Thai Boat Noodles from Pok Pok Cookbook


Boat Noodle Pok Pok Cookbook
Initially, I was planning on prefacing this much-anticipated recipe with a brief historical overview of Thai boat noodles (kuai-tiao ruea ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) as well as some personal anecdotes. But considering the length of the recipe, I felt that if I was to have any chance of keeping the word count of this post below 100K, I needed to keep the fun subject of Thai boat noodles for another occasion.

For now let’s talk about this recipe that comes from this new cookbook, Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand written by Chef Andy Ricker together with JJ Goode and photographed by Austin Bush.

But, first, a warning of sorts: Thai street noodles aren’t particularly difficult to make; they just require a lot of ingredients, both single and composite (assuming your goal is to make Thai street noodles exactly the professional way, not the easy, homespun way). Boat noodles, especially this particular type which has come to define the genre, require quite a bit of time and the right ingredients. [Perhaps I should tell you that Bangkokians don't usually make this at home. If you grew up in a household where your mom came home on a weeknight after a long commute and said, "Go wash up, dear, and come down at 7 -- I'm making boat noodles for dinner," then I'd like to meet your mom so I can prostrate myself before her in reverence.] But if you live outside Thailand where you can’t find great boat noodles, this recipe will serve you well.

Boat Noodles: Pok Pok Cookbook
I’m going to present the recipe the same way it is presented in the book; that is, it is split into three main components: the broth (the foundation), the noodle soup (the assembly), and the table seasonings (the personal customization of flavors). Assuming your pantry isn’t usually stocked to the gill with Thai ingredients as mine is, I have created a shopping list for your convenience. I won’t publish the shopping list here, but you can visit this page in order to print it out.

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PORK BOAT NOODLES
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Serves 4

According to the way the recipe is written, it is assumed that you’ve prepared some of the composite ingredients as well as the table seasonings beforehand (we’re talking multiple recipes within a recipe). Therefore, for the process to flow smoothly, I suggest that you get a head start on these ingredients before making the broth. Personally, I would make the following the day before.

FRIED GARLIC AND FRIED GARLIC OIL (kra-thiam jiao กระเทียมเจียว, nam man kra-thiam jiao น้ำมันกระเทียมเจียว)
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Makes 6 tablespoons fried garlic and 2 cups of garlic oil

Chop 30 cloves garlic (peeled) into tiny pieces, about 1/8-inch pieces. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof container. Pour 2 cups of vegetable oil into a pan small enough to allow it to form a depth of 3/4 inch. Heat the oil to 275°F. Add the garlic, then immediately turn the heat to low, and stir once or twice. Cook, stirring and scraping the sides occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle sizzle, until the garlic is light golden brown and completely crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Pour the pan’s contents through the strainer, reserving the oil. The fried garlic will keep, unrefrigerated, in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 days. The strained oil keeps in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Boat Noodle Pok Pok Cookbook
TOASTED CHILI POWDER (phrik pon khua พริกป่นคั่ว)
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Makes about 1/3 cup

Put 15 Mexican dried Puya chiles (stemmed) in a wok or pan, turn the heat to high to get the pan hot, then turn the heat down to medium-low to low. Stir the chiles almost constantly, moving them around and flipping them occasionally to make sure both sides of the chiles make contact with the hot pan. Continue until the chiles are very brittle and very dark brown (nearly black) all over, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chiles from the pan as they’re finished. Discard any seeds that escape the chiles, because they’ll be burnt and bitter. Let the chiles cool. Pound them in a granite mortar or grind them in a spice grinder to a coarse powder. The chile powder will keep for up to a few months in a sealed container kept in a cool, dry place. (My note: Evacuate babies, small kids, or small pets from the kitchen before you make this. Crank up the exhaust fan. If you have 10 windows in the house, open 11. I am not kidding.)

Boat Noodle Pok Pok Cookbook
GRILLED CHILI VINEGAR (nam som phrik tam น้ำส้มพริกตำ)
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Makes 1/2 cup

Grill 16 fresh Thai green chilies or 4 green Serrano chilies, either over a charcoal grill or in a grill pan/skillet, over high heat. Cook the chilies, turning them over and pressing on them occasionally to help them cook evenly, until blistered and almost blackened. This should take about 5 minutes for the Thai chilies and 10 for Serrano chilies.

Grind the grilled chilies in a mortar into a coarse paste and transfer to a bowl; add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to it and stir.


CHILI FISH SAUCE (nam pla phrik น้ำปลาพริก)
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Makes 1/2 cup

Slice 14 fresh Thai chilies crosswise, thinly, and place in a small bowl. Pour 1/2 cup Thai fish sauce over the chilies.

