Everybody who’s into cooking seems to love the idea of cooking Thai. But perhaps rather oddly, few cooks outside Thailand want to go to the effort of buying a Thai-style clay pot. ‘Can I make do with something else?’ is the question at the back of their minds. Yes, is the answer, sure you can, and the recipe you’ll find below is easy to adapt.
That said, compromising isn’t always your best friend. You can miss out on a lot by skimping. If you make the effort to go and buy a clay pot, preferably one that sits atop a charcoal burner, then you’ll be cooking in a very traditional style. In goong ob woonsen, the flavours come in layers of their own, starting with pork, then that time-honoured combination of ginger and black pepper along with yummy noodles and prawns, finally rounded off with plenty of vegetables, all crisp and succulent. By the way, if you can’t find coriander roots, you can always use stems instead, though the resulting flavour may be a little different.
Many pots are quite small, and may only hold half of the recipe, so you may be restricted by the size of your container. However, that said, when it comes to shrimp, you can use as many as you like and cut back on other ingredients. The bacon isn’t entirely necessary, so don’t worry if you don’t have any. If you don’t want to invest in a Thai-style clay pot, then you can use a covered stoneware casserole dish and place in the oven for the same time, at around 375 degrees. It should turn out just fine. A Spanish or Catalan glazed clay pot with lid will be an equally good alternative. Please don’t even ask about microwave possibilities – we’re trying to keep things traditional here!
Once the clay pot is done cooking, you’ll end up with a plate of noodles spiced with the scrumptious flavours of black pepper and ginger.
• 12 shrimp, deveined
• 3 ounces of glass noodles, known simply as woonsen in Thai
• 3 strips bacon, cut into rectangles
• 1 cup Chinese celery, cut into smallish pieces
• 2 ½ tbsp ginger, sliced very thinly
• 1 tbsp garlic, chopped
• ½ tbsp black peppercorns (use more if you prefer hotter)
• 2 coriander roots
• 2 ½ tbsp oyster sauce
• 1 tbsp thin soy sauce
• 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• A small cup of water
The first thing to do is to place the noodles in a bowl of water for about 15 minutes. (Make sure the water is warm.) This gives you ample time to get all the other ingredients ready.
The spice paste comes next and is easy to make. Use a traditional mortar and pestle, if you have one, otherwise use a blender, though the results may not be quite as good. Mix the garlic, ginger, black peppercorns and coriander roots, but leave the peppercorns right until last, as they need to be coarse rather than fine – this will impart more flavour to the dish and give it a slightly crunchy texture.
Next, prepare the soy sauce mix by combining the oyster sauce, both types of soy sauce, along with the sesame oil and water.
Now it’s time to layer the clay pot. First, however, remove the noodles from the water, drain and set aside. Then take the clay pot and put in the bacon, which should entirely coat the bottom. Next, add the ginger and the spice paste, the drained noodles, shrimp and, last of all, the soy sauce mix. You’re now ready to start the final process, the actual cooking.
Should you be using a charcoal burner then make sure that the charcoal is nicely glowing throughout; it’ll take some time to get to this stage. Otherwise, put the pot on a stove, and using a heat diffuser, cook for about 25 – 30 minutes over medium heat. Add in the vegetables some five minutes before the cooking is finished to ensure that they’re delightfully crisp. (If you’re not worried, however, it’s easier to add them in to the pot before the cooking process starts, as the final, top layer.)
Once the pot is ready, mix all the ingredients together using chopsticks or a salad spoon and fork and serve onto individual plates. Alternatively, just let your guests dip into the clay pot!