I love Thai food. If I had to pick a favorite cuisine, although my tastes vary from hour to hour, my choice today would be Thai. The powerful flavors created by the combination of herbs and seasonings so very unlike those of Western cuisines amaze and delight my taste buds and leave me wanting more. I still lament the loss of my favorite Thai restaurant, Bangkok Place, when I recall the aromatic wonder that was their red curry. It was the standard to which I hold all other red curries, and none, with their usual over-sweetened gloppiness, has come close to that sublime combination of coconut milk, chiles, and kaffir lime.
One of my other favorite Thai dishes is pad kee mao ta lay - rice noodles with seafood in a sauce redolent of Thai basil and chiles. Only one local restaurant serves it, that I know of -- Banthai -- and I compulsively order it every time I dine there. The noodles are delectably wide, and the sauce (if one can call it that, it's a rather dry preparation) is darkly flavored with the bitter licorice savor of Thai basil, reeking of garlic, and pungently hot. The seafood, usually scallops, shrimp, and decoratively latticed squid, is merely a distraction from the wonder of bland chewy noodles transformed by aromatic sauce.
Since we had planted Thai basil in our container garden this Spring, and it was growing rapidly, I decided to attempt making this dish at home. I wasn't able to find a recipe for kee mao ta lay, but did find several for kee mao, or drunken noodles. "Drunken" doesn't refer to the dish itself, but to the consumer. The dish is supposed to be so hot and spicy with chiles that the eater must douse the flames with lots of alcohol, thus becoming inebriated. Well, we're a little on the wimpy side in the Minx household, plus we had no fresh chiles (our jalapeno plant has many flowers on it, however!), so I cheated.
This recipe involved lots of prep work - chopping of various things, noodle cooking, but once all that was accomplished, putting the dish together was a snap.
Drunken Noodles with Seafood a la Minx
8 ounces wide rice ribbon noodles
1/4 lb shelled shrimp
1/4 lb small scallops
1/2 lb crabmeat, picked over
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Approximately 30 Thai basil leaves (two good handsful)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
1/2 teaspoon Korean ground red pepper
Cook noodles according to package directions. (Boil 4 - 6 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water. I soaked them in cold water until I was ready to use them to keep them from sticking.)
Add a tablespoon of oil to a large hot skillet and cook shrimp until just beginning to turn opaque. Add scallops and garlic and stir fry 2 minutes. Add sauce ingredients (combining them in advance helps) and toss to coat. Drain noodles and add to skillet, mixing well. Add cilantro, basil, and chopped scallions and toss with noodle mixture. Allow basil to wilt. Gently stir in crabmeat.
Serve piping hot, garnishing with more basil, cilantro, and scallions, if you wish. Two - four servings, depending on how hungry/piggy you are.
As I was eating this last night, I realized if I had added some scrambled egg, beansprouts, and chopped peanuts, and subtracted the heat, I'd have Pad Thai. Delicious either way.