Thai is one of our favourite cuisines, but now we live in rural Wales, there are far less Thai restaurants to visit locally in our area than when we were in London. Instead, we’ve been cooking more Thai food at home to fulfil our longings for this vibrant cuisine. Kin Thai by John Chantarasak aims to provide a collection of modern and classic Thai recipes that draw on Chantarasak’s Thai and British heritage.
To that end, Chantarasak presents classic Thai dishes and flavours, but makes use of British ingredients alongside traditional Thai ones. The result is a book that delivers all the complex flavours of Thailand, whilst allowing UK cooks to make the most of local, seasonal produce.
Matching the vibrancy of the food, the book is full of punchy colours and a bold, modern design, this aesthetic starts with the cover and is echoed throughout the book via vividly coloured pages and light, bright photography.
The ‘Introduction’ recounts Chantarasak’s childhood in Wales’ Wye Valley; joyous, food-focused visits to family in Thailand; his relocation from an office job in London to Bangkok (via a bucket-list road trip across the SA), and his realisation that food and drink wasn’t just a much-loved hobby but a viable and desirable career for him. After completing a European-focused culinary diploma at Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok, Chantarasak interned with David Thompson and Prin Polsuk, relishing the opportunity to learn Thai cuisine from such world-renowned experts. After 18 months in Thailand, he’d not only learned to cook professionally but discovered his true cooking identity. He returned to the UK, heading back to his home in Wales to regroup. A stint working at Bristol’s Casamia restaurant was educational but Chantarasak soon found himself yearning for the flavours of Thailand. He moved back to London to work with Andy Oliver, a chef building a name for classic Thai food using Asian and British ingredients, something that resonated strongly with Chantarasak’s own vision. For a collaborative event with Nicholas Balfe at Salon restaurant, Balfe encouraged Chantarasak to substitute traditional Thai ingredients with those indigenous to Britain but which could provide the same flavour profile. Chantarasak describes the result as “deeply rooted in familiar British flavours” but with a different tone; “it tasted Thai but with a different expression“. This light-bulb moment informs the heart of his cooking today, at his AngloThai restaurant residencies and home meal boxes, and which is soon opening a permanent site in London.
Next comes a section on ‘Regions of Thailand’, a richly detailed precis of the cuisine, food history and culinary traditions of Thailand’s Central, Northern, Northeastern and Southern regions. Having spent a food- and culture-packed 3 weeks in Thailand a few years ago, these passages are a joy to read, refreshing delicious memories of the many local dishes we sought out and enjoyed, as well as filling in the gaps for those we didn’t, and explaining how the regional cuisines came to be. This is followed by a similar passage on the food of ‘The British Isles’, describing the rich and fertile landscapes, and the produce grown on land or harvested in our seas and rivers.
‘Using This Book’ provides guidance on everything from using your taste and instincts to achieve balanced seasoning in each dish, some advice on the difference between Thai limes and the more globally ubiquitous Persian limes (and how Chantarasak cuts his lime juice with mandarin or clementine juice to better mimic the fragrance and flavour of Thai limes), notes on the differences between shallots and onions, good knife techniques (with notes on cutting makrut lime leaves, fresh chillies and lemongrass), creating a home pantry, and how measurements are given throughout the book. Last, a few words on ‘Assembling a Thai Meal’.
The six pages on key ‘Ingredients’ are interesting, informative and helpful (especially the tips on buying, and recommended brands); and are followed up by similar recommendations for ‘Equipment’.
And then we’re on to the recipes, divided into chapters for yum / laab Salads and ‘Laab’ (green apple and crispy dried anchovy salad, citrus-cured tuna), yang Grilled (grilled coriander and garlic chicken, Chiang Mai herbal sausage, whole salt-crusted sea bass), nahm prik / lon Relishes (roasted chilli jam, Akhar tribe cashew and dill relish), dtom Soups and Braises (langoustine and rhubarb hot and sour soup, shiitake mushroom and Thai basil soup with tapioca pearls, five-spice duck with soy-stained duck eggs), tort / pad Fried / Stir-fried (whitebait in fish sauce caramel, stir-fried minced beef with holy basil, minced pork dried turmeric curry), gaeng Curries (sour orange sea bass curry, mussels in pork fat jungle curry, peanut-enriched curry of beef cheek and Thai basil, Muslim-spiced curry of beef short rib), gap glaeem Snacks (fruits with salty-sweet chilli dip, hazelnut candied meat on red-flesh plum, roasted scallops with pounded red chilli dressing), kanom Sweets (dough sticks with pandan custard, jasmine rice ice cream, fig leaf syrup iced fruits), and ngaai Basics (tamarind water, fermented fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce).
At the beginning of each chapter, a list of the recipes within is provided, and this is backed up by a decent index (though the latter doesn’t include Thai-language ingredients or dishes, which is a shame). That said, I do love that Thai-language names are provided for every single recipe.
Photography (which accompanies many but not all recipes) is simply styled using pretty crockery and textured surfaces, and there’s no intricate or fussy styling. The food looks both beautiful and achievable, and for curried fish mousse steamed in banana leaf, step-by-step photos of how to fill and fold the parcels are very helpful.
As always, the big test of any cookbook is how good the recipes are: are they well-explained and easy to follow, can a home-cooked replicate the dishes as intended, and how do they taste? Chantarasak’s recipes deliver on all counts. An aspect that we particularly love about Thai cuisine is the complex balancing of the different aspects of flavour – sour, sweet, salty, bitter, spicy. Thus far, the three recipes we’ve made each result in bold and satisfying flavours, and are all three dishes we’ll make again.
Grilled Beef Ribeye with ‘Waterfall’ Salad (neua yang nahm tok), an Isaan dish, is perfect for the summer weather, and will wake up your taste buds with its spicy, herbal, sour and salty flavours. It’s a great way to lift a good quality steak even higher, and is straightforward to make.
Phuket Town Black Pepper Pork (mu hong) hails from Southern Thailand, and delivers a steaming bowlful of tender pork and wibbling belly fat in a rich, caramelised sauce, warming black pepper permeates every mouthful. It’s perfect with plain rice, but we also enjoyed it alongside umami-rich ‘Red Fire’ Greens with Yellow Soybean Sauce (pak kheo fai daeng) for which we used baby choi sum.
I am often drawn to cookbooks that are part travelogue, part cookbook, so Kin Thai is a departure from that – there are no images of life in Thailand, nor Chantarasak’s experiences there. And yet, the recipes themselves, especially when paired with the comprehensive introduction to the food of Thailand’s four main regions, are absolutely enough to earn this book a place on our bookshelves, and we will certainly be making many more of the recipes within in the weeks, months and years to come.
Recipes from Kin Thai
We have permission from Hardie Grant to share some recipes with you from the book:
- Grilled Beef Ribeye with ‘Waterfall’ Salad
- Phuket Town Black Pepper Pork
- ‘Red Fire’ Greens with Yellow Soybean Sauce
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Kin Thai by John Chantarasak from publishers Hardie Grant. Book photography by Maureen M. Evans.