Yesterday I had a late lunch of ramen at Tonkotsu with Mr. Pear. I’m not sure about the massive ladles you get with ramen here–I’m used to eating all kinds of noodle soups with these kinds of spoons–but hey, it works, and the ramen itself was decent. After we finished, I decided I wanted something complex and spicy for next few meals, so I shopped in Chinatown and came away with a big bag of red Thai bird’s eye chillies, bundles of lemongrass, a pack of galangal, and bunches of fresh green peppercorns. The lemongrass and sliced galangal were frozen for later use, but the green peppercorns needed using up as soon as possible, so that evening I searched for something to cook today.
A commenter at SheSimmers suggested pad cha as a way to use green peppercorns, an idea echoed by my parents, who also gave me a very general recipe. Pad cha is a spicy stir-fry which showcases the unique fragrance and texture of finely sliced krachai and whole fresh green peppercorns. It’s hot and strong with just enough sauce to lightly coat each component of the stir fry–and the grains of rice you’re obviously going to have with this dish. This is กับข้าว (kap khao), after all–’with rice’. Use your fork to push some rice, a bite-size piece of meat or vegetable, plus some herbs and spices (a slice of krachai, perhaps, or half a bunch of green peppercorns) onto your spoon before conveying the whole thing to your mouth. Creating different combinations per mouthful is generally how you eat Thai dishes with rice. Obviously some of you know this already, but other readers may be unsure about how the whole thing works.
I know that I’m very lucky as I live in a place where I can, without undue stress and expenditure, buy all of these fresh ingredients. Feel free to nix the kaffir lime leaves, use brined green peppercorns, and substitute another crunchy vegetable instead of the pea aubergines. The key ingredient here is the krachai, which is distinct from ginger or galangal (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!), and if you can’t get it either fresh or frozen then go without it and make a slightly different dish–maybe one of these versions of equally delicious spicy basil stir-fry with mince, clams, or aubergines would satisfy your needs. Also, the recipe given is for chicken; it should be noted that this dish is usually made with seafood but can be adapted to suit ingredients you want to use; I think if you made this with the same weight of mixed vegetables and seasoned it with salt and mushroom-based “oyster” sauce, you would have a spectacular and completely vegetarian Thai dish.
PAD CHA WITH CHICKEN (ผัดฉ่า่ไก่)
Recipe sources: my parents; Ezythaicooking; pinkpeony @ openrice.com; pp. 52 – 53, Ahaan Rot Jut [Boldly Flavoured Food] by M. L. Ubon Deesawat.
Serves 2 – 3 as the sole main course with rice; closer to 4 servings if in a multi-dish Thai meal. Keeps for a few days in the fridge, though the green peppercorns and pea aubergines may discolour–they’re still safe to eat, though!
8 fresh chillies, sliced or pounded, more or less as desired
8 medium cloves garlic, squashed and peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
400g – 500g chicken, boneless and/or bone-in pieces cut into large chunks. I used thighs and legs.
50g krachai (fingerroot), dry rhizome end broken off, roots cut into long, fine shreds.
50g fresh green peppercorns, about 6 – 7 long bunches
50g – 100g pea aubergines, stems plucked
2 – 3 kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
Water or light stock
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 – 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 – 2 teaspoons palm sugar
1 handful Thai or Italian sweet basil leaves
Pound the chillies and garlic in a pestle and mortar until you get a rough paste. Add a little coarse salt to the bowl to minimise slipping. Scoop the paste out of the mortar into a container, ready to stir-fry. If you don’t have a mortar or can’t be bothered with this, just chop everything very finely on a board.
Warm the vegetable oil in large wok on medium heat. Once at heat, add all the chilli-garlic paste at once and stir-fry. As soon as the paste becomes fragrant, add all of the chicken at once. Turn occasionally. You may have to turn the heat up a little to keep everything bubbling.
When the meat is just cooked (cut open a piece with a knife to check, especially bone-in pieces), add the krachai, green peppercorns, pea aubergines, kaffir lime leaves, and about 175ml water or stock (3/4 cup). Stir. Bring everything up to a moderate simmer and cook for a further minute or two.
Season to taste with the fish sauce and oyster sauce, stirring them in a spoonful at a time, balancing the flavours with sugar until it pleases you. It should be savoury with a slight sweetness and moderate chilli heat.
Turn off the heat and add all the sweet basil leaves, mixing until they’re just wilted. Dish up and serve right away.