Krua Apsorn Restaurant, Bangkok, and Its Famous Crabmeat and Yellow Chili Stir-Fry (เนื้อปูผัดพริกเหลือง ร้านครัวอัปษร)


krua apsorn crabmeat yellow chili stir fry

My clone of Krua Apsorn’s famous dish

Sometime last year, you might have seen a woman sitting alone in front of a building on Samsen Road in central Bangkok, tranquilizing herself with fried sweet potato balls, rocking back and forth, and mumbling things. That was me giving myself a prep talk.

I didn’t take a selfie, but I think I must have looked like I could use some extra-strength Metamucil. Weird, because there were no good reasons for it.

First of all, I was in the neighborhood where my mother and her siblings were born and raised. Their childhood accounts were always fun and vivid that every time I’m in the area, I can see with my mind’s eye their joyful little footprints all over the sidewalks. This, as far as I’m concerned, is a happy place.

Also, after lunch, I knew I’d spend the whole afternoon in the dark archives of the National Library nearby — the activity which, to me, is akin to frolicking in a field of daisies on a sunny day with an ice cream cone in one hand and a stick of cotton candy in the other.

Most important, I was just moments away from having lunch at Krua Apsorn, one of my favorite traditional Thai restaurants in Bangkok after a fairly long period away from it. Not only that, I was planning on asking Krua Apsorn’s head chef to share with me some cooking tips. An opportunity to introduce yet another bright spot in my hometown to my readers should have filled me with joy like it always had.

20130203-krua-apsorn-kitchen

But I think it was an interview request gone awry a few days prior that painted my day gray. Rejections abounded during those days. And though I’d come to accept that I got rejected more often because I asked more often, that realization did little in taking away the sting. It shouldn’t have affected me, but – and keep this strictly between us, okay? – it did. So as I was waiting for Krua Apsorn to open for lunch, I wasn’t my bravest self.

You see, I was about to ask Chef Chanchavee ‘Auntie Daeng’ Skulkant to allow me access into her kitchen. To understand my apprehension, you need to know that this is a lady whose reputation of being no-nonsense, perfectionistic, very strict, and extremely particular precedes her. What if I did something to tick her off and got shooed out of her kitchen with a broom or slapped with a spatula? Or – much worse — what if I made one wrong move and got banned from my favorite restaurant for life?

But then I came to realize that the questions in my head were all wrong. What if the opposite happened? What if she said yes? What if I could walk out of that place with a story, some cooking tips, and a recipe or two for my readers? What if there were great things to be had and I preemptively talked myself out of them?

That change in attitude must have helped for by the time I walked into Krua Apsorn, I was ready. My proverbial face, the symbol of dignity in the Thai culture, was concrete-fortified and triple-coated with asphalt; forget slapping me with a spatula, Auntie Daeng could run her SUV on the surface of my countenance and it would be okay.

krua apsorn restaurant head chef

Chanchavee “Auntie Daeng” Skulkant

And there she was, pacing behind the counter, directing things, making orders to the kitchen crew, inspecting huge piles of lunch sets that merit-makers would offer to the monks at Rachathiwat Temple next door by 11:00. Orders for more lunch sets to be delivered to the House of Representatives also came in at that time, adding even more pressure to the crew. The phone was ringing, and diners were pouring in. Each worker, it seemed, was doing the kind and amount of work that required at least 10 hands.

That was 10:40 am, mind you — a mere 10 minutes after they had flipped the sign over from “closed” to “open.”

And though the bustles in the rear of the restaurant didn’t spill over into the calm and comfortable dining area, the pressure came in a different form.

I was seated at one of the only two unoccupied tables. My rear end hadn’t even settled fully into my chair yet when pieces of paper with names of patrons with reservations got taped to one corner of the vinyl tablecloth by my server. “Somebody has reserved this table for 11:00,” she said politely with a smile. Translation: We’re glad you came, Miss. Make yourself comfortable. Enjoy the food. But after 20 minutes, kindly disappear.

