Pok Pok: The Cookbook Experience
Once you've been to the shrine, you've got to have the book. Actually, I got the book first from one of my local indies, Magnolia's Bookstore. I had no doubt about buying it and how useful it would be to me because I had already spent about three days making the rotisserie version of the hen recipe that appeared in Lucky Peach Magazine Issue 7: Travel -- Summer 2013. That was after ordering my rotisserie from Weber, an essential tool for the Pok Pok faithful. Quite a chain of purchases went into attempting Andy Ricker's iconic poultry recipe. See more necessary accessories below.*
My favorite Pok Pok recipes so far:
Kai Yang, the famous Thai hens that inspired the restaurant;
Ike's Vietnamese Fish-Sauce Wings, the menu item that pays the mortgage and R&D;
Laap Pet Issan, minced duck salad;
Som Tam Thai, central Thai-style papaya salad;
Phak-Bung Fai Daeng, stir-fried water spinach;
Cu Cai, pickled carrot and daikon radish.
However, two regular chickens fit nicely and make lunch for the week.
Andy Ricker is a good writer who speaks clearly and naturally. He tells about the dear friends he's made along the way to creating the restaurant and the book. He gives lots of options and is insistent there are many ways to do things and his way is just his interpretation of dishes he has eaten in Thailand over 20 years of traveling there. In the book for example, he gives two methods of cooking the birds, in the oven, or on a grill. In the Lucky Peach article he also gave rotisserie instructions. Do what is easiest for you because the flavor and texture will be phenomenal which ever path you take.
After trying Kai Yang several times, doing all the steps and omitting different ones, I think the brining step is important to imbue the entire flesh with salt and seasonings. The stuffing repeats the brining elements (garlic, lemongrass and cilantro) and is easy to prepare. The marinating step adds color and more salt via the fish sauce and soy sauce. He recommends two alternating basting sauces while cooking. I don't make the honey water anymore and just use the garlic oil, mostly because I want the crispy garlic chips to garnish my world with afterwards.
What you get with all these steps is the intense layering of the flavors. Skipping any of them doesn't spoil the result. The flesh is juicy and tastes great with no dipping sauces, even though he recommends a sweet chile and a tamarind based sauce. I chalk those up to restaurant overkill, but suit yourself. I put this bottle of this sweet chile sauce on the table and let people gild if they want to.
All the recipes I've tried so far were so good I keep making them again and not trying new ones. Some are actually easy! Ike's wings are worth the effort and the mess of deep frying. All the other recipes mentioned circle round the birds as one grand feast for company. They are fine on their own as well. The papaya salad is to die for. The spinach was a favorite of mine for dinner almost every night when I once spent three months in Thailand. I took the duck salad to a fancy party and wowed the crowd. Pok Pok is a beautiful book to read and cook from. I will try to learn some new tricks from it this summer.
* (Now that I have a rotisserie, I subscribe to a newsletter, Dad Cooks Dinner, a good source for easy meal ideas as he cooks for kids everyday and always on a grill. I also purchased the companion book to the website and newsletter, Rotisserie Grilling, because I want to learn to use the machine often. Mike Vrobel is the DAD and also reviews tons of grilling related items that seem oh, so essential, like the latest charcoal starter gun that has you grilling in about five minutes instead of the usual 20-30. If I had room for it, I would go for his favorite gas grill. The sparks from charcoal are vicious on my Trek deck surface. After a 4th of July incident, I need an indoor/outdoor carpet to hide the latest damage.)