More Thai cooking

Three more Thai dishes, all adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food. The first and second were served together.

Above is a Thai street food called neua pat bai grapao – stir-fried minced beef with chiles and holy basil. It’s unbearably delicious and very simple and quick to make. For an individual serving: Pound 2 long green chiles with 4 bird chiles and a large pinch of salt to make a paste in your mortar. Pound in 3 peeled garlic cloves. Heat a wok over high heat until extremely hot, add 1 tbs vegetable oil until extremely hot, fry the paste for about a minute, add 1/5 pound ground beef. Continue to fry and stir while breaking up the beef until mostly browned, about a minute. Add 3 tbs chicken stock (unsalted), a large pinch of white sugar, 1 tbs dark soy sauce, 1 tbs light soy sauce, sprinkle over a handful of holy basil leaves and serve.

I accidentally misread dark soy sauce as “black” soy sauce, a Thai variation that is sweet as well as salty. I’ve tried it both ways and can report that the black soy adds an extra dimension – make sure to taste and adjust seasoning at the very end though.

Holy basil is the basil generally used in spicy basil stirfries that you have encountered in Thai restaurants. It’s bitter and sharp and spicy compared to “Thai basil,” which is the Thai variant of sweet basil, the fragrant purple-stemmed garnish added to curries at the very end.

Kaffir lime juice dressing with grilled prawns (saeng wa gung pao) is confusingly listed under relishes in Thompson’s book, a hint that the Thai think of dish classification very differently from Americans. This looks and tastes like a salad to us. Thompson writes with typical understatement, “It has an unusual combination of flavors and textures that stimulates a flagging palate,” and that is true – it makes an excellent accompaniment to the minced beef stirfry above, served with jasmine rice and some prik nam pla.

The shrimp are grilled unpeeled, yielding a pleasant flavor of char. Once cool, you must peel, devein and shred them. They are then dressed with this fantastic dressing:

2 tbs kaffir lime juice
2 tbs Asian citron or mandarin orange juice
1 tbs fine white sugar
2 tbs fish sauce

and combined with the remaining ingredients. I used regular lime juice and mandarin orange juice (conveniently in season right now – the oranges are particularly juicy and rich) and the result is eye-poppingly delicious.

The remaining ingredients are idiosyncratic, to say the least:

2 bird chiles, pounded
3 red shallots, very finely sliced
1 tbs very finely sliced lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves, very finely julienned
2 tbs julienned young ginger
1 tbs julienned long red or green chile
handful of mixed mint and coriander leaves

If you’ve ever tried to eat even very fine slices of raw lemongrass or ginger, it doesn’t seem like this would work at all. For some reason, when all the ingredients are combined, they become perfectly edible, their texture and flavor balancing out the dressed shrimps perfectly. “The amount of shredding and the uncommon ingredients in this recipe suggest that it was originally royal food.”

Heavenly beef (neua sawarn) is another street food, “served with chile sauce and an ice-cold beer.” Totally fantastic. I used round, but Thompson recommends rump. The strips are marinated in a paste of coriander root, salt, garlic and white peppercorns, along with sugar and light soy, for three hours. You then press crushed coriander seeds into the beef and dry it in the sun until almost, but not quite, dry – about a full day. I used an oven set to just warm. You then DEEP FRY them in hot oil. Delicious!

By the way, Thompson has a new book devoted to Thai street food. If it’s anything like Thai Food, it should be fantastic, and the photos are supposed to be gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s coffee-table sized and difficult to use in the kitchen. Link is here.

2 thoughts on “More Thai cooking”

  1. Patrick, your food is seriously awesome looking. Where are you shopping for your more exotic ingredients (primarily the holy basil, red shallots, and bird chilies).

    A friend got the Thai Street Food book for Christmas. While definitely gorgeous, it is large enough to disarm a burglar and has very few actual recipes for the size.

  2. The bird chiles are available at most Indian and Middle Eastern grocers, as well as Chinatown… so Spice Corner, Foods of India and Kalustyan’s in Curry Hill, and Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown, as well as the Thai and Filipino grocer on the south side, middle of the block of Bayard St. between Mott and Mulberry. Red shallots are available throughout Chinatown for $1.50 for a large bag. The holy basil is a LOT harder. Right now Bangkok Center Grocery has it but they don’t always. They are a magical shop for Thai ingredients (though much more expensive than other places), located on tiny one-block Mosco St. in Chinatown, between Mott and Mulberry. (Fried Dumplings next door has 5 tasty pork-and-scallion Beijing style potstickers for $1, with bottles of vinegar and sriracha on the counter.)

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