I ordered a plate of rice, a boob of crabmeat-filled omelet, and a bowl of sand smelt jungle curry all of which came in just a few minutes. I scarfed it all down, looking over my shoulder all the while for any visible indicators of Auntie Daeng’s mood.

Finally, my meal came to a close. With every bit of courage I could muster, I introduced myself to the chef and asked her point blank for an interview.

krua-apsorn-green-curry-starter

Red and green curry starters

What followed was a long, cold stare that made me glad that not only had I steeled myself mentally, but also emptied my bladder. Then just when I was about to run sway, squealing like a piglet …

I’ve noticed you since you walked in,” she said.

Piglet froze. Even diners at the table nearby stopped talking and leaned in to listen. Oh, sure. Who wouldn’t notice a lone diner who charges in just after opening time, orders without looking at the menu, and finishes in less than 20 minutes a meal that’s big enough for 3 people? But where is she going with this?

I like you,” she declared. The tone was somewhat military and crisp — definitely not in the awwwww way. Her face didn’t display even half a smile. But it didn’t matter, because the heavenly hosts suddenly erupted into cheers and the cherubim gave each other high-fives for, behold — “Whatever you want, ask.”

Piglet didn’t even care to mentally go over what accidental, involuntary, irreproducible things she might have done to be found endearing. No. Piglet wisely shut the heck up to eliminate any chances of the chef’s opinion swaying the other way by the awkward, dumb things Piglet’s prone to saying. After a moment of joyous silence, Piglet decided if there was a time to push her luck, this was it. She then proceeded to ask Auntie Daeng for everything.

*******************

And that’s how I found myself in the sanctum sanctorum of Krua Apsorn, one of my top five favorites among the old-fashioned, traditional, unpretentious, home-style, all-around Thai restaurants in the city of Bangkok. That’s also how I found out what a sweet person Auntie Daeng really is. Both she and Krua Apsorn’s General Manager, Sirichai Pinniam (a cook in his own right one of whose contributions to the restaurant’s menu is a bestseller, southern sour curry of lotus shoots แกงเหลืองไหลบัว) were there to give me a tour and a cooking demo.
 
krua apsorn restaurant
One thing I learned right away is how a restaurant like this prepares its curry starters. At all times, there are gigantic pans in which the mixture of coconut cream and prepared curry paste bubbles away. Once the raw, harsh taste of the fresh herbs in the paste cooks out and the mixture becomes fragrant and ‘splits’ (I’ve covered this ‘split’ or ‘crack’ thing in my easy Thai green curry post), it becomes a starter for every order of curry that comes in. To make one portion of, say, red curry, the cook heats up some of the starter in a pot, adds the fresh ingredients to it, cooks the whole thing through, and plates it. To ensure freshness, they make just enough curry pastes and starters to use in one day. The next day, the whole process starts all over again.
 
I took this opportunity to ask Auntie Daeng to imagine herself cooking in the United States where fresh tropical ingredients can be hard to come by. Actually, I presented to her a hypothetical situation: Imagine yourself opening a branch of Krua Apsorn in the US with the exact same menu – can you pull it off?
 
She responded with an oooh-that’s-a-toughie wince. It would be different, said Auntie Daeng. But she was sure she’d figure out ways to doctor up commercial curry pastes with whatever fresh herbs and spices she could find, she said while giving kudos to my readers and Thai food enthusiasts worldwide who have learned to get resourceful in working around these limitations.
 
Well, that’s got to be comforting to victims of the curry guilt-mongers.
 
What about canned coconut milk that has gone down in the quality department these past few years? The stuff they’ve added to it to make it thick and viscous prevents the cream from separating – how would you deal with that? I’d fry the paste in oil and add the coconut milk in later, said Auntie Daeng. So, readers, now you know.
 
krua apsorn
Auntie Daeng’s career started at the Irrigation Department where the wives of the department officials voted for her to represent them in preparing a meal for the late Princess Mother on the occasion of her visit. Having impressed the princess with her cooking skills, Auntie Daeng began cooking private meals for both the Princess Mother and the king’s late sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana both of whom took her under their wings, providing her with constructive critiques and guidance as she learned to tweak her already solid cooking to be more consistent with the way of the palace.
 
