It seems that nearly everybody I know loves Thai food. Before I moved from NJ to Seattle in 2000 I had never tried it. One day a colleague suggested that we go to Thai Ginger in Redmond Town Center, where the AT&T Wireless HQ campus was located. I had no idea what to order, and I actually don’t remember what I ended up with, but I do know that I liked it. I especially liked the sweet Chai Iced Tea. Mike likes Thai food a lot, but we still don’t go out to Thai restaurants. If you live in the Beach Cities and can recommend a good one, I’d appreciate some ideas. Poor deprived Mike doesn’t get to eat Thai or Mexican food because of me!
The first time I met Mike Benson, I was working at the AT&T [Corporate] Headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ. He was heading up a team of people from AT&T and AT&T Wireless to come up with a plan for combining the 2 companies’ Customer Care systems. I was chosen to work on that project from the “mothership” team. So out I went to Seattle in the summer of 1999. Mike laughingly tells people that “Lisa likes to share” [things about our lives]. Well, apparently Mike does too…..in the week that I was working with Mike I found out that he was divorced; he had a grown daughter, Angela, whom he was crazy about (and with whom he was having dinner at a Thai restaurant that evening); he liked food and wine; AND he belonged to a “Gourmet Club” which he referred to as a Cooking Class. This group got together every 6 weeks or so, and one person or couple was in charge of the “theme” of the meal, creating the menu and assigning recipes to all of the other members. I remember wondering how one gets invited to participate in what sounded like a great group!
Coincidentally and completely separate from the Customer Care meetings, I was offered a job in one of the IT groups at AT&T Wireless. I had never met Bruce Reisenauer who offered me the job, and I was befuddled about the job offer. He told me that he’d asked around and knew enough about me to know that I was qualified for the job. When I asked what he was looking for, he told me “an adult”. Sure, I was indeed an adult (I was 43 at the time), and I’d lead and supported a large IT team in NJ, but a move to the Pacific Northwest? I turned him down flat. Long story short, my son was grown and on his own, I was not “involved” in a relationship, and my then-CIO in NJ encouraged me to take the risk, and I DID end up taking the job; I flew on a one-way ticket to Seattle on my 44th birthday. Mike and I started dating 14 months later….. and THAT is when I found out how to become a member of the Gourmet Club: you marry into it! YAY!! (We got married 1 year and 1 day and 5 or 6 Gourmet Club dinners after our first date….)
What does all of this have to do with Thai food, you may ask? One of the club’s members hosted a Thai dinner, and I found that I LOVED the food! The scent of the lemongrass was heavenly, and I found to my delight that it wasn’t as hot as I’d expected. Fast forward a few years later to our 2nd Soup Party in Manhattan Beach. I always add 2 or 3 new soups to each year’s menu. I have a pretty good track record of choosing recipes that turn out well, and I’m just an arrogant enough cook that I don’t try them out ahead of time. What the heck ~ if we’re serving 12 soups to 150 people, if they don’t like one of the experiments, it’s not like they’ll go hungry!
So, I decided to try the Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup. I mentioned in a previous post that my favorite cookbook is the one from Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, “The New Best Recipe”. I promise you, if you follow the recipe exactly as it’s written, your dish will turn out perfectly. And I did, and this soup surpassed my former #1 Favorite (Scallop & Mushroom Bisque) to take MY top spot. I haven’t tried it with shrimp, but I’ll bet that would also be delicious.
When I make this soup for the soup party, I complete steps 1 and 2, let the “base” cool, and then freeze it. I simmer the base, add the coconut milk, drain and rinse the mushrooms, and add the chicken at the last minute. It doesn’t take very long for the chicken to cook. If people like it spicier, you could thin some extra red curry paste with chicken stock and serve it on the side.
This is actually a very simple soup to make. The hardest part for me was finding all of the ingredients. I always start at Grow, but unless I ask them to get lemongrass ahead of time, I go to Bristol Farms for the lemongrass and Thai red curry paste. And Ralph’s has the straw mushrooms. Grow does carry the rest of the ingredients. As always, homemade chicken stock is the key to a delicious soup, but the “doctored up” version would also work here.
Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup
from the “Best Recipe Soups & Stews” Cookbook
Serves 8 as a first course
1 Tbls. canola or grape seed oil
1-2 stalks lemon grass, outer sheath removed, bottom 3 inches trimmed and minced
2 Tbls. minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
2-3 tsp. Thai red curry paste
6 cups homemade chicken stock
3 Tbls. fish sauce or soy sauce
1 Tbls. sugar
2 (14-oz.) cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast, (~12 oz.), cut into 1 by ¼ -inch strips
1 (15-oz.) can straw mushrooms, drained & rinsed
3 Tbls. lime juice
½ cup loosely packed whole fresh cilantro
3 scallions, sliced thin on an angle (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lemon grass, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
2. Add ½ cup chicken stock to the pot and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Add the remaining stock, fish sauce and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms and lime juice. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the stock is hot and the chicken is no longer pink, about 5-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with cilantro and scallions.
Variation: Substitute ¾ pound peeled and de-veined medium shrimp for the chicken in step 3.
Cook’s Note: Avoid Indian-style curry pastes that include cumin and other spices. I found Thai red curry paste in Surfas and also in Bristol Farms.