Thai

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

 

Cashew Chicken is an American take on, or is it a take out of,  not  dissimilar regional chicken dishes found throughout China. There certainly are like dishes in Cantonese and Szechuan cooking (see recipe for Szechuan Gong Bao Chicken here). Whatever the version, cashew chicken has found popularity the world over. Always considered a reliably  safe bet for the unadventurous when faced with iffy Chinese food choices. Even here in Thailand cashew chicken is more often than not a numbed down version that is mild and palatable for farang (foreign) visitors. For Thais however it’s got to be a fiery cashew chicken spiked generously with chopped small green sky pointing chilies. Keep in mind the smaller the chilies the more intense their heat.  Locally grown cashews are added to the dish to somewhat tame the heat of the chilies. 

Of course the great popularity of Thai food rests on the extraordinary artistry of balancing opposing fiery, sweet, sour, savory, and salty flavors that literally tease the senses and ignite the taste buds in completely unexpected experiential ways. Not Unlike the Thai language, Thai cookery has its own unfamiliar and quirky flavor vocabulary, but once you have grasped the essentials the rest is an adventure in Thai cookery just waiting at your kitchen door.

Making the fiery Thai cashew chicken recipe that follows is relatively easy to prepare and uses many of the basic flavor combinations that reappear again and again in Thai cookery. Caution not required. Fire up those chilies for a lusty meal that will not disappoint.

 

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken     serves 4

For the chicken:

ngredients Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

ingredients Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

  • 1 kilo/2.2 pounds chicken thighs with skin on, deboned
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 large red shallots, quartered and thinly sliced
  • a 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
  • 4 large fresh Thai red chilies, halved, seeds removed, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and very finely minced
  • 1 cup lightly roasted cashew nuts
  • fresh Thai basil leaves (garnish)
  • fresh coriander leaves (garnish)thai chicken and Cashews 007 400pix 8 AMKT

For the sauce:

  • 2 ½ oz palm sugar (hard or soft) or light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 5 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 6-8 fiery small fresh Thai sky pointing chilies, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

 

Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and cut each thigh into 3 equal pieces and set aside.

Rather than discarding the bones place them in a large sauce pan. Add 1 small peeled and diced yellow onion and 4 whole fresh kaffir lime leaves. Fill the pan with water and bring to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients for the recipe. The liquid should be reduced by about a half. Pass the broth through a fine mesh strainer, discard the bones and lime leaves, and set the broth aside to use later.

Slice the onion and shallots and set them aside in a bowl. Likewise, julienne the ginger, mince the kaffir lime leaves, and slice the red chilies, setting each aside in separate bowls.

To prepare the sauce place the palm sugar in a small sauce pan with 2 tablespoons water. Place the pan over low heat and slowly melt the palm sugar until it is completely dissolved, caramel colored, and bubbling up. Take the pan off the heat and add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, and light soy sauce. Swirl the pan to combine the ingredients and put the pan back onto the heat. Add the sliced fiery chillies and swirl the pan. Once bubbling set aside to use later. Reheat the sauce to a boil and stir in the lime juice just before adding it to the chicken.

Heat the coconut or peanut oil in a large skillet set over medium high heat. When nearly smoking add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Promptly turn the chicken and cook another couple of minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter lined with paper towels and set aside to drain off excess fat.

Drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat from the skillet and return it to the heat. When the fat is hot add the onions and shallots and saute them until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Promptly add the ginger and the sliced red chillies and saute about 2 minute. Then add the minced kaffir lime leaves and stir to combine.

Promptly reheat the sauce and stir in the lime juice. Return the browned chicken to the skillet and toss with the other ingredients. Then pour the bubbling sauce over the chicken mixture in the skillet and toss the ingredients to evenly coat them with the sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce is quite thick and sticky. Then add just enough chicken broth to reach the top of the chicken. Stir to combine and cook at a boil for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the cashew nuts. Mix the corn or tapioca starch with water and add to the bubbling chicken. Gently sir for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and glosses the chicken and cashews.

Serving

Transfer the Chicken with Cashews to a large platter. Garnish with fresh Thai Basil leaves and bunches of fresh coriander leaves. Serve with Thai Jasmine white or brown Rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.

Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream

Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream

 

Here is a twist on Thailand’s very favorite sweet treat!

Borrowing from the traditional Thai pairing of sliced fresh mango eaten with sticky rice drizzled with coconut cream, I have instead made a tart with a coconut jasmine rice pastry cream scented with kaffir lime leaves that is topped with freshly picked sliced mango. This tart makes a tantalizingly colorful presentation that is sure to make a stellar tropical finale for a summer meal and well worth the little extra effort. For more information about Thailand’s mango and sticky rice (click here)

Of course choosing your mangoes is paramount. Ideally they should be freshly picked, plump, blemish free, and firm with an ever so slight give when very gently pressed. Their aroma should be flowery without a hint acidity. There are of course many varieties to choose from ranging from deep green, yellow, pastel yellow, orange, and various shades of red. Best to buy them not more than a day before you intend to use them and refrigerate them to slow down the ripening process. Peel, slice, and arrange the mango over the pastry cream just before serving for maximum flavor and freshness.

