To say that I love Thai food is a bit of an understatement. I think I may have actually been born in the wrong country. I only started eating it a couple of years ago, but in that short time I've probably tried a few dozen dishes, all of which I've liked or loved.
Also, see this?
This is nam pla prik (fish sauce with chiles) aka my Jar of Happiness. It's as standard a condiment on Thai tables as salt is on American ones and I love it so much, I just... I can't. I can't even try to explain it. This little jar holds about 8 ounces of pure, fiery joy that, in my house, will be gone not in a few months, but in a few weeks. Glad I found my local
If you've never made Thai food, perhaps because you think it's difficult to replicate in your own kitchen, may I suggest starting with this recipe? It's simple simple and so astonishingly delicious, it has given me all the confidence I need to try more of my favorite cuisine at home. Yeah baby.
Gai Pad Grapow
(literally: chicken stir-fried with basil)
slightly modified from Serious Eats
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 bird's eye chiles*, finely chopped (for medium heat, adjust as desired)
2 large shallots, finely sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 pound green beans, trimmed, chopped in 1-inch lengths
1 pound ground chicken (I prefer thigh meat)**
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar*
2 bunches holy basil*, leaves only
4 cups cooked jasmine rice
nam pla prik
1. Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or large frying pan. When you can see waves forming in the hot oil, add the chiles, shallots, and garlic and stir-fry (stir stir stir!) until golden, no more than a minute.
2. Add the green beans and stir-fry (keep stirring!) until cooked but still crunchy, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the ground chicken, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into small chunks**. Stir-fry until chicken is cooked through.
4. Add the fish sauce and sugar to the pan, and stir to distribute. Taste, and add more fish sauce or sugar if desired.
5. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the basil leaves and stir-fry until completely wilted. Remove from heat.
6. Serve with rice and nam pla prik.
*Bird's eye chiles, palm sugar and holy basil can usually be acquired at Thai markets, and possibly other Asian markets. If you can't find them, use double the amount of serranos for the chiles, regular sugar for the palm, and substitute either regular Thai or sweet basil for the holy basil. It might not be totally "authentic" (man, I hate that word sometimes), but will still taste great.
**If you have a meat grinder (obviously) or a food processor, then please, GRIND YOUR OWN CHICKEN. If using the latter, trim the chicken of as much fat as possible (if you don't, it will get wound up on the blades and interfere with the grind) and cut the chicken into about 1-inch cubes. Put the pieces on a plate or baking sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes or so, just until they are kind of hard but not frozen. Place half the cubes in the food processor and pulse until you have a coarse grind. Pour it out and then repeat with other batch. Voila. Home ground chicken in perfect, separate chunks.
Why is this so important? Well, it tastes better, for one. Far better. But more importantly, it's because the ground chicken at the store is like a big pile of mush, at least in my experience. And when you make this dish, you have to try to separate this mush into chunks over high heat, all the while trying to keep everything moving in the pan. Sticking is almost inevitable and it frustrated me the first two times I made this. The home grind eliminates this problem. The texture is already exactly what it needs to be for the finished product, so you can just dump the chicken in the pan and keep stirring. Beautiful.
(And special thanks to my friend Priscilla for reminding me to do this!)