Seven Hundred Miles. I traveled over seven hundred miles to have this soup, using five different cars, four different buses, searching through five restaurants and three weeks of my life. SO BY GOD YOU WILL HEAR ABOUT IT.
As ever, this is Kitchen Catastrophe, and I’m your agitated author, Jon O’Guin. Let’s talk Thai.
I’ve noted a couple times in these blogs that Thai food is one of my preferred cuisines, alongside the many other spicy ones I enjoy. Some have proposed that I just like to suffer, but hours of manual labor, medical emergencies, and Adam Sandler movies have proven that untrue. I just like spice, which Thai food has in spades. And within Thai food I happen to like a relatively rare soup: Khao Soi. There’s debate over where the name comes from, but basically it’s a curry soup originally from Burma, and remade by the people of Northern Thailand.
How do I know it’s a relatively rare soup? Because over the course of three weeks, I made a concerted effort to get some, and came up dry until I made it myself. (Those last two clauses define a starkly somber number of events in my life.) First, I went to both of the Thai places in Port Orchard. No, and No. Then, I was house-sitting in Seattle for a week. Went to the nearest Thai restaurant, they didn’t have it. THEN, I took a weekend in Pullman, where I had FIRST HAD the soup. As I rode those 380 some miles, I was excited, knowing my long wait was coming to an end.
The restaurant was closed the day I tried to eat there.
So I tried the OTHER THAI RESTAURANT in Pullman, and they didn’t have it. At this juncture, I made a resolution: SCREW YOU, WORLD, I’LL JUST MAKE MY OWN.
If You Want Something Done Right…
I’ll let you fill in your own punch-lines to that title, as befits the spirit of the joke.
Anywho, curry-soup, how hard can it be? As it turns out, not very hard, but a little more involved than you might suspect. First off, you get dried guajillo (Or New Mexico, your preference) chiles.
This looks like the charred remnants of a rabbit.
Then you un-dry them. Yes, I could say “soak”, but let’s be clear, you are adding liquid to a thing that was dried. You are un-drying it. Now, some may ask “Why not just use fresh peppers?” to which the answer is “Would you just use pork when a recipe called for bacon?” Drying the peppers adds a twist to the flavors. Guajillo, for instance, are usually dried in smoke. Anywho, you need these peppers, AND THE water you soak them in, to make the Khao Soi paste.
If you’ve ever made curry before, odds are you bought a can of curry paste, and started there. Well, since each paste balances the mixed flavors in different ways, for this one, we gotta make our own paste. The process is quite complicated, so listen carefully: Throw all the paste ingredients into a food processor, and blend them into a paste. Wait, did I say “quite complicated”? Sorry, I meant “insanely easy.” There’s only two things that make it even remotely difficult: one, knowing how much of the soaking water you need to add to make it “smooth” (You just go a tablespoon at a time until it looks right) and two, breathing. See, to add the water, you need the top open. And you’re currently blending garlic, un-dried peppers, curry powder, and a spree of things that are going to make it hard to look into the food processor, because they burn your nose and eyes. But that’s how you get strong.
Here’s a picture of Jon ‘getting stronger’. It may looks like weeping to the untrained eye.
Anyway, once you make the paste, the next step is: cook it. Just throw it in a pot, and cook it until it gets darker. Then add the chicken broth and two cans of coconut-
Now, see kids, this is where literacy is important. Like, if you only wrote ‘coconut milk’ on your shopping list, and didn’t remember that meant TWO cans, you now have a bit of a problem: you’ve got to run to the store to buy more coconut milk. But the paste is already cooking. So this calls for SPEED. Luckily, you don’t have to fight anyone in Albertson’s, or who knows how bad things could have got?
Precious nectar of the island gods in hand, add the chicken broth and coconut milk to the paste. Stir. Then add the chicken thighs. Then, after 30 minutes, take the thighs out, shred them, and put them back in with new friends. Is this a recipe, or the goddamn hokey-pokey? But yes, the idea is that the simmer imparts color and flavor into the chicken so it’s not just bland meat.
