In this series, food writer, wine lover and cookbook obsessive Kristin Donnelly test-drives the most fun and inspiring new books that come across her desk.
The Book: Pok Pok, by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode
Target Audience: Super curious cooks. Southeast Asian food die-hards.
Recipe highlights: Really, all of them, depending on what you like.
If you’re ready to delve down the Thai food rabbit hole, there is no greater American guide than Andy Ricker. The story of the 6-foot-2-inch chef is the stuff of legend that F&W told so well in a 2008 story about his first Pok Pok restaurant, in Portland, Oregon. Since then, he has opened three restaurants in New York, and he continues to travel to Thailand regularly, finding new dishes—or at least new takes on them—in every nook and cranny of the country. Lucky for all of us, Ricker has distilled his knowledge and Thai food love affair into an incredible book that’s part travelogue, part cookbook.
What you won’t find in this book are recipes for familiar Thai-American take-out dishes, like “pick-a-protein rainbow curries” as he calls them. Instead, Ricker pulls recipes from all over the country, trying to re-create them as best he can in the US, substituting ingredients only when they are impossible to find.
This means that Ricker can demand a lot from the cook: For the pork laap, an incredibly delicious minced meat salad and a recipe he admits might be the toughest in the book, he asks you to clear your schedule for 45 minutes because you will spend that entire time chopping the meat, all while folding in a little bit of pork blood. Reading this recipe is a great advertisement for spending the $17 on pork laap at Pok Pok, which now seems like the steal of the century.
Other dishes, however, like the Fried Egg Salad and the Thai-Style Pork Ribs require fewer unfamiliar ingredients and daunting techniques. Many of the recipes become simpler yet if you stock your pantry and freezer with ingredients like galangal, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro root. Regardless of how complex, the book from the man who spent three years tweaking his pork satay recipe and two years getting the accompanying peanut sauce just right is a must-have for any curious cook.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.