Automata is one of Sydney’s most innovative eateries, effortlessly blending cuisines and exemplifying “contemporary Australian”. But once a week, for staff meal, the kitchen fills with the scents and accoutrements of a traditional northern-Thai kitchen.
At the centre of it is Patty Antico, Thai expat and mother of Automata’s communications strategist and co-owner Tania Fergusson. Antico, who studied political science in Bangkok before immigrating to Australia 35 years ago to start her family, prepares dinner for the sizeable squads at Automata and its sister restaurant, A1 Canteen – 18 people all up.
“She ends up with the whole kitchen running around after her, helping her out,” Fergusson says. “They call her ‘Little Tornado’.”
One of the staff favourites is khao soi. Variants of this soupy red curry are popular in Myanmar, Laos and northern Thailand. The northern-Thai version, detailed below, is a thin red chicken curry ladled over fresh egg noodles, sprinkled with crispy egg noodles and topped with pickled mustard greens, chilli oil, diced red onion, coriander leaves and lime wedges.
Khao Soi (red chicken curry with fresh egg noodles)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
150g fresh or pickled mustard greens, chopped (canned pickled mustard greens are available at Asian grocery stores; otherwise see the method below)
100g red curry paste
1 small handful of grachai (or galangal or ginger), chopped
20g Thai curry powder
1 whole size-16 chicken, cut into pieces
2 400ml tins coconut milk
3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for deep-frying
2 tbsp fish sauce
500g fresh egg noodles
1 red onion, chopped
1 bunch coriander, picked
1 lime, cut into wedges
Pickled mustard greens
Wash the leaves under running water to remove any dirt, and air-dry for 12 hours to remove excess moisture. Transfer the leaves to a bowl and rub with ½ tbsp salt until the leaves begin to wither. Transfer to a sterilised jar with a tight-fitting lid, and top up with boiling water until the leaves are just covered. Add a weight on top if necessary, to keep the leaves submerged. Stand at room temperature for 7 to 14 days until the water begins to turn a bright, yellowish green.
In a small mixing bowl combine red curry paste, chopped grachai and curry powder. Transfer half of the mixture to a separate bowl, coat the chicken pieces thoroughly and transfer to the fridge, covered, to marinate for 1 hour.
Place the chicken in a pot with the two tins of coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook slowly until chicken is tender. Remove the cooked chicken and set aside, reserving the coconut milk. In another pot, heat the vegetable oil on medium and add the other half of the curry mixture. Fry lightly until fragrant. Add in the reserved coconut milk and simmer until sauce is thick. Once the sauce has thickened slightly, add the chicken and season with fish sauce.
Deep-fry 80g noodles until crisp, and set aside for garnish. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Place the remaining noodles onto a tray and loosen by hand, to prevent sticking during cooking. Cook in boiling salted water for 1–2 minutes until tender. Drain and toss with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
Divide the cooked noodles between 4 large bowls. Top with chicken curry and garnish with mustard greens, red onion, coriander, a lime wedge and fried egg noodles.