I grew up in a little town in Illinois, and my geographical boundaries were Lake
Michigan, corn fields and factories. It was a time and a place where there was
almost zero opportunity to experience exotic foods, flavors and cuisines. But
since I was a boy, I just naturally craved the exotic… coconut, limes, mint, spices,
and the smell of garlic and ginger. Thai and Vietnamese meals have all that stuff,
and when I figured that out in college and beyond, those are the restaurants I
would always seek out… and I learned from all those meals how to make them.
Back in Illinois I could never have imagined the flavors I would discover… Thai basil,
galangal, lime leaves, lemongrass and Ngo Gai, all unbelievably evocative. I still often
choose those restaurants when I’m out, but now I mostly make them myself.
In those deeply satisfying hours of cooking, our whole house becomes a temple
of exotic perfumey smells and flavors.
Like most Asian meals, the difficulty is not so much the cooking, which is fairly
simple, but in acquiring the ingredients. If you live in a big city, it’s just a matter
of seeking out those neighborhoods with large populations of Thai, Vietnamese
or Chinese folks. They will have grocery stores and supermarkets that carry the
necessary ingredients. If you come from a small town in Illinois like I did, you have
the Internet. You can order most of these ingredients on the web that are in this
recipe, things like oyster mushrooms, mirin, fish sauce, red curry paste, coconut
oil and coconut cream. Give it a try… you can bring an exotic world to your own
8 boneless chicken thighs, salted and cut into one inch chunks (we use free
range, air chilled meat) or 2 1/2 pounds of duck
4 cups of chicken broth, (we boil down the bones of an entire rotisserie chicken)
12 oz. fresh French string beans (Haricot Vert), cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
6 big carrots, peeled, split and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
16 ounces coconut cream, unsweetened, first pressing (better than “coconut milk” which is just watered down cream)
1 pound of fresh oyster mushrooms, each roughly chopped into two or three
3 to 4 heaping tablespoons of red curry paste (we use Mae Ploy)
4 tablespoons mirin, or 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons fish sauce (we use virgin first press from Red Boat)
2 to 3 inches of fresh ginger, grated
2 Jalapeño or serrano peppers (but only if you like it really spicy)
2 big shallots, finely chopped
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 cups of already cooked Jasmine rice
5 limes, juiced
5 Kaffir (Makrut) lime leaves, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 inch piece of galangal, cut into smaller chunks (optional)
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised with mortar, cut into 2 inch pieces
salt and black pepper to taste (1 to 2 teaspoons)
6 to 10 entire stalks Thai basil (or regular basil from the store or garden)
6 to 10 leaves Ngo Gai (if available)
In a large 12-14 inch sauté pan add coconut oil and crushed garlic, slowly heat
so that the garlic melts into the oil while still warming up. When it first begins to
foam, add the shallots, peppers (if used), ginger and saute gently until aromatic.
Add the chicken broth, mirin or sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and heat until it comes to a low boil.
Add the string beans, carrots, mushrooms, lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal,
and simmer until carrots are nearly cooked but still firm… 5 to 7 minutes.
Place all these ingredients into a large stock pot. Add the coconut
cream, all the chicken and the red curry paste, and simmer until the chicken is
done, 10 to 12 minutes after it first begins to simmer.
Ladle over Jasmin rice. Serves 8 to 10.
The diners will need to remove the galangal and lemongrass from their meals as they enjoy the exotic flavors of a classic evocative Thai feast Enjoy!