Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mahogany Fire! Fire! Noodles

I may have mentioned this once or twice, but my husband and I like our food spicy. Knock your socks off, burn the house down, call the fire department, spicy. So when I found a recipe in my favorite Thai cookbook described as "a fire-eater's favorite," I bookmarked it immediately. Then, the other day, when I was checking out the hot pepper situation at New May Wah, I bagged some real beauties: tiny red Thai chili peppers, the plumpest and most promising I've seen in the States. The Thai peppers in many markets look like most of the life has already gone out of them, but these had firm shiny skin, and some were only about as long as my fingernail.
The recipe calls for thirty chilis, and I've long had the habit of doubling or even tripling the spice called for in recipes. Still, one of the two hottest meals I've had before now was Thai food (do you like that foreshadowing?), so I thought I'd play it safe and add only forty chilis. As soon as I opened up the blender of pulverized chilis and garlic, I started coughing uncontrollably. This would freak some people out, but I took it as a very good sign.

In addition to increasing the heat to a death-defying level, I cut some of the sugary elements and added snow pea leaves, which are my current vegetable obsession. Our fridge is constantly packed with food, meaning space is at a premium. Therefore, ingredients that can do double or triple duty get priority. Pea leaves are truly versatile, working equally well in soup noodles and stir fries. They have a pleasing sweetness that shines unadorned, but their overall flavor is neutral enough to play nicely with others.
I'm not going to lie. The resulting dish was fiery hot. The first bite felt completely manageable, but after a full serving of noodles, the heat had built to a nearly unbearable level. Both my husband and I were blowing our noses and wiping the tears from our eyes. It was a wonderful meal.

Mahogany Fire! Fire! Noodles (Adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
40 small, red Thai chilies (30 if you feel like being a wuss about it)
10 cloves of garlic (this worked out to exactly 1 head of garlic for me)
2 cherry tomatoes (optional)
1 pound fresh rice noodles (sold in Asian markets; I buy them presliced)
1 tablespoon canola oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small strips
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1½ tablespoons sweet soy sauce (I used kecap manis, which is the Indonesian version, the Thai version is called see-eu wan)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 can bamboo shoot strips, drained
1 bunch Thai basil, washed and stemmed
4 cups of pea leaves, or other leafy greens, washed and stemmed

1. Wash and stem the chilies. Then place all of them, along with the peeled cloves of garlic into a food processor or blender. Since these ingredients are so dry, I threw in a couple of cherry tomatoes to make blending a little easier. Blend to a smooth paste. Be extremely careful about washing your hands after handling the chilies or chili paste. Here's a photo. Looks spicy, eh?
2. Most of the recipes I've read involving fresh rice noodles call for you to loosen the noodles in a colander with hot water. Whenever I try this method, about half of the noodles stay stuck together (especially if they've been refrigerated). Here's my foolproof method: Put the noodles in a large mixing bowl and fill that with boiling water. Then take a pair of chopsticks and swish the noodles around gently until they completely separate. Try and work somewhat quickly, or the noodles will start to get mushy. Drain the noodles and pat them dry with a paper towel, so they'll form a bit of a char when you stir fry them.

3. Place all of your ingredients within easy reach of your wok. Turn your vent on. You may want to open a window as well.

4. Get the wok piping hot, then add your oil, followed by the scary red chili paste. Stir fry this for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken and toss until it is no longer pink, about 4-5 minutes. Add the fish sauce. Now add the noodles and stir fry for about a minute, making sure the chili sauce is well mixed in. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, bamboo shoots, pea leaves, and Thai basil and stir fry for another minute or two until all ingredients are mixed well and the pea leaves and basil have wilted slightly.

5. Serve with a pitcher of ice water or cold beer, and a box of tissues.


  1. You kids are CRAZY. Also I'm so glad you two found each other.

  2. That looks insane, and insanely hot! My friend has this theory about building up to 100 pushups by adding one at a time each day. I wonder if the same applies here :).

  3. I definitely think one can build a tolerance for heat. I can only hope that I don't end up burning off all my tastebuds in the meantime. :)

  4. OMG I made this tonight and it was so delicious but sooooo spicy!!! I couldn't even have a large bowl because it was so spicy but I really wanted to eat more because the flavours were so delicious! Great recipe, but I'll definitely have to tone down the chili peppers so that my poor taste buds can actually taste the noodles. I admire your ability to eat so much spice!

  5. Yes, it's the spiciest thing I've ever made. I admire your willingness to try so much spice, even if it ended up being too much. :)

  6. I've been living on your blog for about a month now, and love it! Thanks for all the effort and time you put into it. Love all your spicy dishes. This one got a ooo-aaaa when that cloud of gas came out of the blender when I opened the lid after grinding the red chilies.

  7. What do u think if I use Bok Choy instead of pea leaves ? good idea or no ?

  8. No problem. The bok choy will probably need to cook a little longer than the pea leaves, but should still work great!


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