My attempt at making Thai basil fried rice

When living in Chicago, I ate a great Thai restaurant in Old Town called Tiparos Thai. Unlike most people who go to Thai restaurants to order Pad Thai, I always got the spicy basil chicken. It’s a mouth-scorching dish of chopped meat, bell peppers, green beans, Thai basil leaves, and steamed jasmine rice. The dish was studded with tiny bits of hot chilies. After eating it, my lips were swollen and numb as if I had stopped by a Michigan Avenue plastic surgeons to get my lips done. This dish was so hot that it almost hurt to drink water afterwards…

Despite the pain of eating the dish, I ordered each time I went to Tiparos.

It’s difficult to explain the draw of this dish because the taste is so spicy sometimes it feels almost unpleasant to eat it. The basil Thai has a different, silvery, tea-like taste, that gets a pleasant green swampy taste because it’s cooked and steamed. The meat is crumbled and sauteed, the nuggets crispy, giving the rice a nice bite. And the sauce acts as a base for the dish – it’s salty, sweet, and slightly pungent. I always add a bit of Sriracha, to add a fruity sweetness, as well.

Since moving to London, I’ve eaten at lots of Thai restaurants, and have eaten the dish, and enjoyed it, though for some reason I’ve never tasted it as good as Tiparos, though I’m trying (I went to an amazing Thai restaurant in Amsterdam that was pretty good)

Anyways, this is my attempt at making Thai basil rice with chicken. Obviously, this won’t be a 100% accurate – I don’t have all the ingredients in a proper Thai basil rice, and I don’t like buying ingredients I probably won’t use again, so I’ve had to do some improvising.

Also, I used boughten rice. I don’t like cheating but I’m terrible at making rice, and it’s much easier to just buy rice already boiled in the shop. Also there are recipes that call for mince, but I bought chicken and chopped it myself…The texture of mince is a bit too pasty and fine for a dish like this – I enjoy it more with the chopped chicken.

As with most of my recipes, these measurements are at-best, guesses…

Ingredients:

-Thai basil, a handful, to taste, chopped in strips
-Coriander, a handful, to taste, chopped
-300g of boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped finely – almost to a mince (or go ahead and get chicken mince) if you don’t like chicken, you can also use pork, turkey, or beef – whatever you like, or if you’d like, you can leave the meat out, I’m not the police
-1/2 of a red bell pepper chopped
-3 small shallots, sliced finely
-4 cloves of garlic, minced
-4 finger chilies, minced finely – super finely – I seed the chili and remove the rib because these things are spicy AF
-1 jalapeno pepper – I just added this because I had one left in a bag that needed eating
-8, 10 green beans or string beans, with the ends chopped off, and cut the beans in half
-half a white onion, roughly chopped
– 3 large cremini mushrooms – normally, this dish doesn’t have mushrooms (I’ve never seen this dish with mushrooms) – but I had some that I wanted to use
-1 cup of chicken broth (you probably won’t use all of it)
-1 tbl of sriracha sauce (to taste, really)
-2 tbl of fish sauce (this stuff has a very strong taste/smell, so be mindful of how much you use it)
-3 tbl of soy sauce (I use the reduced sodium soy sauce, which still has loads of salt)
-1 tbl of chili paste – I used Gochujang (Korean chili paste)
-2 tbl of sugar
-some white pepper, to taste
-2 packets of cooked jasmine rice
-1/8 cups of cooking oil, something without flavor (peanut, corn, vegetable, groundnut, that sort of thing – not olive, which has too distinct a taste)

This feels like a lot of ingredients, and it is, and it’s going to be a lot of cooking and adding…You’ll be cooking over a high flame for a lot of the cooking, so keep a window open and turn on a fan (if you have one)

Before cooking, create the sauce. In a bowl or large cup, add in the broth, sriracha, fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste, sugar, and white pepper and mix, seeing that the sugar is dissolved (I heated the broth which made the sugar melt easily)

Heat the oil over a high flame in a nonstick pan. Throw in the beans, onions and bell pepper and cooking for about four, five minutes, stirring constantly, don’t stop. The onions probably won’t color too much, and you’re not looking into browning the veg. Add the meat and stir and continue to cook, you’ll want to get a good browning on the meat – cook for about four, five minutes. Depending on how small you’ve chopped the meat, you might already have cooked the chicken at this point, but if it’s still a bit raw, no worries, it will cook.

