Cooking, Culture, Food and Drink

Say What? No, Sai Oua!

If I’m doing the math right (always a dodgy proposition) about one in every five posts here has to do with food or recipes.  Stuff I’ve eaten, stuff I’ve cooked, or stuff I’ve thought about cooking.  And a few of them even have to do with the gorgeous Thai food experience and my attempts to recreate some of the exotic flavors I experienced on my visit to Thailand in 2018.  I’ve come close on occasion, particularly with Som Tum (green papaya salad),** and a few variations of Thai fried rice.

My previous attempt at Sai Oua, the fragrant, spicy sausage from Northern Thailand that’s a regular “street food” offering wasn’t too bad either, but my second attempt is even better.  As a Thai might say, “same, same, but different.” Or, as we might say on this side of the world, “close enough that this time you do get the cigar.” (Pedant alert: I just made that up, so don’t bother to go looking for it.  It’s an expression of the sentiment, that’s all.)

This particular Sai Oua recipe is on page 256 of this book:

It’s a coffee-table book, large and weighty, with a price to match.  I found a used, rather moth-eaten, but whole and perfectly usable copy for much less than the list price.  (There is a Kindle edition, but–in my book (see what I did there)–sometimes the e-text just won’t do for something like this.

I found out about Hot Sour Salty Sweet on the Telegraph website, where it was recently very favorably reviewed.  It’s–to my mind–the best sort of cookbook, one that encompasses both authentic recipes and expert commentary, and which can, for a moment, transport you to far-away places, whether or not you’ve actually visited them yourself.  (Another book like this–for me–is Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and a Cookbook of the British Raj, by Jennifer Brennan. Even if just boiling water is a stretch for you on the culinary front, if you’re at all interested in reading affectionate memoirs about other cultures by those who’ve lived in them, I highly recommend both of these books.)

At the time Hot Sour Salty Sweet was published, then-married couple Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid shared an interest in (in no particular order) food, writing, travel, and photography, and had already collaborated on a few successful cookbooks over the course of several years.  Hot Sour Salty Sweet was one, and detailed their travels along the Mekong River which flows from southern China to Burma, and into Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and–finally–into the South China Sea.

I decided to follow Alford and Duguid’s recipe for Sai Oua exactly (substituting–as suggested–grated ginger since I didn’t have any galangal).  Next time, I’ll probably use Vietnamese coriander (which I grow and whose flavor–like that of Thai basil–is rather more intense than that which we’re used to in the Western equivalents) rather than cilantro, and add a little more ginger.

After processing the ingredients as specified, I ended up with a fragrant meat stuffing that looked like this:

I then set up my KitchenAid mixer with the sausage stuffer attachment, and threaded on the natural casing (weird.  I know):

After some work and link manipulation, I ended up with this:

As a sausage-maker’s granddaughter (S Ward Ltd. (Est’d 1842), Ham and Bacon Curers, Melton Pork Pie and Cambridge Sausage-Makers, on Broad Street in Birmingham England) I’m quite proud of the attempt, although I recognize that the first couple of links didn’t properly fill out the casings to capacity.  Better luck next time.  (Also, as that selfsame granddaughter, I used a family trick to make sure I got all the lovely forcemeat out into the casing by tearing up and shoving a couple of slices of bread into the hopper after all the meat had gone in, to force all the meat through through the twister and out the end.  Just a thought.  Thanks, Dad.)

Then, I let the links sit for 36 hours, loosely covered, in the fridge.  Which brought me to breakfast time yesterday.

Thai street food for breakfast?  Why ever not?  I cooked up a couple of links:

And served them (in a bit of a culturally incoherent fashion, I acknowledge) with an omelet made from farm-fresh eggs (thanks, girls), and some tomato slices:

Not-quite-Nirvana, but close enough for gubmint work.


**Another attempt at Som Tum coming up shortly, as I recently found myself–quite unexpectedly, and while I was doing something completely unrelated–next-door-but-one to an Asian grocery store selling the main ingredient.  Watch this space.

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