This Laotian version of arroz con pollo is a rich, flavorful, and gorgeous one-pot dish, unusual and quite easy. See nam pla (below) for information on Thai fish sauce.
1. Put the rice in a strainer and rinse it well, then soak in cold water to cover.
2. Meanwhile, put the garlic, pepper, salt, turmeric, and nam pla into a food processor or blender. Process until the garlic is pasty and the ingredients are well incorporated, stopping the machine and scraping the sides if necessary.
3. Place a deep skillet or flameproof casserole with a lid over medium-high heat. A minute later, add the duck, skin side down, and brown well, adjusting the heat and rotating the pieces so they brown evenly, 10 to 15 minutes. As they brown, turn them and briefly brown the other side. When they are done, transfer them to a plate and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the fat.
4. Add the garlic paste to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Return the duck to the pan and stir to coat with the sauce.
5. Add 3-1/2 cups water to the pan with the duck and bring to a boil. Drain the rice and slowly stir it into the pan. Bring the water to a boil again, cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the rice is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the duck and rice sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with lime wedges.
Nam pla translates as "fish water," and this salty, pungent-smelling sauce is a pillar of Thai cuisine, used in place of salt or as other cultures use soy sauce. Nam pla (which has different names in other languages, of course) is also prevalent in parts of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and elsewhere.
Nam pla has been made for centuries if not millennia. The process starts with just-caught schooling fish, most often anchovies, which are rinsed and packed between layers of salt in open containers. The containers are left to ferment for up to a year, when the liquid generated by the process is decanted and bottled.
When buying nam pla, look for a bottle with an ingredient list on the side that's short and recognizable; brands with a preponderance of preservatives tend to be second flushes of the fermentation process—in other words, after the first batch of fish sauce is poured off, they "rinse" the fish again to obtain a lower-strength and lower-quality batch that is doctored with chemicals to make it palatable.
To the uninitiated (that includes most of us), nam pla smells musty and fishy, though sampled side by side with Worcestershire sauce (which is also made with fermented fish), it seems relatively tame. And for as much fuss as Westerners often make the first time they come across fish sauce, it's interesting to note that the Greeks and Romans made a similar condiment in a nearly identical fashion, called garum, that is called for throughout Apicius's fourth-century cookbook.
Page created 2005. Modified March 2007
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