The rest of the preparations can be made in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to serve.

 

Mango Tart

Mango Tart

 

Fresh Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream

Sweet Pastry (pate sablee) Tart Shell 10 or 11 inches, fully baked

As making the tart shell requires several steps including chilling the dough at several stages, as well as baking it, it is best to get this out of the way in advance. A fully baked tart shell cooled to room temperature and sealed n a large freezer bag will keep well in the refrigerator for several days.

Everyone who bakes has there own favorite tart pastry dough recipe so the choice is yours. Like many cooks I am always trying different recipes in a search of that perfect pastry dough that is easy to handle, sturdy when baked, and has at sweet crumbly sand like texture that classic tart shells should embody.

Likewise you can cook the rice and make the pastry cream in advance as well. Both will be combined and refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the tart.

 

For the Coconut Jasmine Rice

  • ½ cup Thai jasmine rice
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 kaffr lime leaves

Preheat the oven to 325f/170c

After briefly boiling the rice finishing off the rice in the oven avoids the inevitable scorching of the rice in the bottom of the pan when cooked on the stove top.

Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed oven proof sauce pan set over medium heat on the stove top. Stir occasionally as the liquid heats up to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes while stirring so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan with a lid and place it in the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once about half way through the baking time. Remove from the oven, remove the kaffir lime leaves and discard, and set the rice aside to cool.

 

For the Coconut Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Have ready a mixing bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over the bowl.

Place the coconut milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and drop in the kaffir lime leaves. Stir now and again while the coconut milk is heating.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the corn starch and sugar. Then add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

Once the coconut milk is just under a boil ladle about a third of the hot coconut milk slowly into the egg cornstarch mixture while whisking continuously until incorporated.

Then pour the egg mixture back into the hot coconut milk and whisk continuously. The mixture will thicken after about 2 minutes with a custard like consistency. Continue to heat while continuously whisking until the custard is just about to break into a simmer with just a few little bubbles appearing on the surface. You do not want the custard to boil as the eggs in the mixture will begin to curdle! Promptly remove the pan from the stove and pour the pastry cream through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl. This will stop the cooking and remove any curdling that may have occurred. Discard the kaffir lime leaaves.

Let cool a few minutes and then stir in the butter, a tablespoon full at a time, while whisking until the pastry cream is very smooth.

Place the bowl of pastry cream on a cooling rack and press cling film directly onto the surface to avoid a skin forming on the surface as it cools.. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate if not using immediately.

When both the coconut rice and the pastry cream have cooled to room temperature add the rice to the pasty cream and fold it in until evenly distributed. Then cover with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour or more before assembling the tart.

 

Mangoes

  •  2-4 mangoes depending on size

Peel the mangoes with a vegetable peeler and slice the mango into thin pieces lengthwise with the knife slicing parallel to the center stone/seed. Cover and refrigerate.

Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream

Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream

 

Assembling the Tart

Remove the fully baked tart shell from the refrigerator. Spoon the coconut rice pastry cream into the tart shell to about three quarters full and smooth the surface evenly. Cover the tart with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.

Arranging the freshly sliced mango over of the pastry cream should be done as close to serving time as possible for maximum freshness!

Arrange the sliced mango over the surface of the pastry cream to your liking, trimming the mango slices as needed. Serve promptly, or cover the tart and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

Tapenade

Tapenade

 

Tapenade is always associated with Provence where olives are the star at local farmers markets, but the Romans were making a similar olive puree with herbs thousands of years ago. The name is rooted in the French word tapeo which means capers, a key ingredient along with olives, anchovies, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Tapenade on crostini is my go to favorite hors d’eouvre to serve with drinks, although it need not end there. Delicious served with fish, poultry, meats, tossed with pasta, or spread on a buttered baguette when making a sandwich.

I have included a simple classic Mediterranean Tapenade recipe that follows the traditional wisdom of simplicity of ingredients. I have also included a mash up recipe if you will for a Thai tapenade that evolved more out of necessity than any fusion intended. There is a substitution of Thai basil in lieu of Italian sweet basil which is hard to find and expensive. Thai fish sauce replaces the anchovies which are imported and also expensive, lime juice in lieu of lemon juice, and Thai red chile flakes in lieu of black pepper. This makes for a very savory taste adventure with a difference!

 

Classic Mediterranean Tapenade: makes about 1 ¼ cups

  • 1 cup pitted oil cured black olives
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • a handful of fresh sweet basil or lemon thyme leaves; or a combination of both
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • a twist or two of freshly ground of black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 heaping teaspoons capers, rinsed
  • sea salt to taste

Tapenade would traditionally be made in a mortar, but a food processor works beautifully.

