How the Jit­lada sib­lings make fish dip

Chef Tui Sungkamee and sis­ter Jazz Singsanong give us an easy one that’s also eas­ily ad­justed to taste.

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - By Noelle Carter

“Oh, my gosh, I have to show you this dish! It’s so fast and easy — and per­fect for di­et­ing!” Jazz Singsanong said breath­lessly, scrolling through the Instagram ac­count on her iPhone. She was look­ing for a photo of one of her restau­rant’s lat­est dishes, a sim­ple fish dip, served along­side a plat­ter of col­or­ful veg­eta­bles and herbs.

Singsanong, 60, co-owns the cel­e­brated Thai restau­rant Jit­lada in East Hol­ly­wood with her brother, chef Tui Sungkamee, 63. Sungkamee is the cre­ative force be­hind the restau­rant’s al­most 400 dishes; Singsanong runs the front of the house, of­ten post­ing pho­tos of food as it comes out of the kitchen, her so­cial me­dia a vir­tual menu of the south­ern Thai dishes they know from home, the Nakhon Si Tham­marat prov­ince of Thai­land.

“Just a few in­gre­di­ents,” she said. “Let us come to the Test Kitchen to make it. Your read­ers will love it!”

Thus Singsanong and Sungkamee re­cently came to The Times’ Test Kitchen with a bag of in­gre­di­ents and a few tools, in­clud­ing Sungkamee’s heavy mor­tar and pes­tle. They un­packed and set­tled in at one of the coun­ters near the stove, set­ting up a wok and quickly chop­ping and ar­rang­ing in­gre­di­ents near the stove.

Sungkamee un­wrapped a cou­ple of whole striped bass, sea­son­ing them with a sprin­kling of Thai chile pow­der, fish sauce and a squeeze of lime as he heated a grill. He then wrapped them in foil and set them over the grill to cook for 10 to 15 min­utes. As the fish cooked, he heated a wok to make a chile paste.

“The wok is very im­por­tant in Thai cooking. It’s very fast,” said Sungkamee. He added a lit­tle oil, watch­ing it shim­mer in the hot pan, then stirred in a hand­ful of sliced gar­lic and onion. Un­like a lot of West­ern cooking, in which gar­lic is just cooked un­til it is aro­matic, this gar­lic cooks much longer, to a rich deep brown, drawing out fla­vors that are the foun­da­tion of much Asian cooking. “The burning is where the fla­vor is,” he said.

Sungkamee added a hand­ful of Thai chiles, then a spoon­ful of Thai chile pow­der, tast­ing the mix­ture. “It’s all up to you. You want more heat, add more. Less heat, add less.” Sat­is­fied, he put the mix­ture in the mor­tar, slowly grind­ing it to a paste.

As her brother worked, Singsanong said that the paste could be made in a food pro­ces­sor or blen­der but that the fla­vor was best if ground slowly in a mor­tar. “We orig­i­nally did this with no ma­chine. It’s bet­ter old-school.”

When the paste was ready, Sungkamee checked the fish, not­ing it was done when the skin peeled eas­ily and the flesh was firm and opaque. He flaked the fish, care­ful to pick out any bones, then ground it us­ing the mor­tar and pes­tle. Singsanong stressed that, while they were mak­ing this dip us­ing the bass, other fish, or even ground chicken or tofu, could be sub­sti­tuted. They’ve even made the dish us­ing ground grilled egg­plant.

To fin­ish the dip, Sungkamee fired up the wok again, heat­ing a lit­tle more oil. He added a spoon­ful of chile paste, then the ground fish, stir­ring to com­bine the fla­vors. Af­ter a cou­ple of min­utes, he be­gan to taste it, ad­just­ing the fla­vor­ings to his lik­ing: a lit­tle fish sauce to sea­son, a squeeze of lime to brighten the fla­vors and add some acid, a touch of sugar to sweeten, ad­di­tional chile paste for heat.

While he cooked, Singsanong ar­ranged a plat­ter with wedges of cab­bage, crisp let­tuce leaves, ser­rano chiles, cilantro and basil, sliced cu­cum­ber, strips of red bell pep­per and lime wedges. She said the dish could also be served with rice. As she fin­ished, Sungkamee spooned the dip into a bowl. Sim­ple in­deed.

noelle.carter@la­times.com

Pho­tog raphs by Don Kelsen Los An­ge­les Times

STEP 4: Scoop the chile fish dip into a bowl, gar­nish and serve with condi­ments or rice.

STEP 1: Cook chopped gar­lic, onions and Thai chiles in a wok over medium heat.

STEP 3: Sea­son fish and grill it in foil. The f laked meat is then cooked with the paste.

STEP 2: Mash cooked gar­lic, onions and chiles to a paste in a mor­tar for 10 to 15 min­utes.

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