Thai is such a brilliant cuisine for all seasons, don't you think... Here in Queensland it’s near impossible to talk Thai cuisine without talking of the Spirit House. Five very special acres of tropical ponds, statues, aromatic herb gardens, Restaurant and famous Cooking School in rural Yandina on the Sunshine Coast. Spirit House has become a mecca for lovers of Thai dining since 1995 and so much more.
Beyond the bamboo and palm canopied Thai-style buildings, the conditions at Yandina are ideal for locally grown ginger, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, tumeric, chillies and green papaya. Just like here at Weka Weka, the hinterland provides a lush and inspiring environment to grow and create fabulous food. Lotus, lillies, herbs and aromatics abound.
Our big old Kaffir Lime tree has finally given up but a new one is establishing well. If you haven’t got a Kaffir, go plant one now! Either in your garden or a large balcony pot, you’ll never buy Kaffir lime leaves again. It’s a citrus that does well in most climates, especially with a little fertiliser and some white oil if/when needed, to prevent scale or leaf miner.
These glossy Kaffir leaves make Thai salads divine. Pop them into your rice cooker whole or enhance your stir-fries and dressings with their subtle scent. They’re a very pretty garnish too. Slice them as finely as you can; folding the leaf in half, cutting out the tough vein and then rolling up from tip to stem. The fruit has only a little juice but its zest and leaves are essential fresh ingredients for favourite curries, soups, salads and rice.
Spirit House owner Helen Brierty and the restaurant’s original Head Chef Annette Fear have produced a culinary collaboration that’s as fresh and fabulous as any I’ve seen. The Thai philosophy of creating and sharing culinary blessings is dear to my farm kitchen's heart. I refer to their cookbooks ‘Essentially Thai’ and ‘Spirit House’ often. My family and friends adore Annette’s Barbecued Chicken. This simple Thai street food is perfect served with a Carrot and Kaffir leaf Salad, Green Papaya Salad or Glass Noodle Prawn Salad. Or just a bowl of steamy sticky rice.
Barbecued Chicken with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Annette Fear of Spirit House & ‘Essentially Thai’ page 185
for BBQ Chicken - No. 16 chicken or 4 chicken Marylands or a few No.6 Spatchcocks, skin on (your choice depending on your budget) ❤ ½ teaspoon of white peppercorns ❤ 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed ❤ 4 cleaned and scrapped coriander roots ❤ 2 stalks lemon grass, bottom half only, trimmed and chopped finely ❤ 1-2 small chillies, chopped ❤ 2 teaspoons peeled fresh turmeric or a pinch of powdered tumeric ❤ 4 tablespoons fish sauce ❤ 2 tablespoons soy sauce ❤ 1 tablespoon palm sugar
for Dipping Sauce - 1 cup white sugar ❤ ½ cup coconut or rice vinegar or half & half (white vinegar is fine too) ❤ ½ cup water ❤ 1 teaspoon salt ❤ 4 cloves garlic, peeled ❤ 3 coriander roots + ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves to finish ❤ 2-4 fresh red chillies, finely chopped ❤ 1 tablespoon fish sauce
To BBQ the chicken - Cut the chicken up into pieces if needed, or if using Maryland or Spatchcock cut at the joint and place in a large bowl ready to marinate. You can also buy pre-cut free range pieces (skin on) if you prefer.
Peel and smash the garlic. Wash, clean and chop the coriander root and leaves. A mezzaluna (or very sharp knife) is easiest. Peel off the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass and finely slice from the bottom of the stalk up - until it’s too hard to get your knife further up the stem. Wash and slice the chillies carefully, use thin gloves and avoid your skin and eyes at all costs. I also chop the extra coriander leaves and chillies for the sweet chilli sauce at the same time.
Pound the peppercorns in your mortar and pestle. Make a paste by adding the prepared garlic, coriander root, lemon grass, chillies and turmeric. Pound well for a few minutes and let out any frustrations. Love that noise.
Add the fish sauce, soy and palm sugar to the mortar to complete the marinade. Rub this marinade mix all over the chicken to coat pieces well. Marinate in the fridge overnight (preferably) or otherwise for at least 2 hours.
Pre-heat your BBQ to medium heat and cook slowly, turning frequently until cooked in the centre. Test with a knife. If you don’t have a BBQ or prefer to roast your Chicken in a moderate oven, that’s fine too. Sometimes I’ll start it on the BBQ and finish it off slowly in the oven when guests arrive. Transfer chicken to a large serving platter with sweet chilli sauce on the side for dipping...or drowning.
To make the Sweet Chilli Sauce - Combine peeled garlic, washed and chopped coriander root, sliced chillies and salt in your mortar. Pound well. Combine sugar, vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil cooking over a high heat until the syrup has reduced by half (about 5-8 minutes). Add the pounded fresh ingredients and combine, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir in the fish sauce and remove from heat. Sprinkle with the chopped coriander leaves. You won’t ever buy supermarket sweet chilli sauce after you’ve made this quick and easy one.
Cooking Schools still seem to be popping up on every second street corner. I believe Spirit House is one worth every penny. Only problem is deciding which class to attend and finding a spot. There's so many possibilities and so much to learn. Fellow stir-stewers, just remind yourself as I do every so often; a cheap, light, blackened metal wok, fresh aromatics prepped to go, a small portion of a richer cut of meat, a super hot flame and the right veggies just at the end. You're sure to achieve a mighty good stir-fry. If you've got other great stir-fry tips or feedback to share, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below. YUmm, bbq chicken lunch-time.