Time to change continents with a move from West to East and a nice simple Thai dish…. a dish of many names. Muu Parlow is the name in David Thompson’s book Thai Food. In a later book called Thai Street Food also from David Thompson he has a slightly less complex recipe but now calls it Khaa Muu Parlow. From the time I lived in Bangkok I also knew it as Khao Khaa Muu. For anyone who has spent some time in Thailand this should not be surprising, many things have slightly different variations in names. You will even get variations in the spelling of the anglicised versions of the same Thai word, so Muu is Thai for Pork but is also spelt Mu or Moo by others, and that’s an easy example they can get a lot more complex.
So the simple translation of the dish is Pork Hock with Rice which is pretty much what Khao Khaa Muu translates as, well its actually Rice (Khao) Leg (Khaa) Pork (Muu). Now that’s not a very descriptive title and doesn’t lend itself any details of what the pork is cooked in, what its served with, etc, etc. But in many ways that’s the way classic recipes throughout the world are, they don’t have to have the paragraph long descriptions of all the ingredients and how they are treated. It also allows people over time to have a wide license to modify and change the dish to suit whats around and the tastes of the customers. if we look back to the first recipe I cooked and Coulibiac is pretty much means a simple Fish Pie when what is inside it couldn’t be further than simple.
The word Parlow is not actually Thai at all and is of Chinese origin and means Five Spice in Teochew. This is not hugely surprising as many Thai street food dishes and now ones that many westerners know from Thai restaurants are street dishes introduced and modified over time by a range of immigrants who became Thai Chinese. So Khaa Muu Parlow gives us a bit more detail to the ingredients by telling us its Pork Leg with Five Spice. Now there are probably a huge number of Thai’s in uproar that I dare say that Khaa Muu Parlow and Khao Khaa Muu are one and the same. Suppose more the point am making is how over time these dishes have evolved from the same principle.
Now enough rambling back to the recipe and cooking. First up David Thompson is a fantastic chef who has really gone deep into the traditions of Thai Food and helped to explain to a whole new audience how detailed and nuanced the flavours are in dishes when cooked properly. Its not all about a huge amount of chilli with some meat and rice. Traditional Thai food involves complex pastes and sauces that involve a huge range of ingredients and time to prepare. Here is the problem with that. No one really cooks like that any more because not many people are able to spend the majority of their day in the kitchen preparing the evening meal. So when I first read the recipe it was with a layer of dread. The steps and detail were typically David Thompson like. There was no way some street vendor in Bangkok is doing this each day as part of feeding the masses. I then found a later version of the recipe in his book Thai Street Food which was a bit less complex and did acknowledge that many vendors wouldn’t follow all these steps, this one didn’t instruct you to hand make your own Five Spice Powder you could just use a store bought one. But this is where David is correct. Store bought spice blends and pastes are fine and give a great result in a dish, but roasting and grinding you own spices to create a fresh powder is just leaps and bounds in improved flavour.
So now I have two recipes for the same dish but neither book had a really good photo to show the finished product so went searching and found a link to Khao Khaa Mu from Narumol “Nong” Poonsukwattana of Nong’s Kai Man Gai so plenty of pedigree and also had a great picture of the dish and a very interesting version. One that more likely indicated how street food evolves with whats available around you over time and an ingredient I very rarely consume and would never consider cooking with, so was quite intrigued. Both had pretty much the same base ingredients of Pork Hocks and a base paste of coriander (cilantro), garlic, white pepper they then started drifting off slighly. David’s recipes called for Five Spice Powder which makes sense seeing they have Parlow their name as well as Palm Sugar, Fish Sauce, Stock and Oyster Sauce. This is where Nong’s drifted off into the unusual, her recipe had just start anise and cinnamon stick for spices, salt, a lot more oyster sauce and then for liquid, 2L of flat Coke!! How to resolve this difference in approaches. Well cook both!!!
So first up blanch the hocks a couple of times to get all the mucky fat and surface gunk off them. This is pretty easy just add them to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil and straight away tip out water and strain. Then repeat again with another batch of cold water. This definitely helps clean the sauce when cooking and doesn’t need as much skimming.
Of course some pounding is required with the trusty Bok Bok (yep thats the noise it makes!). Making a paste this way with the coriander stems, garlic and peppercorns is really lovely and you get a real smooth consistency at the end. But using these things does take a bit of time to get used to.
So first up Nong’s recipe as her cooking time was a bit longer at around 3 hours. Its pretty simple. Add all the ingredients bring to a boil and then simmer for 3 hours.
So here is two of the hocks in the offending “coke” stock!!
Next up was David’s recipe. His is a bit more technical in that you first get the coriander/garlic/pepper paste and fry it till fragrant with little oil then add the Five Spice powder and the rest of the ingredients for the stock. Then add the hocks. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour and a half.
Here are the other 2 hocks in the so called traditional stock.
So while all that is cooking time to prep some vege’s and sides to go with it. First up some Chinese pickled greens, these pretty much get rinsed and sliced up ready for a refresh in the stock just before serving. Also some favourite condiments. Small Thai Chilli’s with Fish Sauce, Pickled chilli’s in vinegar and spicy sambal.
With about 30 min to go for each one add some boiled eggs and some chunks of firm tofu. Also Nong’s recipe called for some dried Shiitaki as well. As they both cooked the smell of white pepper was one of the key things that reminded me of the dish and also how fragrant and wonderful it is as a spice.
So first up Nong’s Khao Khaa Mu. Definitely nice and dark from the Coke and Oyster Sauce. Interestingly once it had finished cooking there was no real way you would have had any idea was cooked with Coke in the stock.
Next up was the Mu Parlow and understandably noticeably milder in colour but no difference in smell. Pretty much you try to pull the centre bone out of the hock and attempt to preserve its shape for slicing and serving up.
Here is them side by side for a comparison
And finally service with rice and vege’s and extra’s side by side. So whats the outcome. Well both had the lovely gooey skin and pork fat mixed with meat that is what makes this dish so memorable. You could definitely determine that the Mu Parlow had a milder overall flavour and probably a bit more influence of the Five Spice. The Khoa Khaa Mu was a bit sweeter but not noticeably so. Would definitely do both of them again.
Thanks so much for Carrie and her sister Jo for reminding me of this very favourite taste of Thailand, even if it was cooked with a bottle of Coke!!
Next week a bit of a sabbatical as having a party at home so lots of general cooking and no time to cook one from the book shelf. Will be back in 2 weeks.