My second restaurant trail went well, at first. Undeterred by the spectacular failure of my first attempt, I had offered my services to a restaurant specializing in the flavors of my native region. As I was to discover, growing up in Southeast Asia is not a very strong qualification for working in a Southeast Asian kitchen.
Relieved to have survived ginger and scallion duty without attracting ridicule or severing a thumb, I set upon my next task—chopping a crate of bird's eye chilis—with vim and vigor. If only I had set upon it with common sense and a pair of gloves.
I'll say this for myself: I walked out of that restaurant with my head held high—and broke into a run only after I'd turned the corner. Then I ducked into the first bar I saw, and sat there sipping whisky through a straw, each hand knuckle-deep in a glass of ice water. My fingertips burned for three days. And no, the restaurant never did offer me the job.
In your own home, you'll probably never have to handle 300 chili peppers at a time. Still, be careful when chopping chilis for gai pad krapow (or its accompaniment, nam pla prik); let your knife slide the chilis into the wok, not your hand. Chili precautions aside, the classic Thai dish of ground chicken and basil, with chili, fish sauce, and a touch of sugar, is quick and simple to prepare.
Served over white rice with a runny fried egg, the dish is a dead ringer for the Sidewalk, lunch dish of choice—Adam has been known to order it four days in a row—at Serious Eats HQ. Office favorite Song Kran sells it for $8.95, but the home-cooked version will run you just about $3 a person.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Chilis, finely chopped (use 2-3 serrano peppers for a very mild heat; 2-3 bird's eye chilis for a medium heat)
- 1 large shallot, finely sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 pound green beans, trimmed, chopped in 1¼-inch lengths
- 1/2 pound ground chicken
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 bunch basil, leaves only
- To serve:
- Boiled rice
- Fried eggs, 1 per person (optional)
- Nam pla prik (recipe follows) or fresh lime wedges
- For Nam Pla Prik (Chili Fish Sauce)
- Fish sauce
- Fresh lime juice
- Chilis, finely chopped
- Shallots, finely sliced
Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or large frying pan. When you can see waves forming in the hot oil, add the chilis, shallots, and garlic and stir-fry until golden, about 30 seconds.
Add the green beans and stir-fry until cooked but still crunchy, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the ground chicken, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into small pieces. Stir-fry until chicken is cooked through.
Add the fish sauce and sugar to the pan, and stir to distribute. Taste, and add more fish sauce or sugar if desired.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the basil leaves and stir-fry until completely wilted. Remove from heat.
Serve with boiled rice, fried egg (optional), and nam pla prik or lime wedges.
Nam Pla Prik (Chili Fish Sauce): Mix fish sauce and lime juice to taste (a typical ratio is 3-4 parts fish sauce to 1 part lime juice) and pour over chilis and shallots. Consume immediately, or pour into a clean jar and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.