The menu offerings at Krua Apsorn are the culminations of those years during which Auntie Daeng cooked for the royals.
 
The royal seal of approval is definitely a huge honor for Krua Apsorn. However, I don’t evaluate a restaurant based on its history or who else likes it; I can only judge it according to its performance in the present and what I think of it. In the case of Krua Apsorn, I think the hype is justified. I like this restaurant, because it makes good food. Period.

But enough of that. We’ve got some cooking to do: one of Krua Apsorn’s most famous dishes, jumbo lump crabmeat stir-fry with Thai “yellow” (orange, actually) chilies (เนื้อปูผัดพริกเหลือง). Yes, Auntie Daeng has revealed her recipe, the one used at all four branches of Krua Apsorn, to all of you.

krua-apsorn-crab-stir-fry

 
One of the most important things about Thai cooking is knowing your ingredients,” says Auntie Daeng. This is true of any cuisine, however. “You need to understand what each ingredient has to offer.” That understanding helps you determine how to take advantage of its properties, she said.

To sum up what Auntie Daeng was saying, let me use my own analogy: As a cook, you take on the role of a good manager who not only knows how to assign tasks to your team members according to their skills, but possesses discernment about who works well with whom and in what circumstances.

For example, let’s look at the main ingredients in this dish: jumbo lump crabmeat, yard-long beans, Thai yellow chilies, and kaffir lime leaves.

The crabmeat is tender, sweet, delicate protein which, though delicious, does not impart much savoriness to the sauce, because 1. it’s already cooked and 2. being delicate, it can’t hang out in the wok longer than just enough to be heated through. So we need some help: chicken stock. What about the chilies and the kaffir lime leaves? Their job is to perfume the dish. Chopping up the chilies is not going to do for we want that juice — that essential oil which is best coaxed out through the chilies being pounded in a mortar. So that’s what we do. The kaffir lime leaves get hand-torn and bruised just enough to get them to release the fragrant essential oil. Why not make a chiffonade out of them? That would be too overpowering for the delicate crabmeat. And, yes, add both to the wok early to get the fragrance going. Once the crabmeat goes in, it’s immediately perfumed (this is important for crabmeat, as stated above, can’t stay in the wok too long). Lastly, yard-long beans. We like them for the crunch factor. What does that mean? It means we cook them quickly — just enough to get them tender-crisp. When the dish is plated, we want them to still remain crisp and retain their bright green color.

Krua Apsorn Crabmeat Stir-Fry

Jumbo Lump Crabmeat-Yellow Chili Stir-Fry as served at Krua Apsorn

The point? Know your ingredients. Then you know why this dish is made the way it is. Eventually, you, too, can devise Thai dishes just like Auntie Daeng has done for her restaurant. In one fell swoop, the chef is both giving us a fish and teaching us how to fish.

For the recipe, please proceed to the next page (link at bottom).

Krua Apsorn

Samsen Road Branch
0-2241-8528, 0-2668-8788
10:30-20:00, closed Sundays

Din So Road Branch
0-2685-4531, 080-5500310
10:30-8:00, closed Sundays

Sanam Bin Nam Branch
0-2967-1733, 081-6851386
10:30-9:00, closed Mondays

Vimanmek Palace Branch
087-0155101, 086-3301996
10:30-4:00, closed Mondays

33 Responses to Krua Apsorn Restaurant, Bangkok, and Its Famous Crabmeat and Yellow Chili Stir-Fry (เนื้อปูผัดพริกเหลือง ร้านครัวอัปษร)

  1. Pam February 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    This is one of my favorite restaurants in Bangkok — we ate there (Sanam Bin Nam branch) twice in one week this past November and ordered the crab and yellow chili stir fry both times. Everything there is delicious!

  2. David February 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Oh my gosh! I love Krua Apsorn. Their yellow curry crab is to die for! Thank you for writing this article, it’s very well done.

