Where do you look for inspiration in the kitchen?
I find that it’s all around — in reading cookbooks, in talking with the boyfriend, even in learning new Thai words and phrases. But the inspiration for this dish came from another, somewhat less likely source – – a Taiwanese restaurant.
A few weeks ago, the boyfriend and I were enjoying a date night at this restaurant and I saw a “salmon clay pot” listed on their menu. Since I’d just discovered clay pot cooking and fallen in love with the Thai shrimp and glass noodle clay pot, I decided to order their clay pot and compare the two.
Well, it turns out they were nothing alike. For one, the Taiwanese salmon clay pot was just that — salmon, without any other main ingredients. But it was really yummy, and it surprised me by having some hints of Thai flavors. So, taking my lead from the Thai people who are masters at adapting dishes from other cuisines into their own (think massaman curry, gang hang lay, Thai sukiyaki), I came home and started working on my own Thai-inspired version of this dish.
Part of what made the restaurant’s clay pot so good was that they flash fried the salmon pieces before cooking them in the clay pot. So I did the same. Then I layered Thai basil and slices of ginger and garlic with the fried salmon before topping everything with a sweet soy sauce reminiscent of the sauce used to made pad see ew. I closed the lid to the clay pot and let it work its magic to bring all of these flavors together. The result was great, but the boyfriend and I both thought that it wasn’t quite “Thai enough”.
For the next try, the boyfriend suggested making a paste of the ginger and garlic so that their flavors would really shine through. Since pastes are extensively used throughout Thai cooking, I decided to give it a try.
It turns out that this was the key that transformed the dish from good to awesome Thai-inspired home cooking. The resulting flavors were bold and really popped, yet they still all worked well together. And beyond the flavors, it was fun to take inspiration from Thai people and put my own spin on this Taiwanese dish.