This dish is not Thai. But it almost is. It was inspired by two cooks whose Thai cooking I very much admire: Jackie Kearney, who provided me with the basic recipe for these fritters; and Andy Oliver, whose pop-up restaurant Som Saa produces Thai food that is simply unreal. Both Jackie and Andy are fellow MasterChef alumni who do Thai food properly, using loads of fresh and vibrant ingredients and drawing maximum flavor out of them through careful cooking and good technique. I spent a couple days sharing a prep kitchen with Andy last year and I learned loads just from watching him work. Little things, like how he char-grilled vegetables before using them to deepen and heighten their flavors, and how he made all his sauces using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor. This tried-and-true but far more labor-intensive method releases aroma in a different way and prevents deadening flavors through heat caused by the friction of spinning blades.
I approached Jackie’s recipe with techniques like this in mind. Though I didn’t follow it to the letter, it came out very nicely, and I was especially happy with the dipping sauce I made to go with it – and it was quite easy. I began by blowtorching a tomato, a clove of garlic, a chunk of ginger, and some wedges of Meyer lemon. I peeled the tomato and then blowtorched it again. I sliced the garlic and ginger along with two finger chillies and the white part of a spring onion, and pounded them in a mortar until they broke down into a chunky paste. I then added some yuzu peel which had been infusing into oil for a week and a half, and carried on pounding. I then minced the tomato by hand and put it in a bowl along with the paste from the mortar and the juice from the burnt Meyer lemons. I added fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and a spoonful of golden caster sugar. I stirred it up and tasted it. It was awesome.
I set the sauce aside and made the fritter batter as I heated some oil. A can of corn, a couple of chopped spring onions, some chopped tomato, and coriander stems along with an egg, black pepper, salt, plain flour, and rice flour. Oh, and some baking powder, just for fun. I lowered spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and cooked them for about 6 minutes each, until bronze in color. I served them on shredded cabbage. They were delightfully crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. But the real winner was the sauce – it was acidic and salty and bright, but it also had depth. It came together as one big whack of flavor, but you could also taste individual components, and the sauce changed slightly with each mouthful. I don’t know if it was really Thai, but it used some Thai flavors and Thai techniqes, but at any rate, it was delicious. And that’s all that matters.