A northern Thai specialty in a Germantown grandmother’s kitchen
I was introduced to Thai food when I was a first-year student at Rhodes College, thanks to my friendship with Marlinee Iverson, a fellow Rhodes student whose mother immigrated from Thailand. Her parents would come up from Mobile to visit, and a feast always ensued. Over the years I have eaten many meals with Marlinee’s family, much to my delight. Now that Marlinee’s dad is no longer with us, her mom, Chouwanee Clark, lives with Marlinee and her husband, Max Maloney, in Germantown.
Marlinee can now have her mother’s cooking anytime she wants, and Max has been taking note of Chouwanee’s secrets. Marlinee said a noodle issue of the magazine wouldn’t be complete without her favorite noodle dish, khao soi, and Chouwanee was kind enough to make it for us. Max sent the recipe for this coconut curry noodle soup.
“This is a Chouwanee specialty. I’ve heard her brag on more than one occasion that her khao soi was the best.
The dish is from northern Thailand, around Chiang Mai, and if you are ever in the area, you should seek out one of the restaurants that specialize in the dish.”
This recipe is for a ‘big pot’ of khao soi, about 8-10 servings.
3 pounds beef stew meat (Chowuanee isn’t picky about her cuts. The cheaper the better, as you are going to be cooking it for a while to tenderize it. Make sure that you cut the meat up into bite-size pieces before cooking it.)
2 large cubes beef bouillon (optional)
4 cans coconut milk, reserving some cream to use as garnish (Always use Thai products when making Thai food. Chaokoh is a quality brand.)
2 cans kaeng kua curry paste (Try to find Maesri brand in a bright red can.)
2 heaping teaspoons yellow curry powder
1 tablespoon black soy sauce (If you can’t find this, use sweet soy sauce.)
Thin, flat egg noodles, 3 to 4 14-ounce packages (You often find them in the store as “wonton noodles.” They’re egg noodles, light tan in color. Don’t use rice noodles. In a pinch you can use ramen noodles.)
1 package ramen noodles, spice packet discarded
Vegetable oil (enough to cover the bottom of a small pot to a depth of 2 inches)
2-3 tablespoons dried, crushed Thai chilis
1 bunch shallots
2-3 limes, cut in wedges
2 cans pickled mustard greens (Chouwanee prefers Pigeon Brand, the maroon and blue can that says, “Fermented Green Mustard Half in Soy Sauce,” but any pickled greens will do.)
1 bunch cilantro
Step 1: Prepare beef and broth. Cut up beef and cover it with water (or beef stock). After it comes to a boil, skim the foam (which is mostly fat) and then reduce heat, partially cover, and let simmer for at least 2 hours. Keep an eye on it so that the liquid doesn’t cook away. (You can do this the day before. After it’s finished, let it cool and then store it overnight in the refrigerator.)
Step 2: Prepare noodle garnish. Khao soi is served with a deep-fried noodle garnish. Chouwanee typically cooks up some ramen noodles and then fries them, which is what I’ve listed for ingredients here. But in my experience in Thailand, they fry up the crispy egg noodles they serve with the curry. In either case, cook the noodles first, and then heat up some vegetable oil (don’t overheat). Add small handfuls of cooked noodles one at a time, allow them to fry (2-3 minutes), and then remove them to drain.
Step 3: Prepare chili oil garnish. When you are finished cooking the noodles, allow the oil to cool a bit and then add enough of it to a small bowl in which you’ve placed dried, crushed Thai chilis to make a sauce the texture of Chinese pepper sauce.
Step 4: Prepare other garnishes. Chop shallots into large dice (about 1 cup), cut limes, dice the pickled greens, pick cilantro leaves. Put each of these in a small bowl to serve on the table to allow people to garnish their own bowls.
Step 5: Cook the egg noodles. Separate and shake off excess flour. Drop in boiling water and cook until just done (3-5 minutes). Drain.
Step 6: Finish the soup. Turn on the beef and broth mixture, adding up to two large cubes of beef bullion for additional flavor (especially if you didn’t use beef stock when cooking the beef). Open the coconut milk, reserving enough of the cream for another garnish, and add to beef. Add curry paste. Mix well. Add yellow curry powder and stir. Add black soy sauce. Allow to come to temperature. Cook until desired consistency (not too thin or thick).
Serve over noodles, topping the khao soi with a dollop of the reserved coconut cream, some of the fried noodles, and the other garnishes to taste.