  3. Ken February 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    This is a fabulous post–very interesting, especially to those of us who’ve never made it to Thailand. Great photos. I’m curious–lump crabmeat is quite expensive in the US, a real luxury item. Is that also the case in Thailand? Thanks. Ken

    • Leela February 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks, Ken. Yes, jumbo lump crabmeat is expensive in Thailand. This dish is priced just a tad above the daily minimum wage of Bt300. Other dishes on Krua Apsorn’s menu aren’t nearly this expensive, though.

  4. Amber February 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Way to go!!! What an amazing experience, thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Kortez February 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    This article was great because I felt like I was in your shoes, there, at Krua Apsorn, wondering what to do, how to act, what to ask, and what would happen. I felt your trepidation, and I felt your relief and joy at being accepted and treated with respect and being made to feel welcome.

    I am going to make this recipe Wednesday or Thursday night. I can’t wait! I am not sure if I will be able to find a yellow or orange chili. May I use habanero pepper instead? I can find the proper color that way, and the heat is not a problem.

    Does anyone know a good mail-order source for kaffir-lime leaves? I have not been able to find local stores carrying them in Rockville/Germantown, MD.

    Thanks!

    • Leela February 4, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Kortez, thanks for the kind words.

      Habanero is much, much hotter than yellow chilies, so approach with caution. If you can find red-colored peppers at your local supermarket (anything but bell pepper, though) that are lower on the Scoville scale, I’d use those.

      For kaffir lime leaves, try templeofthai.com. Not sure if they have them all the time or just if it’s just a seasonal thing. But that’s where I’d check first.

      • Kortez February 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

        Thanks! Templeofthai.com has kaffir lime leaves in stock, and I am ordering tonight.

        I really appreciate everything you do. It’s wonderful!

        • Leela February 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

          FYI, kaffir lime leaves freeze beautifully. You can order a bunch, wrap them up in a piece of paper towel, and put them in a freezer bag to use for the next 3-4 months. They thaw quickly too.

          • Kortez February 5, 2013 at 4:36 am #

            Thanks. I ordered a pound! I’ll make sure to store them in a few bags, wrapped up with enough paper towels to keep them preserved.

            Thai food is my favorite cuisine, and your blog has become my favorite web site very quickly!

    • Craig Cruden April 1, 2013 at 7:12 am #

      If you aren’t afraid of having a green thumb…. in the US you can get a dwarf kaffir lime bush/tree which is grafted. When I was in Canada I was looking at ordering one, but the border between Canada/US provided a big problem with the required certification.

  6. gingerquill February 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    I love your investigative reporting. Your articles are so well written; I feel like I’m right along side of you on your adventures. The photos and recipes are wonderful…loved the grilled chicken and skewered pork. Thank you for taking the time to put together such an informative journal. More grease to your elbow…

  7. Mike Hills February 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Wonderful post, wonderful blog. We read She Simmers and learn something new about something old from a friendly human voice. You can get kaffir lime leaves from importfood.com. They are fine in the freezer.

  8. ding February 4, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    as always, you write as if you’re just across the table from me, talking about food and telling stories.

    good LIVE crab here costs way over the daily minimum wage. but one day…one day…for today to compensate i’ll make your soured pork ribs. again.

    nice weighing scale. maximum capacity not 5, not 10 but all of 7 kgs!

    keep on writing. please.

  9. kampong boy February 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    “I’ve noticed you since you walked in,” she said.
    “I like you,” she declared.

    What was that about? Past life connection? Auntie Daeng liked you enough to open up her kitchen, that was incredible!

    Can you do the same magic with David at Nahm, he has a crab and snake gourd soup – แกงจืดบวบงู that is just heavenly. I know one of the ex-kitchen staff, but she refused to tell me the recipe.

    Love your posts.

  10. Sarah H February 4, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I love your food writing, and I love Thai food. But this is my favorite sentence in this post : “…I knew I’d spend the whole afternoon in the dark archives of the National Library nearby — the activity which, to me, is akin to frolicking in a field of daisies on a sunny day with an ice cream cone in one hand and a stick of cotton candy in the other.”

