Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Attempt at Lent #1: Thai-Style Chicken with Basil

I should explain that while there are a few dishes I do well, I am for the most part a baker. And while I have some mad baking skills (that's right- mad), my other kitchen skills are occasionally lacking. I've seriously jacked up some hard boiled eggs in the past. Twice.

So it took a few days, but last night I finally put on my big-girl pants/apron and made dinner. On this occasion I chose a recipe from the Jan/Feb '10 issue of Cooks Illustrated: Thai-style chicken with basil. Unlike Chinese-style stir fries, Thai stir fries are done over a considerably lower heat, with herbs and aromatics cooked at the beginning of the dish rather than the end. (I'm quoting Christopher Kimball here - I couldn't tell you the difference between stir fries and fried rice before this issue.)

Anywho, the recipe turned out to be a success. The only drawback is (1) chicken breasts are a tad gross. I can handle a full-sized roaster (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic - one of my best dishes), but run of the mill breasts are a tad...icky. Also, this recipe made use of my food processor, which is great because, let's be honest: how often do I really use the thing? The cleanup can be a bit of a pain and I have done some bodily harm handling the blade, but it made ingredient prep worlds easier.

I should mention that - minus the rice that I served this over - the dish is pretty low in gluten. I point this out after a conversation I had with my older sister while cooking, where she explained that she's developed a slight gluten intolerance. Being the supportive sibling that I am, I replied that I could still eat anything I want. This little Hallmark moment will likely come back to bite me in the ass in future, I'm sure.

Now, I failed to take photos of my culinary output (this photo comes courtesy of CI), but the results were fairly similar. And tasty. And friggin spicy. Which we tamed with a nice little Riesling Tony picked up at the bottle shop (he didn't realize how sweet his choice would be, but it actually matched the dish's heat pretty well.)

Attempt at Lent #1: Success!!

Here's the recipe below:

Serves 4. Published January 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

This version of the recipe is relatively mild. For a very mild version of the dish, remove the seeds and ribs from the chiles. If fresh Thai chiles are unavailable, substitute 2 serranos or 1 medium jalapeƱo. In Thailand, crushed red pepper and sugar are passed at the table, along with extra fish sauce and white vinegar, so the dish can be adjusted to suit individual taste. Serve with steamed rice and vegetables, if desired.

2 cups fresh basil leaves , tightly packed
3 medium garlic cloves , peeled
6 green or red Thai chiles , stemmed (see note)
2 tablespoons fish sauce , plus extra for serving (see note)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar , plus extra for serving (see note)
1 tablespoon sugar , plus extra for serving (see note)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast , cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium shallots , peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Red pepper flakes , for serving (see note)


  1. Process 1 cup basil leaves, garlic, and chiles in food processor until finely chopped, 6 to 10 one-second pulses, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once during processing. Transfer 1 tablespoon basil mixture to small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar; set aside. Transfer remaining basil mixture to 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet. Do not wash food processor bowl.

  2. Pulse chicken and 1 tablespoon fish sauce in food processor until meat is chopped into -approximate 1/4-inch pieces, six to eight 1-second pulses. Transfer to medium bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes.

  3. Stir shallots and oil into basil mixture in skillet. Heat over medium-low heat (mixture should start to sizzle after about 11/2 minutes; if it doesn’t, adjust heat accordingly), stirring constantly, until garlic and shallots are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

  4. Add chicken, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring and breaking up chicken with potato masher or rubber spatula, until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes. Add reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and continue to cook, stirring constantly until chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining cup basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until basil is wilted, 30 to 60 seconds. Serve immediately, passing extra fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and vinegar separately.

Let me know if it works for you. Also, if you're in the Baltimore area and know of any running trails that aren't currently buried under several inches of snow, feel free to share. I've got a 10-miler for which to train :)

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