Monday, November 30, 2015

Four Seasons Cooking Class: Chiang Mai

Inspired by the ancient Lanna kingdom, renowned for its refinement and artistry, Thai Chef Suwattana Boonyarattanusorn, instructor at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai Cooking School took us on a Thai culinary adventure, preparing four traditional Northern Thai dishes in the resort's spectacular open air cooking school kitchen. The morning began bright and early at 7am with a trip to the Thanin open-air Market in Chiang Mai with Bom, to purchase fresh ingredients, herbs and spices needed to create the day’s menu. In addition to a tour of the market, Bom took us to his favourite places to sample local delicacies such as sweet coconut sticky rice, fried pork crackling with spicy green eggplant relish and Chiang Mai spicy sausage called Sai Oua, made with a combination of pork mixed with lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, galangal and usually red chili paste. The lady who makes the best sausage at the market has earned a Shell Chuan Chim award similar to Michelin star for her zesty sausages. 

Returning back to the Four Seasons, our private Cooking Class which were the only two participants, featured a fish and seafood menu which included Tum Tang Poo Nim, a Spicy Cucumber Salad with Soft Shell Crab; Thord Mun Pla Grai, a Deep Fried Marinated Thai Fish Cake; Tom Kha Goong, Prawn Soup with Fresh Coconut Milk and Galangal; and Pla Kapong Sarm Rod, Fried Sea Bass with Three Flavour Sauce. Served in a small sala beside the cooking pavilion, were were served the dishes we had prepared earlier, with a surprise visit by the Michael Branham, General Manager of the Four Seasons, who stopped by the sample my Thord Mun Pla Grai, and gave it a resounding two thumbs up. With a short vegetable carving lesson following lunch, Chef Boonyarattanusorn showed us the art of Thai vegetable carving. Using a small sharp knife, we were shown how carts can be shaped as leaves, peppers shaped as blossoming flowers, and scallions as leafy tendrils. Used to garnish each of our dishes, the lessons we learned during the cooking class with certainly be used to spoil friends and family once we return home in a few weeks.

Bom showed us local ingredients used in Thai cuisine, such as sugar cane which is used in Thai Green and Red Curries

Large green chills have little heat but would be used as garnish and as part of our vegetable carving lesson later in the day

Bom showing us tiny Thai garlic which is stronger than larger garlic

'Thousand Year Old Eggs' are eggs that have been marinated until they become like jelly, 
identified by their pink shells 

Deep fried bugs which are found in Bamboo...apparently full of protein

Food stalls are open early at Thanin Market to serve spicy breakfast noodles to hungry locals

Fresh oyster mushrooms

Mounds of Morning Glory, a dish which we've been enjoying stir-fried with garlic and oyster sauce

Pea eggplants are one of the key ingredients in Thai Green Curry, 
and as the name suggests are the size of a pea

Small Thai eggplants are also used in Thai curries, and are about the size of a walnut

Deep fried pork crackling is a Chiang Mai specialty

Served with cool marinated eggplant, the pork crackling is dipped in the sauce and popped in your mouth — although not very healthy, it's very tasty

The best Thai sausages in the market are sold by this lady who has been awarded the coveted 'White Bowl' award, similar to a michelin star

Absolutely delicious, Thai 'Sai Oua' sausages are made with a combination of pork mixed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and usually some red chili paste

The Shell Chuan Chim award 

We tasted some sweet sticky rice and coconut, one of Bom's favourites at the market

Local soft shell crab

Our culinary guide Bom, shopping for our ingredients for the cooking class

Back at the Four Seasons Cooking School to begin our half day class

A basket of herbs and vegetables purchased this morning to be used for our first dish

Chef Suwattana Boonyarattanusorn laying out the ingredients for our first dish

Chef pounding the herbs and cucumber for the Soft Shell Crab Salad

Cashews, tiny dried shrimp, cilantro root, Thai garlic, fish sauce, tomatoes and sliced cucumber

The soft shell carb is chopped into smaller pieces then tossed with cornstarch then stir fried in a wok over high heat until cooked through

Sweet and tender, the soft shell crab becomes bright pink once cooked

Chef Boonyarattanusorn shows how to prepare the dish first, then we makes it ourselves

Soft Shell Crab Salad

Chef adding garlic, chilis and shallots to a mortar to pound into a smooth paste

The paste is ponded until somewhat smooth

Chef preparing a sweet and sour sauce for fried fish

Chopped pineapple and cane sugar is added to the sauce which is cooked until reduced and quite sticky

Sweet and sour sauce for fish 

Wok fried local white fish

Fried Fish with Pineapple in Sweet and Sour Sauce

Large Thai red chills dried and chopped

Kaffir lime 


Shrimp paste

Chef pounding the red curry ingredients

Thai red curry paste made from scratch

Spoonful of the curry paste added to ground fish and ponded until mixed

Pounding the fish mixture until smooth and thoroughly mixed

Shaped into small patties with a round thumb hole in the centre to ensure even cooking

Wok fringe the fish cakes until brown

Chopped red chill, shallots and cucumber with crushed cashews for sauce

Water and white sugar is reduced in a brass wok, which allows the liquid to cook gently

The sweet sugar water is added to the chopped vegetables for the sauce to be enjoyed with the Fish Cakes

Ingredients for Coconut Shrimp Soup

Lemongrass, thai green chills, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, tomatoes, scallions and king mushroom

Combined with coconut milk, water and tiger prawns, the coup is cooked in a wok 

The soup is brought to a boil to thicken the sauce and cook the prawns

Coconut Shrimp Soup with fried chill garnish

Learning to decoratively carve carrots, spring onion and red chilis

How to carve a decorative carrot leaf

Using a sharp carving knife, the carrots are carved and the spring onions are curled then plunged into ice cold water, the curls are enhanced

Red and green pepper flowers, carrots leave and green onion tendrils

Walking back from our cooking class and enjoyed our 4-course lunch of dishes we prepared, we walked back through the gardens for a swim overlooking the rice paddies