Vinegar with Pickled Chilies
VINEGAR-SOAKED CHILIES (phrik nam som พริกน้ำส้ม)
From Pok Pok Cookbook
Makes about 1/2 cup

Slice 3 fresh Serrano chiles crosswise, thinly, and place in a small bowl. Pour 1/2 cup white vinegar over the chilies. Covered, it keeps for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.

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With the above components in place, we move on to the broth.

Boat Noodles Pok Pok Cookbook
THE BROTH
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, rinsed and cut into strips approximate 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/4 inch thick
1 one-ounce piece of fresh or frozen galangal, thinly sliced against the grain
3 large stalks lemongrass, trimmed (i.e. with the tough layers, 1/2 inch of the bottom, and 4 inches of the top removed) and thinly sliced crosswise
10 large fresh cilantro roots, lightly smashed with a heavy object
2 fresh or frozen pandan leaves, lightly bruised and tied into a knot
1 ounce (about 2 cups lightly packed) Chinese celery leaves, cut into 3-inch pieces
3/4 cup Thai thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon Thai black soy sauce
2 ounces rock sugar
1 1.5-inch piece cinnamon stick
4 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 pieces of star anise
12 cups water

Boat Noodles Pok Pok Cookbook
Add all the broth ingredients into a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Once the liquid boils, cover the pot and reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cook for about one hour, adjusting the heat along the way as necessary to maintain a simmer, until the pork is tender but still holds its shape. (Note: I suggest that you use this one-hour period to prepare the vegetables and the herbs that you will need in the assembly stage.)

You will end up with more broth than you need to make 4 servings (use the remaining broth to make this egg noodle soup with stewed chicken drumsticks and baby bok choy). Reserve 4 cups of the broth and about 1 cup of the stewed pork to use now and store the rest for later either in the refrigerator (up to 5 days) or freezer (up to 6 months). Bring the broth and the pork to a simmer over medium-low heat and keep it covered. You won’t need it until assembly time.

asian meatballs
THE ASSEMBLY
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup grilled-chili vinegar, see above
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fried garlic oil, see above
2 tablespoons fried garlic, see above
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted chili powder, see above
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh or defrosted frozen raw pork blood (optional)
8 ounces boneless pork shoulder, sliced against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick bite-size strips
16 fresh or defrosted frozen pork balls (see this post to find out what they are)
10 ounces semi-dried thin, flat rice noodles (about 5 cups, tightly packed), soaked in lukewarm water until fully pliable but not fully soft, about 15 minutes, then drained well

Boat Noodles Pok Pok Cookbook
2 ounces Chinese water spinach (the one at the top of this photo), leaves and thin stems only, cut into 2-inch lengths (about 2 1/2 cups, lightly packed)
4 ounces bean sprouts (about 2 cups, lightly packed)
Generous 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Chinese celery (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed
Generous 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed
Generous 1/4 cup thinly sliced sawtooth coriander (cilantro), lightly packed

When you’re ready to assemble the noodles, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Prepare 4 soup bowls each of which should be large enough to hold about 3 cups’ worth of food comfortably. To each bowl, add 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of the chili vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the fried garlic oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the fried garlic, 1 teaspoon of the toasted chili powder, and 1 teaspoon of the blood, if you’re using it.

20131120-boat-noodles-aromatics

In each of 4 containers, combine 2 ounces of the raw pork shoulder, 4 of the pork balls, 2 1/2 ounces of the noodles, about 1/2 cup of the water spinach, and 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts. Put the remaining ingredients in separate containers.

Make one bowl at a time. Add one portion of the noodle mixture to a long-handled noodle basket and put the basket in the water. Cook, using a spoon to stir the ingredients just until the pork shoulder is cooked through, about 1 minute. Firmly shake the basket to drain the ingredients well. Add the contents of the basket to the bowl, add a few pieces of the reserved stewed pork (about 1/4 cup), and ladle in 1 cup of the broth. Add a large pinch of each of the herbs. Repeat with the remaining 3 bowls.

Serve alongside the chili fish sauce, sugar, vinegar-soaked chiles, and chile powder. Season to taste and stir well before eating.

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Notes:
1. If you already have some chili-fish sauce lying around, by all means, use it. But plain fish sauce is what’s always offered at noodle shops in Bangkok, I think you can certainly get away with using plain fish sauce right out of the bottle.

2. I couldn’t find Chinese celery the day I made this, so I didn’t use it.

3. I couldn’t find cilantro roots, so I cut about 4-5 inches off the bottom ends of the cilantro stems (I used the whole bunch) and use those instead.

6. I didn’t make dark-roasted chili powder from scratch as the book instructs. Instead of toasting some Mexican puya chiles and grind them up, I took some of the homemade dried chili powder, which I’ve always had in the pantry, and toasted it in a dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until it turned dark, reddish brown. See one of the photos above showing dried chili powder, toasted and untoasted.

