Try a Little Thai

Thai food is a sensuous celebration of flavor, fragrance and eye appeal. With elements of sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors, Thai cookery relies on aromatic ingredients readily available at the supermarket such as lime, lemongrass, ginger, basil, turmeric and coconut milk. Fish sauce is a key ingredient in authentic Thai cuisine but since its briny fish flavor can jolt the American palate, use the sauce sparingly or not at all. Soy sauce can replace fish sauce if desired.

Curry pastes are essential ingredients in Thai cooking: Green curry paste is made with fresh green chilies and is extremely hot. Red curry paste uses red chilies but is not quite as hot as red. Panang curry paste is similar to red but roasted peanuts are added to it. Although the pastes can be made at home by adventurous cooks, they include hard-to-find ingredients such as galangal root, kaffir lime leaf, coriander root and shrimp paste. Most supermarkets sell excellent curry pastes that work very well in the following recipes.

Gary: Thai food can include quite a bit of spice and heat, but mostly it offers layers of texture and flavors that are quite complex and interesting. Wines should be able to stand up to the character of the specific dish and cleanse the palate between bites to make the entrée taste better. While Gewürztraminer is touted as the one wine that complements Asian cuisine, there are a number of choices available, particularly to the diner who does not care for the unique character and texture of Gewürztraminer.

Chicken Satay

As far as I’m concerned, no Thai dinner can begin without a Satay appetizer. This recipe can also be made with beef, pork, shrimp or a combo.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Salt to taste

1/4 cup canola oil

20 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour

Peanut sauce (recipe follows)

Slice chicken into long, thin strips. You should get 6 strips from each chicken breast.

In a large bowl, combine coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and oil. Add chicken strips and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove bamboo skewers from water and thread chicken onto skewers.  Arrange in baking pan. Bake 5 to 8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Alternatively, grill chicken skewers for about 3 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve with peanut sauce. Serves 4 as an appetizer (3 skewers per person).

Peanut Sauce

Crush peanuts in a spice grinder or place in a plastic bag and crush with a meat mallet. The peanut sauce should be chunky. Alternatively, use peanut butter in place of the peanuts. The curry paste is cooked first to remove any bitterness and to release its aromatic oils.

1 TBS red curry paste

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, crushed

3 TBS brown sugar

2 TBS fresh lime juice

1-1/2 TBS fish sauce

Salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, cook curry paste over medium heat for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add coconut milk and broth. Cook over low heat 3 minutes. Stir in crushed peanuts, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and salt. Cook over low heat 3 minutes, stirring often.

Gary: Think of the peanut sauce as the main flavor for this dish, as chicken is relatively mild, though the spices in the preparation will add some character. If you are not using much of the curry paste or, if you will use more curry paste because you enjoy the heat, a lovely combination is an Amontillado Sherry or Montilla because their nutty, oxidized flavors will perfectly echo the character in the sauce. They will kick up the heat due to their 16 percent (or higher) alcohol, so beware. Sparkling wines are a nice choice to go with the nut-based sauce and they usually have lower alcohol to moderate the curry. Try anything from an extra dry to a brut Champagne, sparkling Vouvray or Crémant from the Loire, a delightful California sparkler or a fruity Prosecco.

Green Curry Chicken

Although green curry paste is hot, you can adjust the heat by adding more or less paste to taste. This dish can also be made with pork tenderloin. For variation, add fresh pineapple cubes, sliced green pepper and canned sliced water chestnuts, drained.

1 TBS canola oil

1 onion, chopped

2 tsp minced ginger root

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into bite-size pieces

1 TBS green curry paste (or to taste)

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 TBS minced basil

1 TBS minced cilantro

1-1/2 cups snow peas

4 scallions, chopped

Basmati or Jasmine rice, cooked

Fresh chopped basil, for garnish

In a wok or large skillet, over medium high heat, sauté onion and ginger 1 minute. Add chicken and sauté 3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove and set aside.

Add curry to wok or skillet and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in coconut milk and broth. Cook over low heat 3 minutes. Stir in basil and cilantro. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Return chicken to wok or skillet. Add snow peas and cook 5 minutes or until snow peas are crisp-tender. Serve over Basmati or Jasmine rice, garnished with basil.

Serves 4.
Gary: With the heat from the curry paste, the sweetness of the coconut milk and snow peas and spice of the ginger, look for a white wine with a hint of sweetness to mellow the curry and good acidity to bring out the various herbs and spices in the dish. A German Riesling with its precise flavors and yin/yang of sweetness and acidity would be a great pairing, and a Vouvray would also be a choice in the right direction. You can try a softly-dry Riesling from Germany or Ohio, but avoid the Australian examples with 13 percent or more alcohol unless you really like heat.  Sauvignon Blanc or an unoaked Chardonnay from a cool climate would also make a nice pairing. For a unique pairing, a late harvest wine from Alsace (Vendage Tardive) would be rich enough yet have a moderate hint of sweetness that would not be overpowering.

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