The morning after my amazing birthday dinner party, I woke up with a slight hangover and trudged over to the kitchen. Although my friends helped me wash the dishes, there was still a lot of cleaning up that needed to be done. I looked around at the aftermath of the party and smiled – empty bottles of wine and champagne, birthday cards and gifts on the floor by the fireplace, the guitar casually resting on my couch, half empty champagne flutes in random places around the living room, the aluminum cylinder planter that was severely bent out of shape from using it as a drum during an impromptu jam session, and lots of dirty footprints on the kitchen tiles from the heavy foot traffic. It was a raging party!
I was hungry, but my stomach had too much rich food and alcohol the night before, so I was craving comfort food. Something Asian, something that would hit the spot. I looked inside the fridge to see what I could eat. There were 4 pork legs left over from the pig feast, and I remembered back to the numerous times that I visited Ruen Pair in Thai Town in the middle of the night for Khao Kha Moo. It’s my favorite dish there, and it always hits the spot. I got inspired and motivated to make it that day.
Khao Kha Moo, stewed pork leg over rice, is a popular street food in Thailand. It’s usually made with a fresh hunk of pork shank, but I figured that these roasted piglet legs would do just fine. I crushed garlic cloves and Szechuan peppercorns in my granite mortar into a paste.
I placed the pork legs into my beloved Le Creuset dutch oven and added water, black soy sauce, thin soy sauce, brown sugar, Shaoxing rice wine and the garlic paste.
In addition, I threw in some cinnamon sticks, star anise, black peppercorns and Chinese Five spice powder. After bringing it to a boil, I lowered the heat to a gentle simmer and let it braise on the stovetop for a few hours. The lovely smell of Thai pork stew filled my kitchen and permeated into the hallways.
After a few hours I opened the cover of my dutch oven to find this delightful surprise- rich, dark reduced sauce and tender meat that was starting to fall off the bones. I stared at this pot in amazement and started drooling out of the corners of my mouth. The skin and meat fell apart effortlessly, and I didn’t even have to use a knife to cut them for the dish.
I bought a packet of pickled mustard greens from a market in Thai Town, and quickly boiled them in chicken stock. I assembled the pork with these mustard greens over steamed jasmine rice, sprinkled fresh cilantro and stew jus over the dish, and served it with a green chili vinegar sauce. I think it only took me 5 minutes to devour the whole thing. It was delicious, and it really hit the spot. Ever since Ruen Pair went under new management, the Khao Kha Moo hasn’t been as good there. Thus, I can now confidently say that my Khao Kha Moo kicks Ruen Pair’s ass.
I also had a ton of Mission figs left over from the feast. I bought a whole carton, thinking that I would use it all in the seared foie gras dish, but I only used a half. Figs are delicate fruits that go bad very quickly once they’re ripe, so I decided to make a fig compote that would keep in the fridge for weeks.
I threw in these fresh Mission figs into my pot with a little bit of water, some left over red wine from the party, and a whole lot of port wine.
I added some cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, a squeeze of organic honey, and let it simmer in the pot for a while until the figs started to become soft and mushy.
That evening, and for many evenings after that, I enjoyed this luscious and dark port wine-fig compote over vanilla bean ice cream. The dark and rich syrup was amazing with the vanilla flavors. I’ve tried the compote with yogurt, pastries, seared duck breast and mascarpone cheese, but my favorite combination is vanilla ice cream.
Left overs get a bad rap, but depending on what you do with them, they’re not so bad. In fact, they can be amazing if you take the time to love them and nurture them. All it takes is understanding how to cook them in a way that best represents their potential. What’s sitting in your fridge right now, waiting to be transformed into something wonderful?
Random trivia: Did you know that khao kha moo was one of Samak Sundaravej’s favorite foods? He was a famous celebrity chef and food critic in Thailand who became Thai’s Prime Minister in early 2008. He even had his own cooking show called Tasting, Ranting that was a huge hit in Thailand. Sadly, his term only lasted 9 months, after he was ousted due to controversial political and legal activities. Even more sadly, he just passed away a few months ago. RIP.
We’ve already elected Hollywood actors as California governor and President of the United States. It may not be too far in the future that one of our famous celebrity chefs becomes our nation’s next leader. Bobby Flay? Paula Deen? Todd English?