2011 Antigua Charter Yacht Show. His recipes are designed for the owner and guests. Comments are welcome below.