Jun 15 2015

Kin Khao’s Recipe for Charred Squid in a Chili-Garlic Sauce

Pan-sear tender squid, douse it in a seriously spicy sauce and scatter it with peanuts and cilantro for a simple, striking summer meal. This recipe from Kin Khao in San Francisco offers an accessible intro to authentic Thai cooking

squidHERBAL REMEDY | A scattering of cilantro provides a refreshing counterpoint to the bold spice and pungency of the sauce. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

AT 31 YEARS OLD, Mike Gaines had mastered classical French and Japanese as well as New California cooking. But when he signed on to help open Kin Khao, a casual Thai eatery in downtown San Francisco, in a sense he was starting all over again. The restaurant’s owner, Pim Techamuanvivit, wasn’t worried: “I knew Mike was an excellent chef,” she said of her plan to introduce him to dishes she’d eaten all her life. “For me,” Mr. Gaines added, “the most difficult part was finding the balance Pim was looking for. When you are dealing with such bold flavors, you have to retrain your palate.”

This recipe for pan-seared squid doused in a bracing vinaigrette and topped with toasted peanuts and fresh cilantro—the pair’s second Slow Food Fast contribution—provides a crash course in authentic Thai cooking. “I insisted that it be kick-you-in-the-face spicy,” Ms. Techamuanvivit said.

The sauce, made with fresh chilies, fish sauce, garlic, lime juice and palm sugar, is known as nam jim talay. “It should be sour, spicy, garlicky and sweet,” said Ms. Techamuanvivit. “Thai cooks use sugar to round things out. If the first thing you taste is sweet, then the sauce is wrong.” She added that though the seafood used in this dish may change according to the season, the toppings never do: “The peanut and cilantro are not just garnishes. They are integral to the dish.”

Both Mr. Gaines and Ms. Techamuanvivit lament the way Thai cooking has been dumbed down in this country. From their modest yet ambitious kitchen, they are working to raise the bar with punchy, fresh and textured dishes like this one. Mr. Gaines compared their efforts to what chefs did a couple of decades ago to increase awareness about regional Italian cooking versus the Americanized pasta and pizza that had become ubiquitous. He was firm on this point: “Thai food is much more nuanced than we think.”

Charred Squid in a Chili-Garlic Sauce

Total Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ bird’s eye or other hot chilies, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
Juice of 1½ limes
5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons bran or olive oil
2 pounds whole squid, cleaned
1 cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup toasted and finely chopped peanuts
Cooked sticky or white rice, for serving

1. Use a mortar and pestle or a food processor to crush garlic, chilies and sugar to a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl, then stir in lime juice and fish sauce. Set aside.

2. Heat half the oil in a cast-iron or other large, heavy pan over high heat. Once oil is shimmeringhot, sear half the squid, turning frequently, until surface browns on all sides and squid just cooks through, about 3 minutes total. Repeat with remaining oil and squid.

3. Transfer squid to a serving plate and spoon sauce over top. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts. Serve with sticky or white rice.

Read original post: www.wsj.com

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