Food trends are hard to keep up with. There was a time when cauliflower was the new kale, and izakaya was the new ramen, and also the time when donuts were the new cupcake (don’t even mention the Cronut fiasco). And then there are the ethnic food standbys, which seem to just plod along reliably in the background with little fanfare or innovation (think: all-you-caneat sushi, Vietnamese pho joints, Indian buffets). These culinary stalwarts are now staples of any cosmopolitan food scene, crystallized in a state of “this is as good as it will get.” And by and large those standards are pretty great and we are incredibly lucky to have such a range of foods and blah blah blah. It’s all true; I can’t possibly complain. And yet, I have to ask — why can’t we get better Thai food around here?
I’m no expert on Thai cuisine, but I have been to the ’Land enough times to know that what passes for Thai here is usually a poor imitation: sauces are gloopy and too sweet, stir-fries have too many damn green peppers (also known as the curse of pan-Asian cuisine), and what passes for “pad thai” is more a failure pile of mushy noodles and ketchupy dressing. It’s a shame, because authentic Thai food packs enormous complexity in flavour, with relatively few key ingredients, many of which are now commonly found even in conventional big-box grocery stores. Do you see where I’m going with this? Stop ordering crappy Thai food and make the good stuff at home! The results will kill your takeout habit for good.
You can start with this simple dish for Thai basil noodles, which makes for a quick weeknight meal. The sauce hits all the notes that make Thai food so spectacular — a combination of sweetness and umami from the fish sauce and oyster sauce, and the acidity from the lime juice. Throw in the aromatics from the garlic and the peppery Thai basil, some fiery heat from chilies, the textural contrast between the slippery, flat rice noodles and the ground pork, and you’ve got a killer dish in under 30 minutes. Want to switch things up? Use ground chicken or turkey for a leaner version; add veggies with the garlic, shallots and chilies (asparagus or green beans work well); or skip the noodles and serve the pork in lettuce wraps, or over steamed rice — with a trendy fried egg on top. Obviously.
Thai Pork Basil Noodles
- 225 g (8 oz) flat, wide rice noodles (dried)
- 45 ml (3 tbsp) vegetable oil, divided
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 green onions or shallots, chopped (if using green onions, use the white parts only and save the green for garnish)
- 1–2 Thai chilies (those small, narrow red ones),
- 450 g (1 lb) ground pork
- 500 ml (2 cups) loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) lime juice
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) fish sauce
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) oyster sauce
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) soy sauce
- Place noodles in a pot of boiling water, stirring gently to separate them. Cover and allow noodles to soften, about 6–8 minutes (you want them pliable but still chewy as they’ll cook more when stir-fried). Drain and rinse in cold water, using your hands to gently separate any noodles stuck together. Set aside.
- In a large frying pan or wok, heat 1 tbsp of oil on medium-high heat. Add pork and fry until just cooked through. Remove to a bowl.
- Mix sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Add 2 tbsp oil to the wok and heat on medium-high until smoking. Add garlic, shallots and chilies. Sizzle for 30 seconds. Stir in sauce.
- Mix pork into wok. Add basil and noodles and toss until well combined. Serve immediately.
Sara Chan is in-house counsel at Corus Entertainment, food enthusiast and unprofessional home chef. Her favourite food group is pork. Check out more of Sara’s great recipes.
This story is from our Fall 2015 issue.
Illustration by Jeannie Phan