Death by a Thousand Thai Chilies

[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Today’s post is from one of my favorite people in the world, my friend Patty Jang. I just love Patty–she’s an incredibly talented playwright (see her website), but also just a great human being. And this post will have you whimpering in pain for poor, dear Patty. Oh Patty, poor Patty, take it away!]

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Don’t these peppers look so innocent? Dare I say, mild? Dried, empty husks, a pale imitation of their past glory? Let not their frail and papery appearance fool you as they fooled me, dear readers, for these chilies resulted in the most insanely painful cooking experience of my life.

After Adam asked me to write a blog post, I immediately thought of my prior guest post in which I described my top eats in Thailand. I decided that I would try to make panang curry with shrimp, one of my favorite curries, fried whole red snapper with chilies, and green papaya salad.

First, I braved the throngs of tourists on Canal Street and went to Chinatown to go shopping. Notice the “real” hot chilies in the center. Don’t they look so much more vibrant and spicy?

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Check out the Chinese long beans. I had never seen long beans in their glorious unchopped entirety – they were 22 inches long! Here’s my friend Liz modeling the beans a la Groucho Marx:

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When I got home, I started the panang curry first, as I thought it would be best if the flavors had time to mingle. Now, I’ve had lots of panang curry in my life, and I have to say that this recipe was amazing. It was better than any curry I’ve had here in the States. The flavor was so much more intense and complex than your local Thai joint. If you can, get the kaffir lime leaves!

Panang Curry with Shrimp

Adapted from www.realthairecipes.com

1 can coconut milk

1 tablespoon shredded kaffir lime leaves

1/2 teaspoon palm sugar

1 lb shrimp, uncooked, tail-on

1 cup Chinese long beans, cut to manageable size

1 red pepper, julienned

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1/3 cup dried chilies

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons galangal

2 tablespoons lemongrass

1 tablespoon coriander root

1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds

1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

2 tablespoons garlic

2 tablespoons shallots

1 tablespoon roasted peanuts

1 teaspoon shrimp paste

1. Soak the chilies in water until they’re soft, up to a half hour. When they’re soft, cut them open to remove seeds. (This was my undoing. Make sure you wear gloves!) Grind with salt in a mortar and pestle.

2. Add the lemongrass to the chilies. Then add the galangal and coriander roots (you’ll have to find a cilantro bunch with the roots), and grind.

3. Toast the cumin seeds, cilantro seeds and peanuts separately in a pan over medium heat. Roast each about 3-5 minutes. Grind up the seeds together in a mortar and pestle.

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4. Add the peanuts, shallots, garlic to the ground cumin and cilantro seeds. Grind. Add the shrimp paste and mix well.

5. Heat pan on medium-high heat, then add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk. Add all of the prepared chili and shrimp paste mixture. Keep adding a little bit of coconut milk when it gets too dry, maybe about 1/4 cup every minute or two.

6. Add kaffir lime leaves and palm sugar. Add beans, red pepper, and shrimp and cook, about 5-7 minutes. Top with shredded lime leaves and cilantro and serve with rice.

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After I finished the curry and started chopping up the green papaya for the som tum salad, my hands started to tingle. I washed my hands multiple times and by the time I started frying the red snapper, my hands were starting to burn so bad that Lauren had to take over the cooking duties.When it was time to eat, the burning was a full-on conflagration. And it was such a great meal too, complete with Singha beer….

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To keep the burning to a manageable level, I kept my hands submerged in an ice water bath while Lauren frantically googled “how to treat chili burns”. In case you ever make the same mistake, here’s the list of purported remedies I tried:

-Yogurt and ice

-milk bath (we only had soymilk so I hysterically sent Lauren out at midnight in a thunderstorm for the real dairy deal)

-Palmolive and ice water bath

-vinegar and water bath

-Comet and water bath

-aloe from one of our plants

-Advil

-covering my hands with a baking soda paste

-rubbing my hands in with olive oil

-rubbing my hands with lemons

-running my hands through my hair (yes, really, it has to do with your scalp oil)

-watching Made of Honor with Patrick Dempsey (the least efficacious remedy by a wide margin)

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You may be wondering how I was able to test so many home remedies. Well, I had the luxury of having a six-hour window in which to indulge in my experimental peregrinations to no avail. Despairing, I went to bed clutching an ice pack between my hands. I woke up the next day, after I was able to finally go to sleep (after an ice pack change), without any noticeable pain in my hands. They did, however, feel bizarre, like a pale imitation of my former hands.

Since I wasn’t in any shape to enjoy my dragon fruit, I cut them up the next day.

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Dragon fruits aren’t necessarily the most flavorful fruit, but they’re refreshing (and they look like alien baby pods!). The prettiest way to serve them up is to scoop out the meat, cut them up into cubes, and then place the cubes back into the pink skin.

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