14 Responses to Thai Boat Noodles from Pok Pok Cookbook

  1. Pear December 9, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    This is so beautiful. I am weeping right now. With clenched fists I remember eating bowl after bowl of boat noodles when I visited Ayutthaya, and out of that longing I will undertake this long and involved task of making this dish.

    Noodle soup: serious business. (For me, at least.)

  2. francine December 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    When I bought mine a while ago at a temple when there was some kind of Thai festival, they served it with fried pork skin. It was absolutely delicious.–

  3. Jonathan King December 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    For the grilled chili vinegar, is 1/2 cup the amount of vinegar to steep the grilled chilis in? The recipe doesn’t cover this step…

    • Leela December 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      One sentence was left out. Thank you.

  4. Bee December 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Thank you for this post! I love boat noodles but I never thought about making it since I know how complicated the recipe can be. Although it sounds really good right now thanks to the cold weather.

  5. Dan Weber December 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe. But you didn’t tell us what you think of this cookbook. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. I saw this book at Kinokuniya the other day and thought that the design was horrid, the photography dismal and the recipes intentionally made long and complicated for no apparent reasons other than to make the author look good in the eye of those who don’t really know Thai food. To me, it exudes the kind of pretentious air of authority and authenticity that has fooled the ignorant in much the same way as David Thompson’s Thai Food has over the years.

    Your opinion of the book has more value to me that those of the sycophantic food writers in the US. Yes, including the New York Times. So whenever you have a chance….. Thank you in advance.

  6. Justin January 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    First, as a recreational cooker of Thai food I really appreciate the photos and thoughtful posts populating your blog. I have two questions, first, could you describe the flavor profile of the boat noodles? The ingredients are so different from the usual Thai dishes I have prepared I was curious and thought I would ask before diving into its preparation.

    Second, what are your thoughts on Andy’s Pok Pok book? Is it worthy of purchase for a cooker of Thai food that has access only to the usual Asian markets (I’m in Virginia)? I have read that some of the recipes are intimidating. Thanks!

    Justin

    • Leela January 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

      Justin – The broth features the fragrance of warm spices (reminiscent of Chinese five-spice powder) and Thai fresh herbs. The blood is added to thicken the broth slightly and also to add the savory flavor to it. Thai-style noodles are usually served mildly seasoned, inviting you to season it to taste with the table seasonings. But this particular type of boat noodles usually comes pre-seasoned; it’s predominantly sour and spicy (from the roasted chili vinegar), then salty and mildly sweet, and also having the smokiness of toasted chili powder as well as the sweet scent of warm spices in the background. If you’re new to Thai-style noodles (or the concept of seasoning them to taste at the table), I recommend that you start with this recipe: http://shesimmers.com/2013/03/rice-noodles-in-clear-broth-with-bee-balls-thai-noodle-soup-basics.html Boat noodles, as mentioned in the post, aren’t a home dish and most Thai people don’t make them from scratch. Also, in terms of level of difficulty, this is hardly in the 101 level. That said, if you persevere and follow the recipe as written, you’ll be rewarded with one of the types of noodles most loved by the Thai people.

      Those who are new to Thai cooking, just getting to know Thai ingredients, have never experienced Thai food beyond the usual dishes offered at most Thai restaurants in the US, and don’t have basic Thai ingredients in the pantry at all times, may find many recipes in Pok Pok cookbook intimidating. However, there are quite a few recipes in the book that aren’t as fussy as this one and suitable for newbies. Fried egg salad, cucumber salad, fried rice, etc., are all pretty easy to make and don’t require specialty ingredients. I’d start with those and move slowly into the more complicated ones.

      Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen

      • Justin January 7, 2014 at 9:31 am #

        Thank you very much for your reply.

  7. Melly January 3, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Thank you for this recipe, it brings tears of happiness to me… i live in New Zealand, so very far away from Thailand but i can remember the boat noodles, which i ate and lapped up everyday in Bangkok. I have made feeble attempts through the years and now i have a recipe i can be proud of making..and showing off to my family and friends. My parents are from Laos so the food is very similar! your recipes are fantastic :)

  8. Mairi @ Toast January 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    Wow….this is just amazing….this will definitely be a weekend project soon!

  9. Claudia January 25, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    I have been living in Chiang Mai for the past two years and your blog is a great help is demystifying authentic Thai food to me. I am slowly managing to go to the local market and not look completely farang-lost in translation! Thank you!

    • Leela January 25, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      Claudia – I absolutely love hearing about people becoming less intimidated by Thai cooking.

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  1. Egg Noodle Soup with Spiced Broth, Stewed Chicken Drumsticks, and Baby Bok ChoySheSimmers - December 12, 2013

    […] you’ve made some boat noodles from Pok Pok Cookbook, right? Are you wondering what to do with the remaining 2 quarts of spiced […]

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