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Friday, August 5, 2011

Pad Ka Prao

You know how those urban legends go? "One time, my friend's neighbor's grandma's sister...."

I fel like I am starting a story like that. 

There is this family. And somehow they have a connection to my husband's family. I think perhaps it goes like this:

My husband's neighbors (from the neighborhood he lived in as a kid) had a son. The neighbor's son's wife's sister and her husband opened a little Thai restaurant in Los Osos, California. We were lucky enough to get to go to this restaurant one day, when the neighbor, the wife, and the sister were all present. Which seemed to make us like instant family.

This restaurant, called Noi's Little Thai Takeout has the very best Thai food I have ever eaten. In my life. And I am a HUGE fan of Thai food.

Los Osos is a small town, and Noi's is a small restaurant (a couple of tables inside, a couple of tables on the porch). But there is nothing small about the flavors of their food. Or the line that forms to get the daily curry before it sells out each afternoon.

Being that were closelikethis with Noi and Doi (the sister, who at that time was a major part of running the restaurant), we were lucky enough to get a cooking lesson.

That means that we got the recipe for the most delicious Thai dish ever. 

Pad Kra Prao. (My Thai is a little sketchy, but I believe it translates to Chicken with bell peppers and basil). Which works out well, because as it turns out, it is chicken with bell peppers and basil. Isn't that nice? I like Thai food names. They are pretty straightforward. Unlike, say, Welsh Rabbit (I know, it's really rarebit, but both names are used), which has nothing to do with rabbits, but rather is a glorified cheese sandwich. Or a bearclaw that contains no bear, or a mincemeat pie with no meat.

Pad Ka Prao has become a favorite of not only myself and my husband, but also plenty of our friends and family, as we now serve it on our camping trip every summer. It is generally cooked in a wok, but a large skillet will do (especially if you are camping). Serve it alongside rice, and you have a dinner fit for the gods.

We couldn't figure out how to keep basil fresh in our ice chest,
so we just brought the whole plant. It cost the same as a
much smaller bunch of cut basil in the market!
You can buy chili sauce in a jar at the market. You can also make it, and someday if I can get my husband to write the recipe down for me, I will be happy to give it to you.

Also, this recipe calls for fish sauce. I ordinarily do not, under any circumstances, recommend fish or fish products in anything that you are creating for human consumption. However, I do make an exception here. If you promise not to smell the fish sauce before you add it in, I will allow you to use it. It really doesn't create any fishiness in the dish, and it does enhance the flavor. This, too, should be available at your supermarket. If you can't find it, you can substitute soy sauce. It is a close second.

Finally, this dish calls for white pepper. White pepper is very dusty, and a little goes a very long way. Be super careful the first time you use it... you can always add more later! If you can't find white pepper, or you are tired of gathering a million different ingredients for this dish, go ahead and use black pepper. The white adds a little zing that the black won't give you, but you'll still love the results either way.

Pad Ka Prao

4 Tbsp. Garlic
4 Tbsp. Thai chili sauce
1/2 pound chicken, cut into very small bite-sized pieces. (this time we did beef... but I don't know how to say beef ka prao. You can use either.)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1-2 bell peppers, cut into small pieces
2 large handfuls of Thai basil (or regular basil)
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1/4 cup chopped green onions
fish sauce
white pepper

Heat the wok to very high, and then lower the heat to medium-high.

Add garlic and chili sauce. 

Add the chicken and stir fry until cooked through.

Stir in the sugar. Add the bell peppers and stir-fry just until tender.

Add the bamboo shoots, basil, green onions, and continue to stir-fry until the basil is wilted.

Just before taking out, stir in a splash of fish sauce.

Before serving, sprinkle on a teeny bit of white pepper.

Serve it hot, along with white rice. Enjoy!