It's the dead of winter and things are getting a little ugly. My mood for one. I don't know about you but I have been seriously craving some party-in-a-bowl curried noodles. You know, the kind with the rich, spicy-sour broth and slippery noodles. I also wanted the funky crunch of pickled radishes and maybe even some fried Hong Kong style noodles to top things off. As luck would have it, a friend recently gave me a copy of the gorgeous David Thompson book, Thai Street Food. If you aren't familiar with DT and you love the flavors of Thai cooking, I strongly suggest that you get to know him. His latest book is art-book-style photo essay meets street food encyclopedia. I had been flipping through it these past couple of days, wanting everything but cooking nothing AND THEN Bon Appetit came in the mail. With my dream on the cover. Done deal. Now all I needed was a quick trip the market.
I have a love/hate relationship with most suburban Asian markets.
LOVES: (generally) extremely fresh produce and seafood, aisles of fresh and dried noodles, totally cheesy + totally minimalist dinnerware, lost-in-translation signage, artful candy packaging.
HATES: the RANKING STANK of dried fish, the frog death chamber
NEUTRAL: the music. Sometimes I want to fuss over mangos to some Japanese techno beats but never, ever Chinese remixes of Air Supply. Ever.
So back to the dish. It looks a bit complicated but I can assure you, it's really not. A traditional curry soup from Northern Thailand, kao soi has all of the elements I love about Thai food: hot, sour, salty, sweet...not to mention the variety of textures and temperatures of the components. A party in a bowl, I promise.
This a a kind of recipe mash-up of David Thompson's Chiang Mai Curried Noodles, Ravin Nakjaroen's Chicken Khoa Soi for Bon Appetit. As I mentioned above, I LOVE topping this dish with a quick pickle of radishes.
I considered including the recipe in this post but thought that better saved for another day. Please don't skip the fried (for only a few seconds) noodles as a garnish. Trust me. You want them.
kao soi gai (curried noodles with chicken)
for the paste:
4 large dried chilies (New Mexico, quajillo, something with a low to mid-range heat index), stemmed, seeded and halved
4 shallots, unpeeled
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 1/8" thick slices of turmeric (or 1 1/2 T dried)
4 1/8" thick slices of ginger
1/8 c cilantro stems
1 1/2 t coriander seeds
1 black cardamom pod
For the broth:
2-3 c coconut milk
2-3 c chicken stock
2 t soy sauce
2 T fish sauce
1 T jaggery (it makes a notable difference) or brown sugar
1 1/2 lb boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 lb fresh egg noodles, cooked and drained
2 oz fresh Hong Kong style noodles (thin egg noodles), fried and drained and oil for frying
fried or sliced shallots
Soak the chilies for about 20-30 minutes, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze out all of the excess moisture from the peppers. I like to do this by rolling them in a paper towel and wringing them over the soaking liquid bowl.
Dry toast the coriander seeds and cardamom pod until fragrant. Process to a powder in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. If you are using dried turmeric, add it to this spice mix and set aside.
Using either bamboo skewers that have been pre-soaked or a metal skewer, thread the peppers, garlic, shallots, ginger and turmeric. Roast the skewer over a medium flame on your stove top or a grill, making sure to get some good char marks.
This will give your paste a wonderful, fire-roasted undertone and add amazing depth to your broth.
Remove the items from the skewer and carefully peel the garlic, shallots, ginger and turmeric. Toss them into the bowl of either a food processor or mortar and pestle and begin to grind your paste, add a little of the soaking water as needed to get things going. It's really important NOT to add too much liquid and risk diluting the flavor of the paste. Add the cilantro stems, reserved spices and salt. If you are going the mortar and pestle route, you probably already know that adding salt in between items aids in the grinding process. Process the mixture until you have a fairly smooth paste.
In a large pot, add the coconut milk and simmer until it begins to "break". You'll notice the surface will become slightly oily.
Add the curry paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes.
Begin to add the jaggery, soy and fish sauces, keeping the heat just above a simmer. Add about a cup of coconut milk and 2 cups of stock. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Remove the chicken, if you wish, and break into smaller pieces. Return it to the pot and adjust the seasonings to fit your palette. I ended up adding more coconut milk and chicken stock because I wanted more broth, which resulted in the need to add more fish sauce, soy and jaggery.
To serve, add some noodles to a bowl, top with the soup and a pile of chicken and garnish away.