Chef Chat, Part 3: Junnajet "Jett" Hurapan of Blu - A Taste of Thai and More
Chef Jett Hurapan's family recipe crispy whole fish with spicy tamarind sauce
Photos by Mai Pham
Before meeting Chef Jett and chatting with him, I had no idea what Blu was about. The restaurant name is not really descriptive, and I had mistakenly envisioned fancied-up bar-type food.
However, the cuisine is so much more than that, an expression of Hurapan's Thai roots, his love of street food, and his philosophy of combining comfort with bursts of flavor.
A large part of the menu is comprised of Asian-style small plates, what Hurapan calls "global street food." There are crispy lamb samosas, crispy Saigon chicken-shrimp spring rolls with plum sauce, and dumplings, all priced very affordably in the $5 to $7 range.
Edamame dumplings topped with truffle butter. Dim sum on steroids.
I sampled the edamame dumpling, a riff on the traditional "har gow" dim sum dumpling, which is made with a har gow-style wrapper, stuffed with edamame paste, and then finished off with white truffle oil butter. Say what you will about white truffle oil, but the aromas were scintillating, and the subtle flavors of edamame, coupled with chewiness of the tapioca dumpling wrapper with the heady scent of truffle, addictive.
Kaya beef, a Thai-style beef jerky, takes three days to prepare.
I knew even before taking a bite that I would love the kaya beef. He didn't have to tell me it was beef jerky, because it looked just like a dish I'd had in Bangkok. The beef was flavorful, with the sinewy texture of beef jerky, the spicy sweet and tangy Sriracha-based sauce leaving a slow burn on the tongue and lips.
The final touch to the Morimoto-inspired tuna tataki - a drizzle of hot chili oil
A long, prettily plated tuna tataki, made of spice-rubbed charred rare tuna, and finished with citrus soy and sizzling oil, showed off a good mix of Asian and Cajun flavors. "It's important to keep the fish raw inside," he said, "the hot oil just barely chars the fish. I learned that from [Iron] Chef Morimoto," says Hurapan, revealing yet another facet of his wide repertoire.
Tuna tataki took on a Cajun spin with a blackened spice rub.
The food leading up to his crispy whole fish was already excellent, but it was the family-recipe tamarind-based crispy whole fish that would steal the show. The whole fish body had been fried, and manipulated to sit upright in a "U" shape. This acted as the frame for a mound of deboned, fried fish filets, which had been cut up in chunks, doused in a bit of flower, and fried to a crisp. The entire presentation was finished off with the three-flavor sauce, made up of tamarind, chili, and basil, and taking a bite of it immediately transported me to the streets of Thailand.
"This isn't street food," I joked in between mmms, aaahs and repeated exclamations of how good the fish was. "But it is," Hurapan insisted. "Thai people eat fish on the street all the time."
So if you want the authentic taste of Thailand, I say head to Blu. The flavors are undiluted, bold, strong. In fact, I haven't had Thai food of this authenticity and quality anywhere else in Houston. And these dishes were just the tip of the iceberg.
Hurapan is still refining the menu at the this point, but already, there's so much more I want to try -- tamarind-glazed spare ribs, fire cracker wings, Hawaiian sun fish en papillote, not to mention his pad Thai. I would come back to try that alone. As it is, I definitely know where to stop by when I get late-night hunger pangs on the weekend. Chicken satay on a stick at midnight on Saturday, anyone?
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