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Perhaps you've already noticed: Thai is a paste-based cuisine. Traditionally, at least.
At the foundation of most traditional dishes is a paste of some kind, comprising fresh and/or dried herbs and spices. Even a stir-fry often begins with the frying of a simple garlic or garlic-chili paste. It's no wonder why a mortar is such an essential tool in the Thai kitchen.
This reliance on paste also spills into the marinade realm as you can see in this recipe.
While there are many different Thai marinades used in various dishes, if you look closely at their ingredients, you'll see that the three ingredients that are common to most of them include: garlic, white pepper, and cilantro roots, all pounded into a fine paste. The three ingredients together create a flavor combination so powerful that oftentimes other herbs and spices aren't even needed.
Remember Thai fried shrimp cakes? Those aren't seasoned with much more than a paste of garlic, peppercorns, and cilantro roots plus a bit of salt. Yet, together these simple ingredients create something that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
This baked chicken repeats that same happy theme. We're keeping things simple here. A fine paste of the essential trio works in tandem with fish sauce, the Thai's favorite source of salinity, and honey. Those are pretty much all you need to create this weeknight meal.
Making a paste out of whole peppercorns, garlic, and cilantro roots/stems is best done in a granite mortar as if you're making a curry paste. You can certainly do this in a mini-chopper. But while metal blades can only mince finely, it takes the crushing blow of a granite pestle to bring out the essential oils in the fresh herbs and spices.
We'll be seeing a lot more recipes on My Thai Cooking that employ this 3-ingredient paste. So if you're into making Thai food at home, this may be a good time to consider if you can budget or make room for a set of Thai mortar and pestle in your kitchen. It will be worth the investment, I can assure you.