At the gateway to the Golden Triangle, I spent a night with a Thai home-stay family in a remote village of Northern Thailand. The day I arrived, the whole village appeared to be in a highly festive mood. I heard that a young couple was getting married and saw them marching around the village with their family and friends in red Thai costumes. I started following them to see the traditional Thai wedding celebration with a great curiosity. In the middle of the street, a local woman suddenly stopped me. She told me she just killed her pig to make a special dish for a special day and wanted to invite me for dinner. I was flattered, but my eyes popped big at the sound of the main dish being served for dinner, “Thai pork tartar”. I was willing to eat tuna tartar or beef tartar, but not raw pork or chicken. Unlike the locals, I unfortunately hadn’t built the immunity for it. Thankfully, my favorite excuse line, “I’d love to join you, but sadly, I’m a vegetarian” helped me not offend the gracious hostess.
Thai cuisine is deliciously blended from four fundamental tastes – sweetness, spiciness, sourness and saltiness. The raw pork dish I was offered in Northern Thailand is also flavored with the same basic four Thai tastes. Today, I’m serving pork butt/shoulder (cooked!), with prawns, veggies and noodles and seasoned with the four fundamental Thai flavors. You might recognize this as Pad Thai.
To start, I mix 2 Tablespoons lime juice (about 3 medium size limes), 2 Tablespoons of fish sauce, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 2 green onions (thinly sliced), 1 red chili (thinly sliced) and some freshly ground black pepper in a bowl and marinade 2 lbs pork (thinly sliced) and 2 dozens shelled prawns in the mixture at room temperature for 30 minutes. Separately, I soak a pack of 8.8 oz vermicelli rice noodles in hot water until softened, rinse with cold water, drain and coat with peanut oil. Then, I heat some peanut oil in a thick cast iron pot and stir fry 3 cloves garlic (crushed), 2 carrots (cut in julienne style), 2 fresh red chili (sliced), a handful dry sliced shitake mushroom (soaked in hot water for a couple minutes & squeezed water out), 1 can bamboo shoot (sliced) & 6 green onions (sliced diagonally). And then, I season the veggie mixture with 2 Tablespoons fish sauce, 2 Tablespoons tamarind pulp (softened in warm water), 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar and some freshly ground black pepper. Subsequently, I add the marinaded pork and prawns to the veggie mixture and cook for 3-5 minutes. Lastly, I add the vermicelli rice noodles to the mixture to cook for another couple of minutes and garnish with fresh cilantro and crushed peanuts before serving.
I’m serving the shrimp & pork Pad Thai with a 2006 Ceretto Dolcetto from Rossana vineyards in Alba located in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Dolcetto varietal is very food-friendly and versatile, like Pinot Noir. This straightforward, “no frills” red wine has a medium body with flavors of cherry, plum & mushroom. Unlike the king of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetti goes well with not just red meats but also with the Pad Thai’s “sweet” shell fish. The moderate acidity of the wine also complements the lime and tamarind in the sauce, while accentuating the earthiness and nuttiness of the Pad Thai. Yum!
Hope you enjoy the taste of Thailand and the discovery of pairing it with Dolcetto d’Alba. If you’re brave enough to try pork tartar, let me know how it comes out. Happy cooking!