Back from vacation with exotic ingredients for Thai feast
by Alan Reed
Jun 06, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vacation is always a great time, but rarely, if ever, long enough. While in Florida, and returning to Cadiz through Nashville, I often stop to pick up a few unique ingredients that are not in demand locally.

Last Sunday was no exception. After getting a ride from one of my cousins, I picked up my car and headed to one of those health food and exotic ingredient super-stores. When I found a few interesting items, my mind went to work assembling menus around the ingredients. This week has yielded a few neat new dishes. We had some tabouleh last Wednesday, and that went over well with Hawkins and Matt. I wasted little time trying my new groceries though, heading straight to work on Monday night to prepare a Thai curried chicken dish called gai tua. I am not sure how to pronounce that, so let’s call it Thai chicken in peanut curry sauce.

I know, I know, “Again with the chicken,” but as I said, there are so many options that a reader could have chicken every night for a month and not even realize he or she was eating the same meat. I use a lot of it because it is low in fat, inexpensive and versatile.

For this dish, we start with a pound to a pound-and-a-quarter of boneless chicken breasts. Trim the fat from the meat and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a skillet then add the chicken and a tablespoon of minced garlic. Cook it at medium heat, and season with a little salt and pepper, and maybe a teaspoon of soy sauce, just to give the chicken some flavor. Cover the skillet as the meat cooks, but turn frequently to prevent over-browning. As the chicken cooks, add a quarter cup of rice wine to the pan to simmer to a thick glaze. Add a coarsely chopped half of a red onion to the chicken and continue to simmer as the wine reduces.

I haven’t had a lot of experience with Thai food, to be honest. I’ve eaten it a few times, but never on a regular basis. I remember the foods I tried had plenty of vegetables, and they had been stir-fried a little longer than in Chinese dishes. They were never cooked “southern style,” as we might say around here, but wilted a bit more. I thought of the vegetables that might be good in this, and cut the tips from a head of broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Green onions seemed to be a popular component in my mind, so I cut about six green onions into inch-and-a-half strips after removing the tips. I cut a single rib of celery into thin, two-inch pieces for some crunch and celery goodness, of course. I recalled Thai cuisine’s spiciness, so I also removed the seeds from two jalapenos, and sliced them lengthwise into thin strips. Though jalapenos are not overwhelming in fire, they add spice with the texture of peppers. Carrots, water chestnuts and green peppers would have worked well, but I worried about crowding the chicken in the pot. Add whatever vegetables you enjoy.

Take the chicken and vegetables and place into a five-quart pan on medium heat with a tablespoon of oil in the bottom. For extra warmth, add an eight of a tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the oil. Stir-fry the chicken and vegetables, adding a teaspoon of fish sauce, a few dashes of soy, a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix well and cover to steam the vegetables until they wilt slightly

I told my dear friend Mildred Grasty what was for dinner as I shopped for produce, and she wondered what would go into the sauce. I wasn’t too sure about how this would work, but the concept seemed fairly straightforward. Take a half-cup of coconut milk and add a tablespoon of Thai curry paste. My curry paste was green, as it had lemongrass as a key ingredient. I’ve seen recipes for curry paste, but the uniqueness of the ingredients made it seem more akin to a snipe hunt. Sooner or later I’ll make my own, but for now, I am content with a short cut using a high quality pre-made paste. As I mixed the paste with the coconut milk, I took a taste and promptly broke out into a sweat. Boy was that stuff hot! Add a tablespoon of fish sauce as it simmers on low heat and a teaspoon of ground ginger. You needn’t boil it, just simmer to keep it warm and mix the ingredients. The final ingredient serves to mute the heat, but only slightly. Add three tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter- that’s right, peanut butter. It gives the sauce a peanutty taste and sweetens the sauce a bit. The peanut pieces add texture to the sauce.

Blend the sauce well and simmer it for 10 minutes. Pour it over the mixture of chicken and vegetables and blend it well. Gai tua can be served with steamed rice-try a Thai jasmine rice to compliment the flavor. Hawkins and I served the meal over a bed of rice noodles, with a thickness akin to vermicelli.

We know that Hawkins is a bit of a lightweight when it comes to spicy dishes, though he did not complain about this one. Though very hot, and causing sweaty brows on both of us, it was far from painful to eat. He finished his plate and I went back for seconds. Hawkins declared the meal to taste “authentic,” which counted as the highest compliment I could get. The only thing I might add next time would be some crushed peanuts as a topping.

After dinner, we watched the BBC program “Hamish Macbeth” starring Robert Carlyle. It’s about small-town life in another part of the world, Scotland. With a truly funny show, with many of the situations mirroring our own community, warm and tasty Thai curry and plenty of water to chase it down with, a good time was had by all. Good eating.
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