OR, HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE THE PALM SUGAR
once it’s been tamed, anyway
I used to drive myself crazy trying to grate jaggery (palm sugar). Getting “enough” jaggery that didn’t end up with about 10% extra protein (from my knuckles) was a real adventure.
See, the problem with palm sugar and jaggery is that if you don’t get it crumbled up, it won’t dissolve as it should and whatever you are making will be the worse for it. Big chunks of rock-hard raw-ish sugar, whatever its source (cane, beets, palm sap…) really puts the sabot in sabotage.
Then one day a few months ago, while contending once again with a recalcitrant, uncooperative block of jaggery – after about 30 years of struggling this way – something just snapped. My inner barbarian took control.
“RRRRRRR!” gargled my inner (now outer) barbarian. “CRUSH! SMASH!”
Whereupon I grabbed the nearest vaguely weapon-like cooking tool – one of those meat tenderizers that comes in every set of kitchen implements, for reasons beyond human understanding since no one ever uses them for tenderizing meat – and proceeded to smash the living breathing daylights out of those sneering blocks of rock hard palm sugar. (They have faces – I promise you, really, they do, and they are not nice faces either, they are smirky, taunting, arrogant faces beneath that thin veneer of sugary sweetness).
The next thing I knew I had a pile of nicely crumbled bits instead of large marble-hard blocks. And the bits – apparently in considerable terror at this point – were apt to crumble easily between my fingers. If not (to the tune of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) – BANG BANG MY MEAT TENDERIZER COMES DOWN ON IT’S HEAD! (I’m convinced the Beatles’ Maxwell knew a thing or two about palm sugar).
You need to do this on a cutting board or cutting mat with a smooth, not a pebbled, surface, and you will need a table knife, metal spatula, or a dough blade to scrape the bits of sticky palm sugar up off the mat and off the surface of the meat tenderizer head. You will, of course, be using the smooth side of the head of the tenderizer as the jaggery or palm sugar will stick in between the pointy bits on the other end.
In order to catch bits of palm sugar that may go flying about loose, I take 2 or 3 flour sack cloth towels (any lintless smooth towel or cloth will do – even a pillowcase) roll them up and make a “moat” around the whacking area. With a little care – and a firm grip on your inner barbarian – judicious use of the hammer – errr, meat tenderizer – doesn’t usually end up with a lot of scattering. The “moat” will easily capture what there is of it.
Jaggery is supposed to be palm sugar, but often it’s adulterated with cane sugar – sometimes it’s even 100% cane sugar. But I stuck with jaggery because I can always find it at a local Indian grocery. However, recently I found a large Asian market not far away where I can reliably get palm sugar now – and although some of it is also partially cane sugar, the brands carried at this store at least admit that on the ingredient labels. So now I just buy 100% palm sugar at the Asian market.
And you know what? It TASTES better than the jaggery I used to buy. Possibly because I’m now getting actual palm sugar instead of something that was adulterated with cane or other sugars.
The only drawback is that the palm sugar in Asian markets is every bit as prone to being hard as rocks as is jaggery. But that’s ok – I have my hammer to help me! Now, that jar of palm sugar in the back left above – that is supposed to be spoonable. But just in case its not, or in case it tastes different (because of whatever is in it to keep it soft and squishy) I went ahead and got the solid sort as well. Well, and – you know – there’s just such SATISFACTION in being able to take a hammer to something and crush it UTTERLY! You can never have too much palm sugar, anyway.
A lump of palm sugar – see that irritating smirk?
IT’S THERE, I TELL YOU, IT’S THERE!
From hard little lump to nice pile of smooshiness. See how well that works out?
Now that I have palm sugar whipped into shape and under control, I can move on in my quest to perfect the preparation of pad thai.
Next on the chopping block:
Finding the elusive hua chai po wan, aka หัวไชโป้วหวาน, aka Thai preserved radish
(Thank you, SheSimmers, for providing the correct name for that – and most everything else Thai-related)
I am sooo hoping this is it. I know, the contents DO look vaguely… fleshlike. But I’m sure the little picture on front of twin daikon is accurate. Well, pretty sure. Really, there’s no reason to be afraid to open it up and see what I’ve got. Nooooo reason at all …
*takes a firmer grip on the hammer*