Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thai Chili Garlic Paste

Nearly a year ago, I purchased a lot of new ingredients that were called for in a cookbook I got called "30-Minute Thai." I have only followed the recipes once or twice, but I've monkeyed with the ingredients quite a bit. I like to mix them with other asian ingredients, like soba noodles. I call this "Asian Fusion." Nah, you know me better than that. I call it, "My Cookbook is Too High Up and Requires a Stepladder."

You'd be hard-pressed to abuse soba noodles (which are yummy in plain broth or anything else), or fish sauce (milder than soy), but one ingredient I've had to learn to treat with respect is the thai chili garlic paste. Here's what you don't do:

Don't assume that two puny tablespoons and some olive oil for an entire bag of sliced pork tenderloin won't kill your entire family if you use it as a marinade. Because it will. As my friend J. Moy stated, "Oh hell no. That shit will blow your head off." Sure, on the jar it says, "condiment." But I can't imagine an amount of this stuff small enough for me to actually be able to use it as a topping. I dunno if we're way too caucasian, but my husband and I cried, sweated, and blew our noses through half of a pork chop each before conceding total inedibility. I was able to salvage the rest of the chops only by slicing up the leftovers and putting them into wonton soup. Whew. Which is a relief, because for a couple of days, looking at the leftovers in the fridge actually made me afraid.

Don't run from your leftovers. Here's what you can do:

Despite thai chili paste being the bad-boy in my fridge, my peanut butter has fallen deeply in love with him. And they are great together. You can mix a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter with about 1/4 teaspoon and enough olive oil and fish (or soy) sauce to thin it out, and it makes a great brush-on for chicken (with a little salt and pepper).

I now really love the chili sauce for the authentic, layered flavor it gives to the sauces you mix it with. (And let's face it, the stuff sure is economical at this concentration.) You can use it as a great toss with soba or rice noodles, too. I start with a little garlic and oil, add the merest quarter teaspoon of chili sauce, the same two tablespoons of peanut butter, and thin it with chicken stock. Add some scallions, veggies, fish sauce, and toss in the cooked noodles. I top it with crushed peanuts. I like the noodles with chicken, or fried tofu triangles.

Cut the firm tofu into the triangle shape, and roll them in corn starch. Fry them for a couple of minutes in shallow oil on each side until golden. Drain, and salt and pepper them with a little regular ol' chili and garlic powder. Crispy and savory, without the sensation that a thousand screaming-hot white dwarf suns are dying on the surface of your tongue. Which no one wants.

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