    Hear, hear for the daisies! :-)

    -another library rat

  11. Jonathan King February 5, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    One of a very few web treatments I’ve seen that looks like someone cooking the way traditional Thai cookbooks say one ought to. Very inspiring…

  12. Oswulf February 6, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    I’m having trouble parsing the phrase “sand smelt jungle curry”. Jungle curry is obviously แกงป่า. Smelt are small fishes. But what is “sand” in this dish?

  13. FarangTalk February 6, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    Now I know where I am eating tomorrow night!

  14. Ai-Ling@blueapocalypse February 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    I ate this dish when I was in Bangkok 2 years ago. Thanks for sharing the recipe, I can’t wait to try cooking it.

  15. julie February 13, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    A little late to this, but I really loved and appreciated this post! I visited Bangkok for the first time last month and visited Krua Apsorn, but most of its well-known dishes were not available (sold out?) by the time I got there in the afternoon. I guess I’ll just have to console myself by attempting the recipe you so courageously elicited from the chef. Even more than the valuable recipe, thanks so much for sharing the story behind how you approached her. It would’ve been fine just to talk about the restaurant, the chef, the recipe… but I’m so glad you also give us the process behind how you got there. I’m often too shy and/or simply don’t know how to dig deeper into a culture or story. This is a really helpful and inspiring account — thank you!

  16. eater February 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    It may be me, but can someone tell me where the recipe is listed on the next page? Or send me the link, since I am not able to find the recipe, and would LOVE to try making this awesome looking dish.

  17. Eater February 28, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Sorry, when I click on the link I get a blank page or when I click on 2, I also get a blank page. Can you email me the receipt with the email provided? I really appreciate it, since I am salivating reading this thai dish.

    • Chris March 2, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      This is a known issue with those who use an old version of Internet Explorer. The page loads fine on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. But even with an outdated version of IE, you should still be able to get to this recipe print page: http://shesimmers.com/easyrecipe-print/2583-0/

  18. Laura March 7, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    LOVED this post. Someday when I go back to Thailand I am keeping you on speed dial for hints on where to eat!

    Also, my solution, FWIW, to the lack of separation in canned coconut milk (even I have noticed the quality has gone way down and I have only been cooking Thai curries for the last 12 years or so), has been to cook the paste in extra virgin coconut oil.

  19. Zelda March 30, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    This looks very tasty; I like the idea of pounding the chilies to extract the essential oil. I would definitely de-seed the chilies, though, as that harshness would, IMHO, be overpowering with the delicate crabmeat. I could probably eat the whole lot by myself, even though it says serves 2-3. Would this normally be served with other dishes?

  20. Craig Cruden April 1, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Unfortunately I don’t live close enough to this restaurant to go there very often, but if I have a relative or friend visiting the city this is one restaurant that I regularly take people to. I have ordered many dishes from their menu and I have never run into any that were not absolute perfection in a plate. This place deserves it’s reputation. If you’re visiting the city, I recommend taking the Skytrain to the Chao Phraya River (Saphan Taksin station – but it is scheduled to close so after the stop on the other side of the river). Then take the river transit (orange flag is regular run, there are express versions of it — just make sure not to get on the tourist one because all it will do is give you a headache) and take it up to Thewes Pier. From there it is a short (10 minute) walk up to Samsen Rd (left on Samsen Rd).

  21. Arnaud August 19, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I’m just back from my last vacations in Thaïland and I went to Krua Apsorn (to the Din So branch) per your recommendation. We tasted the crabmeat of course, the mussel fried pad cha, along with a delicious som tam and a couple of other dishes that I don’t remember. The crabmeat was very spicy and friends of mine not familiar with spicy food were not able to eat it, but I love it. If you don’t support too spicy food, you might have to remove some chili seeds.

  22. Limirl September 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    Leela you just answered something that has been driving me crazy for the last year. I couldn’t figure out why I was not able to split my curries. I have always used the chao koh brand and checked the listed ingredients on the can and it only lists coconut extract, water, citric acid and sodium metabisulfite. I had heard of cornflour being added by some brands to prevent splitting but it wasn’t listed here. All the previous curries I cooked over the last year even though tasty I considered ruined in my perfectionist way of thinking.

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