Place the pitted olives, anchovy fillets, herbs, lemon juice and pepper in the work bowl of the processor, lock on the lid, and pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse puree, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed.

Then with the processor running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until it is emulsified into the puree. Stop the machine and add the capers and pulse until the capers are broken down and mixed into the puree. Stop the machine, taste the tapenade, and add salt if needed.

Transfer the tapenade to a bowl, seal with cling film and refrigerate for several hours before serving which will meld the flavors together. Stir briefly just before serving.

 

Thai Tapenade: makes 1 ¼ cups

  • 1 cup pitted oil cured olives
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
  • a handful of fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Thai red chile flakes
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste

Place the pitted olives, fish sauce, Thai basil, lime juice, and red chile flakes in the work bowl of the processor, lock the lid, and pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse puree, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed.

Then with the processor running add the olive oil in a slow stead stream through the feed tube until it is emulsified into the puree. Stop the machine, taste the tapenade, and add salt if needed.

Transfer the tapenade to a bowl, seal with cling film and refrigerate for several hours before serving which will meld the flavors together. Stir briefly just before serving.

Thai Pomelo Salad

Thai Pomelo Salad

 

It is pomelo season here in Thailand and there is nothing more arrestingly beautiful than coming upon a pomelo tree fully laden with fruit that look like giant yellow Christmas balls shimmering n the sun. It is an astonishing sight to behold!

Pomelo

Pomelo (citus maxima) is native to South East Asia but found in the tropics around the world. It looks like a large grapefruit that is mildly sweet rather than bitter and the main ingredient for a Thai pomelo salad with shallots, garlic, chilies, shrimp, coriander, toasted coconut, and peanuts tossed with a pungent sweet sour and spicy coconut milk dressing. Sound enticing? Believe me, it is. To me, this is Thai food at its very best. I prefer the more traditional flavor of dried shrimp for the recipe, but feel free to use freshly poached shrimp if you prefer.

Serve as a main course for lunch or as a starter for an evening meal. This is a spectacular salad that tames the summer heat in the most unexpected ways. Pomelos can be found in Asian markets, but if not available you can substitute grapefruit in the recipe that follows.

Pomelo salad must be served absolutely fresh so there are components that should be prepared ahead and on standby for assembling the salad.

 

Thai Pomelo Salad serves 4

Dressing:

  • 1 cup coconut cream (thick coconut milk)
  • 4 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 teaspoons roasted red chile paste (Note: see recipe below)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves

Pour the coconut cream into a non-reactive sauce pan. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce, and red chile paste to the pan and set over low heat. Stir as the contents heat up to dissolve the palm sugar and chile paste. Once the contents of the pan come to a to a slow simmer, add the lime juice and kaffir lime leaves. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Note: roasted red chile paste. Prepared red chile pastes can be found in Asian markets. If they are not available you can easily make your own.

 

Roasted Red Chile Paste:

  • 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut or coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated garlic
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated shallots
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced seeded red chilies
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

Heat the oil in a skillet set over medium low flame. When the oil is hot add the garlic, shallots, and red chilies and fry until very soft without browning too much.

Make a well in the center of the pan and add the shrimp paste and palm sugar, pressing them against the bottom of the skillet until they melt together. Add the fish sauce and stir everything together and continue to fry until the mixture is reduced and thickened into a paste.

Transfer to a storage container and when cool refrigerate.

 

Pomelo Salad:

  • 1 pomelo, peeled, sectioned, membrane removed from each section, and refrigerated
  • 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut or palm oil
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • ¼ cup toasted shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup dried shrimp, soaked in hot water (or 12 poached plump shrimp, deveined)
  • 2 red bird’s eye chilies, seeded and finely minced
  • ¼ cup crushed roasted peanuts
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander leaves

Break up the prepared pomelo sections into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet and fry the garlic until soft and only slightly colored. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the remaining tablespoon of oil and fry the shallots until soft and only lightly colored. Transfer to the plate with the garlic and set aside.

Wipe out the skillet once again with a paper towel and add the shredded coconut. Set the pan over medium low heat and lightly toast the coconut, stirring or tossing continuously. Remove the coconut from the pan promptly and set aside in a small bowl.

Drain the dried shrimp and pat dry. Coarsely chop and add to the bowl with the pomelo sections, or add poached shrimp if using. Add the fried garlic, shallots, minced chilies, two thirds of the toasted coconut, two thirds of the peanuts, and most of the coriander leaves, reserving enough leaves for garnishing.

Toss the ingredients until well combined and then add 3 to 5 tablespoons of the dressing and toss until combined.

Transfer the salad to individual serving bowls and drizzle a little more dressing over each serving. Sprinkle a little coconut and peanuts over each serving and garnish with remaining coriander leaves and serve promptly!

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