I love Thai food. My first Thai food encounter was in Bloomington Indiana, at a little restaurant called My Thai Cafe. I’m sure all my Bloomginton friends are chuckling at this since I don’t even know if it is considered “authentic” Thai food. It is spicy so it’s got to be close, right? When it came to spice at My Thai, I always asked for four out of five stars which means by the end of lunch, I was in need of a change of cloths and glass of milk. Somewhere I read that a spoonful of sugar is actually better than milk for calming down a flaming mouth. Somebody test that out and let me know how it goes! Any-hoo, Daniel and I just now got around to trying Opal Thai about two weeks ago. We’ve been curious about it for a while but not terribly motivated because it has such mixed reviews. Most people can agree that the food is spectacular, but there is a large divide between those that think the owner is a charismatic genius and those that think he’s an arrogant jerk (and that’s generous). It didn’t take more than 5 minutes inside for us to realize we agreed with the latter… Basically you get seated with menus, decide what you want, and then don’t get to order it. The owner, Opal, comes by to inform you how little you know about Thai cuisine and orders for you. Don’t bother telling him that you love curry and that’s why you came – he’ll tell you he is not going to bring curry. Period. He gets such satisfaction out of condescending patrons followed by serving incredible food. I swear we wanted to dislike the food before it arrived because we were so turned off by his little song and dance. Unfortunately, it was delicious so we left conflicted. How were we going to eat that again without having to go there? Oh yeah, that’s why God made take-out. (I later learned that a woman answers the take out line so you can actually order off the menu. Hooray!) I took some really shabby photos of our meal, not knowing what it was until later reading Yelp. Through the reviews I deduced that Opal basically serves the same thing to first-timers.
Before tonight, I’d only attempted anything Thai one time. I made Tom Yum which is an insanely aromatic, healthy, spicy, and bright soup. It contains unusual (to me) ingredients like galanga, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and lemongrass which are always on hand at Asian grocery stores. Add a little coconut milk and you’ve just made Tom Kha. The owner of the above restaurant was very dismissive of the fact that I not only knew what these soups were, but that I had actually made them before.
Tonight’s challenge was Thai red curry. Did you know that curry paste is most commonly used in Thai food while curry powder is most commonly used in Indian food? Furthermore, did you know that they are total different flavor profiles? Curry paste tends to carry a spicy profile with a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, kaffir lime, lemongrass, sometimes tomatoes, etc. while curry powder carries a more savory profile of cumin, fennel, coriander, turmeric… interesting! Good to know they aren’t exactly interchangeable 🙂 Okay, so back to Thai curry. I randomly got inspired at the grocery store as I was picking up pb&j from the shelf on my left, I noticed coconut milk on my right. One thing lead to another and we ended up with a quick feast which I must applaud for being a one-pan meal. This recipe is pretty close to the one on the back of the can of coconut milk I picked up.
Curry Chicken Udon
2 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast, pounded and cut into small pieces
1-2 Tbsp oil for searing chicken
1-2 Tbsp red or green curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp brown sugar
1-2 cups chopped veggies (I used what I had on hand: bell pepper, broccoli, and peas)
1 Tbsp fish sauce (this is optional, but makes a bit impact)
Thai basil leaves (optional)
1 pkg udon noodles or rice noodles
salt and pepper for seasoning chicken
Heat large saute pan to med-high heat, season chopped chicken with salt and pepper then sear chicken for about 2 minutes per side. Remove onto plate, cover with aluminum foil – you will add this back to the curry at the end to finish cooking. Reduce heat to med-low. Pour coconut milk, curry paste, and brown sugar into pan. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken, udon noodles, vegetables, fish sauce, and thai basil to the pan and simmer for another 2-4 minutes until chicken and udon noodles are finished cooking. Squeeze half a lime over the top before serving. Enjoy!
I give the meal 4 out of 5 starts for being very flavorful, but not sweaty enough for me. Next time I’ll try a different brand of curry paste or add my own hot chilies to fix this little problem. Daniel loved the level of spice and gave it 5 stars; he even got seconds despite his personal “no seconds” rule! Opal’s restaurant food was superior, but the vibe at home was way better. Overall, I guess you could say it’s a “Thai.”