Mexican. Thai.

by wjw on August 6, 2007

Kathy visited the nearby Asian food store— “nearby” in this case meaning a 75-mile round trip— and returned with a whole red snapper and a whole tilapia. The snapper I stuffed with parsley and lemons, wrapped in banana leaves, and grilled.

Call it less than successful. I’m having a hard time mastering my new grill, which puts out a colossal number of BTUs, enough to incinerate any form of protein in jig time. Either my grilled dinner is turned to charcoal or it doesn’t cook at all. (Works fine with the rotisserie, though.) Alas for the poor snapper, which turned out after 20 minutes’ grilling to be quite raw: I turned on more burners and in another ten minutes managed to rescue what remained of the meal from a wrapping of shredded, completely incinerated banana leaves, which resembled nothing so much as burned newspaper.

The fish wasn’t bad, wasn’t good. A watermelon salsa helped.

I had better hopes for the tilapia, and decided to keep it off the grille until I mastered the machine’s intricacies. Complicating my cookery was my reluctance to go in search of more ingredients. I decided to cook it with what was in the house.

So I rubbed the fish down with pepper and sea salt and let it set in a lime juice-and-onion marinade for a while. I chopped up a whole bunch of cilantro, intending to make that fine Mexican dish, pescado en cilantro, wherein you bake the fish with a vast pile of cilantro on top. The cilantro cooks down to nothing while imparting its flavor to the fish. Simple and elegant.

Yet I was missing an ingredient. The recipe calls for chopped jalapenos to add those necessary ASTA Pungency Units. (Isn’t this techspeak, umm, interesting?)

We had no jalapenos, but I was confident I could turn up some serranos or Thai peppers or something that would work, or— if all else failed— a can of chopped green chile. But we had nothing. Nothing.

A New Mexican without chiles! It’s like a cat without his kibble, a cowboy without his boots, a Heinlein character without a slide rule.

The only source of Scoville Units I could find were a few teaspoonsful of leftover Thai green curry paste. Well, I thought, why the hell not? Should go nice with the lime juice, anyway.

So I diluted the curry paste in some olive oil— making this Mexican-Mediterranean-Thai fare— then poured it over the fish, added the heap of cilantro, and chucked it all in the oven at 375. When it was cooked, it was served with rice and bowls of gazpacho that Kathy had made from vegetables purchased at the local farmers’ market.

Holy Kanzeon Bosatsu in Heaven! What a terrific dish. The cilantro and the lime juice and the curry paste cooked down to an incredibly concentrated, flavorful sauce. The onions stayed crispy but soaked up enough of the sauce to be a delicious treat. And the kitchen retained a wonderful odor till the next morning.

Thai-Mexican cuisine. I don’t see how it can avoid being the Next Big Thing.

Mathew August 7, 2007 at 6:33 am

Hey Walter
Being a former Chef, I’d recommend getting one of these:

It will give you a precise temperature reading of your cooking surface, working off infra-red.
Just make sure that your zapping the grill surface, not the burners beneath. You can use a piece of foil over the cooking surface if you need to, providing a surface for the meter to read.
I know how difficult it is to get used to a new grill, I managed to incinerate a couple of grilled foccacia’s on Sunday using Mesquite ( which burns real HOT ) instead of the ghetto Kingsman briquettes.

Juan August 7, 2007 at 6:45 am

“Democracy was victorious. Peron and his blond
hooker took off for Portugal.”

And just like that, I throw away to the garbage a new book I had just bought.

I know it was a while back, but that lack of knowledge of what the autor is writing I can’t forgive in a book. And don’t come with the old Else World excuse, you just didn’t(and probably don’t)know what you were writing about.


Mathew August 7, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Thats a random critique of “Witness”…

dubjay August 7, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Wow. An Argentinian drive-by!

The concept of an “unreliable narrator” has not made an impression, I gather.

On the grille I incinerated four whole chicken breasts last night. Part of the problem is the grille itself, which is not the crisscross of wires I’m used to, but long bars of cast iron. The iron bars retain a lot of heat, and they create three-quarter-inch-wide scorch marks on anything I slap down on them.

I’m not sure if there’s actually any way to fix this, other than getting a different grille.

Mathew August 8, 2007 at 5:50 am

Alot of manufacturers have been switching to the cast iron grill surfaces simply because you can regulate the heat better (in theory) since the heavier surface retains and dispurses heat much more evenly than a thinner crosshatch grill surface. I think that 3/4 inch wide grills is probably overdoing it though.
Anyhow…I think that your right about simply getting a new grilling surface. There is not much that you can do to fix a design flaw 🙂
When I keep asian peppers on hand for Thai and Malaysian food, I usually make a 1/2 gallon batch of stuff thats similar to Sambal. You can keep it in the fridge for a year minimum, and the you always have those hard to find peppers on hand.
1:start w/ a 1/2 gallon glass jar with an airtight lid.
pack loosely with sliced serrano and thai chilis ( 1/8 inch disk cut)
2:toss in 2 T. minced garlic
& 4 T. Sugar. ( I usually use Palm Sugar)
3: Fill to top with rice vinegar
4: refrigerate.
The rice vinegar keeps the pepper’s flavor bright and preserves them, while the garlic & sugar add some complexities to the heat.
Then you only have to find the
“Hard to Find” peppers once a year 😉

dubjay August 10, 2007 at 12:46 am

Thanks for the nifty idea, Mathew!

I’ve had problems with preserving various fresh ingredients, the Asian market being so far away.

Any ideas for lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves?

Mathew August 12, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Those you can simply freeze.
Kaffir lime leaves hol up really well for about 6 months in a well sealed bag.
Lemongrass I would either cut into 4 inch sections for easy use, or dice / slice and then freeze.
The lemongrass does lose some potency when frozen, so depending on the time spent in the fridge you will have to increase the ammount in your dish to achieve the desired flavor.
I would recommend using a vacume sealer for ingredients like these, with both portions in one pouch for 1 dish.
That way when you get the urge to make some Tom Ka Gai or Panang Gai you just pull out a little “Thai Pack” from your freezer and your good to go.
I know it seems a little anal retentive, but this way you can make dishes using those hard to find ingredients all year with a minimal ammount of casting about for the propper foodstuffs

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