So you’ll probably have guessed by now, either from this blog or my Twitter account, that I am middle class enough to have taken a Gap Year. I am not however, sufficiently upper class to have taken a Gap Yah. I’ll leave that for my pashmina-ed pals across the river in South Ken. But yes, yes…I’ve been to Thailand. I’ve bought a Chang vest from that chap on the Kao San Road. I got a PADI qualification in Ko Tao. I’ve drunk Thai whiskey out of small buckets with iridescent straws. Those days however, are over. I am wise enough now to know there is another way; if you stay in the comfort of your own home, then the buckets are much larger.
I didn’t have a spiritual awakening in Thailand; I was too busy eating for that to happen. Travelling to the Isaan region in the north east, completed the trip with respect to Thai cuisine. When Mekong catfish is barbecued, served with steaming sticky rice in a reed basket, with a side of som tam (a spicy salad comprised of unripe papaya) it is like eating what you’d dream of serving up to Daniel Craig if he were to attend your imaginary dinner party. Me and ‘Dan’ are pretty close* so I don’t have to imagine – I’m sure he told me once that he liked a good Laarb Gai.
Thai curry, be it green or red, is the most overdone thing in the book, right after pad Thai. I rarely make it because the sheer volume of ingredients make it a ridiculously expensive – cost per head – dish. Also I can guarantee you’ll always find, some weeks later, a lemon grass stick at the back of the fridge which is beyond redemption.
I was approached by a company called Old School Thai (presumably they had not heard about my lewd exploits in Pattaya – I jest, I jest!) who asked me to try a couple of their Thai curry pastes. They’re based around south west London, and, as as you know I’m always in the business of supporting good, local producers. Founder Brett Cowie claims his pastes will take you “on a trip back in time to Thailand when my grandma was still making curries herself”. That’s marketing speak if ever I heard it (in the day job I hear it a lot). But let’s get down to brass tacks; what we all want to know is, are they any good?
Well yes, they’re not bad. I like the idea of having something which is incredibly fresh at hand which negates those ‘bugger it’ moments when you realise you missed out ONE ingredient on your Tesco shop (you’d sworn you’d bought everything). I put together a prawn curry with the red curry paste. All the ingredients I added were some sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, prawns, coconut milk, chilli, Thai basil and palm sugar. Still seems like a substantial amount of ingredients – but then there’s about double that in the paste itself.
What I missed from the sauce was the rich intenseness of flavour. The packets tell you to add more paste to increase the heat; I didn’t find this. Adding more paste made the sauce darker with more floaty bits of lemon grass and galangal (etc.). It was a nice,well-rounded taste – aromatic – but I sought more of the spikes in flavour that Thai food is so famous for; the peaks of the salty, sour, and sweet. I don’t wish to convey that the sauce was un-flavoursome – it just didn’t pack a punch. My taste buds need a royally good arse kicking and the backbone of the curry paste wasn’t going to be that bully – regardless of my extra additions of lime, chilli, fish sauce and palm sugar. Milder palates would disagree, I’m sure.
The recipe card ideas which come alongside are useful are informative. I especially liked the inclusion of Tod Mun Pla infused with the Gaeng Ghet paste – fishcakes in any shape or form are consumed in abundance at mine and the Welshman’s house. This is something that I know I’ll try with Old School Thai’s pastes in future (they’ve got a reasonably long shelf life).
What we’ve got then is the raw materials for a busy person to make a decent, Thai-inspired meal. I know other food bloggers read other food blogs, and maybe Old School Thai wouldn’t be the one for them: GOD DAMN IT – they’ll make the sauce themselves, rogue or no rogue lemon grass stalk! Even if it is just to take Instagram snaps for every stage of the recipe.
I was generously given the pastes by Old School Thai.
*we’re not sadly.