I should have known better….I know, I know…6 Thai chiles (seeds and all)! I just thought that Cooks Illustrated would not have created a dish THAT hot! Yikes! Aren’t they a bit more conservative??? We are talking meatloaf and apple pie here!
I have a great recipe for Thai Chicken with Basil that I force on my hubby every now and then. It is not his favorite dish, but you know, I just get this craving…similar to the craving for Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup. I’ve just gotta have it! But, of course, being the cooking kind of gal that I am, I had to try a new version!
So anyway, last night I just had to have this dish and I decided I would give the old Test Kitchen at Cooks Illustrated a shot at my usual recipe and do all the weird things this recipe wanted me to do (chopping chicken breast in the food processor, for one). They do not usually let me down… You never know, sometimes these quirky steps make for great tasting food. I was eying this funky version of Thai Chicken with Basil since I received the January/February issue a month or so ago, so I finally put it into play!
As I mentioned, I am no stranger to Thai chiles and I know just how hot they are, but there was all this chatter in the article on the dish about how the brain reacts to the combination of sweet and sour in Thai dishes. The little bit of added sugar was supposed to counteract all the heat from the chiles and since I am incredibly gullible, I said okay, sure. I will give that a whirl! Well, let me just tell you, that ain’t happening! We like stuff hot, but this was inferno! We are talking chugging water, eating bowls of rice, hunks of bread….! Woe dog! I was surprised to still have a stomach this morning! I was looking to start popping those little purple pills!
If you can get past the heat, there actually was a nice flavor (I think!?) from the very different stir fry method that Cooks Illustrated came up with. There were 2 cups of basil leaves in the dish that were mixed in at different intervals to keep the flavors fresh (who would be able to tell???). I would say 2 to 3 chiles would do the trick for heat and then you might have an eatable stir fry dish. I thought it was quite humorous (or suicidal) that they suggested you might want to pass some more hot stuff for serving as in the addition of red pepper flakes…who are we feeding?? Funny thing is, they said that this was a mild version?! I am beginning to think this was a cruel joke!
I have not had a dinner disaster in awhile, but this was certainly borderline last night. When my hubby says what else is for dinner after I spent all this time cooking and we could barely eat this dish due to the level of heat, then it is a bad night in our house!
Proceed with extreme caution in preparing this recipe (and have a fire extinguisher nearby!)! 😉
Thai-Style Chicken with Basil (from Cooks Illustrated)
* My notes are in parentheses.
2 cups fresh basil leaves , tightly packed
3 medium garlic cloves , peeled
6 green or red Thai chiles , stemmed (cut back on this by at least half!)
2 tablespoons fish sauce , plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar , plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon sugar , plus extra for serving
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 (yeah, right!)
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.
By the way, if you are into food science, here is a link to the Scoville Scale and information concerning how much capsaicin is in certain types of peppers and why we feel the “heat” like we do when eating spicy dishes. Forget about all this other food chemistry stuff! If it has 6 Thai peppers, it’s gonna be HOT!