This pile of chicken looks like a map of Westeros. That’s a really nerdy observation, but I’m more concerned on why I keep making meat-maps.
Meanwhile, you’ll need Chinese Egg Noodles. I couldn’t find them. Even more aggressively, you’re supposed to have 2 KINDS of Chinese Egg Noodles (you’re supposed to fry some of them for topping). Since I couldn’t find them, and I assumed German Egg Noodles would only try to annex the Chili Paste, I used Rice Noodles. Now, the bag says for stir-fry, you just take the noodles and soak them in hot tap water for 30 minutes. EASY PEASEY.
Years of call and response patterns force me to continue “Lemon Squeezy”. But don’t actually squeeze lemons into this.
Now, remember earlier, when I said “literacy is important.”? This is another good point for that. See, THIS ISN’T A GODDAMN STIR FRY, SO WHY DID WE MAKE THE NOODLES THAT WAY? The best part of being angry in these situations is that I’m the one who read the instructions, so I can only yell at myself. Try not to do this too often where people can see you. You meet an irritating amount of helpful doctors.
So we ended up soaking the noodles, then just microwaving them in a pasta dish for 3 minutes, and they were okay.
Once the noodles and soup are done, you make the dish. IT’s a simple process: take a scoop of noodles, drop it in your bowl. Ladle the soup over the noodles, until completely submerged. Then top the soup with chopped red onion, cilantro, lime wedges, and chow mein noodles (Since we couldn’t fry the egg noodles). I added sriracha to make mine a bit hotter.
For some reason, this bowl just…doesn’t look real. It looks like a play dough model of soup, or something.
How was it? Well…disappointing. Good, but disappointing. Remember the first time you tried to make your mother’s or grandmother’s recipe, and you didn’t ask them to write it down first? And while you were certain you got everything they put in, it just didn’t taste the same? It was like that. You could tell this was chicken khao soi, but there was something missing. Maybe we didn’t cook the paste enough; maybe we didn’t make it smooth enough. Maybe the problem was we accidentally used a can of lite coconut milk. We don’t know. In the end, it was the best and worst kind of catastrophe: the un-noteworthy. It wasn’t funny, or flashy, it just wasn’t what I wanted. Which is terrible for you. For me, it means that I’m at least CLOSE to right, and with 2-3 tweaks to the recipe, I’m sure I’ll have it.
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NEXT TIME, ON KITCHEN CATASTROPHE: SOMETHING NEW, AND DIFFERENT: THINGS GET HOT, AND ROUGH. COMING MUCH SOONER THAN YOU MAY THINK!
Chicken Khao Soi
Khao Soi Paste
- 4 large dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded
- 2 shallots, halved
- ¼ c Cilantro stems
- 8 Garlic cloves
- 2” piece of ginger, skinned, sliced
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp Curry Powder
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
The Rest of the Soup
- 2 (COUNT THEM, 2) cans of coconut milk
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved (we cut ours in thirds to make cooking a little faster.)
- 3 tbsps Fish sauce
- 1 tbsp (packed) Palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 1 lb Chinese egg noodles or Rice Noodles
TOPPINGS: Lime wedges, chopped cilantro, fried egg noodles or chow mein noodles, and chopped red onion.
- Make the paste: cover the chiles in boiling water and soak them for 25-30 minutes. Take the chiles and 2 tbsps of the soaking liquid, toss them in the food processor, as well as the rest of the paste ingredients. Blend, adding more soaking liquid as needed until the paste is smooth.
- Heat 2 tbsps vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the Paste, and cook, stirring constantly for 4-6 minutes, until mildly darkened. Add coconut milk and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes. While it simmers, cook the noodles.
- Remove the chicken, and let it cool slightly, then shred it. Add the chicken back, along with fish sauce, and sugar. Season soup to taste, then ladle into bowls over noodles. Add toppings to preference.