If Chef Trakool Yodsuk has his way, every household will use, at least, three types of oil in their kitchen – one to stir-fry, one to make salad dressings and one to deep-fry.
“Most Asians have the habit of using just one type of oil for all their cooking. It may be cost effective, but surely doesn’t do justice to the food they are making,” says Chef Korn, as he is more popularly known.
Korn co-owns and heads the kitchen of Erawan Classic Thai and Fusion restaurant in Kota Damansara, Selangor. The restaurant is noted as one of Asia’s finest restaurants by the Miele Guide and has been selected numerous times as one of the best restaurants in the country.
The chef isn’t particular about the types of oil used to stir-fry or in salads – it can be canola, or olive oil – but insists that only palm oil is used for deep frying.
Maybe the chef is onto something. He does come from the land of the Thai paradox.
What is the Thai paradox? A quick walk down the streets of Bangkok will give you a hint.
Almost every corner of the city is packed with street food vendors selling deep-fried treats, and yet you would be hard pressed to find an obese Thai person around.
Could palm oil be the secret weapon in Thai cuisine for eating deep-fried food and still staying slim? On top of being cost effective, palm oil is also rich in pro-vitamin A and vitamin E, and is trans-fatty acids free, after all.
“The right oil brings out the best of the ingredients when you deep-fry. I am not saying that you should eat deep-fried food every day. Moderation is of course crucial in our diets.
“But think about it; if and when you do decide to have fried chicken, don’t you want to make the best fried chicken? That you get when you deep-fry with palm oil,” he says.
Deep-frying requires oil to be hot, and thus, one with a high smoke point does the trick best.
When oil is heated past this point, the fat molecules break down, oxidise and release free radicals and a substance called acrolein – the chemical that gives burnt foods their acrid flavour and aroma.
Canola has a smoke point of 220-230°C and olive oil’s stands at 180°C. Best for the job?
Korn says it is palm oil which is used in many of his Thai dishes. With 235°C smoke point, palm oil can withstand high heat and deliver the desired end product.
Besides palm oil, Chef Korn has another secret to getting the crispy, crunchy fried chicken skin that every home cook desires.
He uses crushed ice in his recipe, modifying the Japanese chefs’ use of ice water for making tempura.
Cold water develops the gluten in the flour slower than warm water does. Developed gluten makes for denser batter skin when cooked, so it is ideal to keep it dormant for as long as possible.
Korn’s fried chicken wings with crushed ice are unbelievably crisp and crunchy, so there probably is a method in his madness.
“Go ahead and use crushed ice for your deep-fried recipes. It works really well for fried fritters as well. You won’t look at your pisang goreng the same way again,” he says with a smile.
Korn uses pisang Raja to make fritters as the banana isn’t too soft and won’t go limp after deep-frying.
“I also add grated coconut in the batter to give it a better texture. It’s a common trick when frying fritters in Thailand,” he says.
If there is one rule that Korn practises with palm oil, it is its reusability. He suggests frying potatoes in used palm oil to make it “clear” for the second usage.
“A good reminder is not to reuse your palm oil until it turns thick and near black. Degraded oil not only has a reputation for clogging your arteries, it is also bad for the cook to inhale the smoke that it emits,” he says.
“Reuse oil just once or twice – don’t over use it.”
2 pisang Raja, cut lengthwise into 3 to 4 slices
300g taro, peeled and cut lengthwise into slices of 0.3cm thickness
300g sweet potato, peeled and cut lengthwise into slices of 0.3cm thickness
500ml palm oil, for deep frying
225g rice flour, sifted
115g tapioca flour, sifted
115g fresh grated coconut
30g sesame seeds
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp fine salt
2 tbsp sugar
235ml coconut milk
For the batter
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients of flours, grated coconut, sesame seeds, baking powder, salt, and sugar, and give it a stir. Add the coconut milk. Stir with whisk to mix well. It should result in a fairly thick batter without any lumps.
Heat the palm oil in a wok on high heat until hot. Dip the banana, taro and sweet potato slices in the batter and drop into the oil until you have 5-6 fritters going, without overcrowding the wok. When the batter is set, flip them over to crisp and brown the other side.
Whenever the oil gets too hot and the batter browns too fast, lower the heat slightly to keep it at a constant temperature. Remove the fritters and place on paper towels to absorb the oil.
Tip: Cut up 1-2 pandan leaves and fry together in the oil to give the fritters a nice pandan aroma.
CRISPY FISH SAUCE CHICKEN WINGS
1kg chicken wings
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp pepper powder
120g (1/2 cup) tempura flour
1/2 cup crushed ice
700ml (3 cups) palm oil, for deep frying
Thai chilli sauce, for dipping
To season and coat wings
Remove the wing tip and cut the wing into two at the joint to separate the drumette from the wing flat. Pat dry.
In a medium mixing bowl, place the chicken wing parts, fish sauce and pepper powder. Toss to mix well. Add the tempura flour and toss to mix well. Add the crushed ice and mix until the ice melts into the tempura flour to coat the wings well. Set aside.
To fry wings
Heat the palm oil in a wok on high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, turn down the heat to medium and add the wings in batches without overcrowding.
Cook until golden brown – the thicker upper wing will require a few minutes more of cooking.
Remove and drain on paper towels to absorb oil. Repeat process if you have more wings to fry.
Serve warm with Thai chilli sauce.
Tip: About 10 seconds before removing the fried chicken wings from the wok, turn the heat up to the highest level. This will ensure that the chicken wings are not soaked in oil, thus making them crispier.
CRISPY PAKU SALAD
120g fern tips (pucuk paku)
some flowers like bunga telang and ixora, or rose and hibiscus petals (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2-3 coriander roots, cleaned
1 tsp white peppercorns, or to taste
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup tempura flour
1 cup crushed ice
700ml palm oil, for deep frying
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp chopped birdeye chillies, or to taste
50g minced chicken, cooked (stir-fried lightly in some oil)
50g prawns, boiled and peeled
50g squid, boiled
3 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
For the batter
Pound the garlic, coriander root and white peppercorns into a paste.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the salt, tempura flour and crushed ice.
Using your hand, work the ice and flour together until the crushed ice melts. It will take about 5 to 10 minutes.
Mix thoroughly to obtain a fairly thick batter without any lumps.
Then whisk with wire whisk until smooth. Add in 1 teaspoon of the paste and whisk again.
Heat the palm oil in a wok or deep saucepan on high heat until hot.
Dip a fistful of the paku leaves and flower mixture in the batter and deep-fry until crisp and golden brown.
Remove the fritters and place on paper towels to absorb the oil.
Serve warm with sauce.
For the sauce
In a bowl, mix fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chopped chilli and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add minced chicken, prawn, squid, shallot, spring onion and coriander leaves and toss together.