Add the garlic and the chilies and cook for another few minutes, until you smell the garlic cooking (it’s a great smell, btw) and then add the shallots and stir and saute for another few minutes

Remember you’re cooking over a high heat, so don’t stop stirring, you don’t want anything to burn.

Add the sauce and cook…You’ll want to let the sauce get sticky and tacky, and so that it coats the veg and meat and get browned, stirring constantly. Depending on the heat, this can take about five, ten minutes. Fold the cooked meat and veg, stirring seeing that the food is coated with the sauce.

Add the basil and the cilantro and stir, letting the cilantro wilt.

Add the rice and stir constantly – you don’t want to cook this too long, because overcooking the rice will blow it out. Depending on if you like the rice to be crispy, you can let it sit for a few seconds and brown. Sprinkle some white pepper – white pepper’s got a very funky, manky smell, so be careful…

Once the rice is warmed through (remember the rice is already cooked), and you can’t see any white in the rice anymore, then you can plate it. I served it with boughten gyoza. Oh, and enjoy.


Back to my roots: Polish dining at Café Maja

I grew up in Brighton Park in Chicago. Brighton Park has a large Polish population and was, at one point, the largest settlement of Poles in Chicago. White flight has made Poles move out of the city in large numbers toward the suburbs, but when I was a kid, the shops down on Archer Avenue all had Polish signs. A big part of my growing up was going to the Polish delis and Polish restaurants.

Chicago is an important part of the Polish diaspora. But so is London. Like Chicago, London has some big Polish areas, especially Acton. Hammersmith is close to Acton, so there is a presence of Polish immigrants in Poland, as well. The other thing about Hammersmith is that the Polish Social & Cultural Association (or Polski Ośrodek Społeczno-Kulturalny) acts as a hub for British Poles or Polish immigrants. It’s a large building in Hammersmith that houses a gallery, two restaurants, and various offices of Polish institutions and bodies.

This afternoon, I went to the Café Maja for lunch this afternoon. It was crowded, as I think we hit the after-church crowd. Sundays are a huge social day for Polish Catholics. After church, families and friends often will make their way to a local deli or restaurant to eat Polish food, talk, gossip, and rest before another busy work week.

Café Maja’s entrance is on the side of the cultural association’s building. You walk into a really casual diner-style dining room. The menu is written on chalkboards behind the counter, and today’s offerings were familiar items: pierogi, Polish sausage, veal cutlet, borscht.

I ordered the grilled Polish sausage that came with two, perfect scoops of mashed potatoes. I also ordered a side of sauerkraut. My partner got the chicken cutlet with potatoes, and he ordered a side of red cabbage. We also ordered a plate of meat pierogi for the table as a starter.

While waiting for my food, I looked around the dining room, and indulged in some people watching, a favourite sport of mine. I saw tables with loud, raucous people, laughing and talking. Two old nuns were sitting at table near the counter. They were eating the tripe soup. The table next to me had some cinephiles who were talking about movies. An older woman behind me was holding court, lecturing her dining companions about etiquette (Emily Post angrily scolded one of her friends to not leave her elbows on the table)

Our food came, the plates crowding our plates. My sausage was scored, blistered and browned, with caramalized onions. The potatoes were perfect scoops, sprinkled with frizzy dill fronds. My partner’s cutlet was flat and nearly the size of the plate. It was golden and crispy, puffy. The pierogi came with little bits of bacon (it would’ve been nice if they came with soured cream or breadcrumbs)

The food was good and comforting, like Polish food is supposed to be. London has a few Polish haute cuisine restaurants, and while they’re good, I can never bring myself to pay lot for fancy, fussy Polish food. Polish food is meant to be hearty and simple and familiar. It’s the kind of food eaten on a cold, wintery day – or if you had a bad day. It’s not healthy food, and scanning the room, I probably saw a lot of hypertension and high cholesterol, but the draw of this kind of food is undeniable.

When you finish a Polish meal, you should be groaning a bit getting, and you should be needing a good stretch, as if the eating was a physically taxing exercise. A large Polish meal also requires that you walk home when you’re done, preferably a long distance, 30 minutes at least.