Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cooking up a Thai Storm

There are probably hundreds of food blogs around the world but only a handful here in Dubai. Arva, the writer of I Live In A Frying Pan has successfully managed to get a number of us in contact and last Thursday we all met up for a Thai cooking class at the International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA). From the cyber world to the real word, it was a great opportunity to meet like-minded foodies around our common interest...eating!

I had never heard of the ICCA but whilst their main focus is on training professional chefs, they offer a huge variety of cooking classes for the general public as well. Hidden away in the Hana Centre shopping mall in Satwa, it was a real shock to find a huge gleaming industrial kitchen hiding behind the innocuous looking door. Group classes require a minimum of 8 people and at Dhs 200 per person it is great value since we learned not only how to cook delicious Thai dishes but we also got to eat the full 3 course menu once we were finished.


Being a professional cooking environment, extremely attractive hair nets were the order of the day - needless to say I didn't bring that little memento home with me to use again. We started off with dessert since that needed time to cook and set: Pandana Creme Caramel. I had always thought that the brown syrup on top of creme caramel was poured on before serving, I learned that in fact it is toffee (simply melted and caramelised sugar) which is poured into the bottom of the ramekin so that once the creme caramel has set and you tip it on to your plate then the toffee is there on the top - a sort of upside down cake. Pandana leaves cooked in coconut milk, liquidised and then strained into cream, egg and sugar are what gave this dessert its Thai flavour. Not being able to eat dairy and not being a big fan of cold custards, I didn't actually eat the finished article and realise that I also forgot to even get a photo!

Starters included a Green Papaya Salad with caramalised cashew nuts and Shrimp on Lemongrass Sticks. The shrimp was very much like the sate lilit that I had in Indonesia; shrimp, chillies, ginger, coriander and other ingredients minced together and molded around a lemongrass stick which was then breadcrumbed and deep fried. The demonstration from the chef of how to do it looked easy - in practice, picking up the wet shrimp mixture and trying to mold it around the stick was disastrous and the chef had to 'improve' pretty much everyone's attempts. It seems the trick was to have as much flour as possible on your hand and to move your hand round the stick as quickly as you could so that the mixture wouldn't glue onto your hand instead of the stick. Not an easy job. Both dishes were quite heavy on chilli (as with a lot of Thai cooking) so whilst I could appreciate the flavours, in order to preserve my tastebuds I could only manage to eat a small amount.


The main courses of Red Fish Curry and Crispy Beef in Honey were both amazing and suited my palate since I put in the tiniest amount of red curry paste into the fish and no chillies at all into the beef. Luckily my team (Arva and Salman from Dubai Moves) had no issues with these changes to the official recipe. The fish was extremely easy to cook since the sauce was basically just coconut milk with curry paste, fish sauce and lime juice and the fish only needed a few minutes to poach in the sauce. I made this again last night and Simon agreed - yummy! The beef was also easy to make but it required a bit more preparation since the beef needed mixed with oil, soya and rice flour before cooking it and it included julienne'd vegetables (always painstaking to cut veg so finely). The result was fabulous though and when the time came to plate up all our dishes we had significantly less beef on display than the other teams - I have no idea where it had gone but the fact that we didn't finish cooking until 9pm and were starving may give a small hint! I've also made this again at home but it sadly didn't turn out half as nicely - practice will make perfect though.


To accompany the mains we had sticky Thai rice and stir-fried noodles with vegetables. I usually use rice vermicelli noodles but these were the flat tagliatelli-style rice noodles and they gave the dish a much more attractive look - when I made it again this week I used vermicelli noodles so my official verdict was to use the tagliatelli ones next time. As a team, preparing all the julienne'd vegetables didn't seem like a big task, doing it alone this week I seemed to be there finely chopping carrots, peppers and other veg for an absolute age. Still, worth investing the time to eat a flavoursome meal - you could throw in some prawns or thinly sliced meat to make these noodles into a complete meal on their own.


This is the first cooking class I've done and I really enjoyed it. My only issue was that by starting the class at 7pm, I was already feeling extremely hungry so for the future I would definitely want to start around 5pm so that everything would be ready to sit down and eat at a more reasonable hour. It was great to meet other bloggers and hear about how they got into writing their blogs - check their sites out too. Roll on the next event.

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