The Best Staff Meal In Town
You can tell a lot about a cook by what they make when it is his or her turn to make the staff meal in a restaurant. If they put the same love into a lasagna for their comrades as they do into a foie gras torchon for the customers, it says a lot about them. Any monkey can follow a recipe, or do what the chef tells them to do, but if they can take a bunch of scraps and conjure up a tasty meal, then they’re really on to something.
In my last eight months at West as the junior sous-chef I was in charge of preparing the staff meal most days. I always loved doing it and found it to be a great way to learn about cooking types of cuisine I would never learn about in a French fine-dining restaurant. If not for the staff meal, I might not know how to make tortilla soup or ma po tofu.
When I worked for a brief spell at Gastropod this past summer, I was exposed to some great staff meals made by Chef Angus An. He would often make the Thai dishes that he was exposed to while working at Nahm in London, the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe. Last week I returned to get the recipe for one of those dishes: the Massaman Curry.
Thai cooking is a cuisine based on a balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet flavours. During my visit, Angus told me about one of the great lessons in his cooking career, and it came while he was working at Nahm. He had over-salted a dish and Chef David Thompson took him aside and said, “If you take anything out of working here, I hope it is this”. Thompson then proceeded to fix the dish, adding sweetness, acid and spice to bring the dish back into balance. This is a lesson all cooks, professional or not, should take to heart – seasoning a dish is not just about adding salt and pepper. It’s about attaining a balance of flavours.
So without further ado, here is one of the great dishes that Angus makes for the lucky staff of Gastropod.
Serving: the entire restaurant staff!
1 pound yellow curry paste
1/2 pound peanuts peeled and roasted
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon cardamom pods
1 stick cassia bark
3 sheath of mace
2 star anise
1 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 cans of longans (like a lychee)
3 pounds chicken meat
6 litres coconut cream
2 cups fried shallots
2 cups fried garlic
2 tablespoons tamarind
Crack the coconut cream by letting the milk sit still in the can to settle. The cream that sits on the top is what you want to crack. Ladle out the cream and bring it to a high simmer in a pot. Stir occasionally for about an hour and a half hours, or until the curd separates from the clear coconut oil.
Toast the spices until aromatic. Grind in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Add the roasted peanuts to the mix and blend or pound until fine. Fold in the curry paste.
Fry the curry paste with the coconut oil that you separated from the cream. The clear oil will fry the curry, while the curd lets out the curry and gives it moisture. When the curry is aromatic (3-5 minutes) add the palm sugar and fish sauce. Let out with the remaining coconut milk and cook. Fry the chicken in oil and add to the curry. Add 1 cup each of fried garlic and shallots. Check the seasoning, using tamarind to give acidity.
In the end, garnish with the sweet longans, and the rest of the fried garlic and shallots. Eat with lots of rice!
Owen Lightly is a boy from a small island in the Gulf of Georgia. After attending cooking school, he moved to Vancouver in 2002 to start a career in the restaurant “biz”. His website, Butter On the Endive, was created for sharing and caring.