Seur Rong Hai (Crying Tiger)
This dish is a true Bangkok creation because of its intense flavors. The chiles must be hot enough to make one howl like a tiger but, at[ the same time, balanced with a blend of sweet-salty flavors to lessen the fire. Fresh peppercorns give a lingering sense of warmth.]
- Makes 6 servings
- 2 teaspoons dried green peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon Big Four Paste
- 10 cloves garlic, 5 minced, 5 unpeeled, lightly crushed
- 3 to 20 fresh bird chiles or 2 to 15 serrano chiles, minced
- 1 pound boneless, skinless large chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce (namm pla)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Water as needed
- 2 tablespoons crispy pork rinds, crushed to the consistency of coarse cornmeal
- 20 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped
In a small skillet, dry-roast the green peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Put the Big Four Paste and the minced garlic in a mortar and pound until blended into a paste. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and pound until the garlic and peels are blended into the paste. Do not worry if the membrane is separated from the cloves. (You may want to remove the peel; I encourage you to try it the authentic Thai way. It may seem unusual, but the reward is the wonderful texture and added taste of crispy garlic peel.) Add the chiles and continue pounding. Add the green peppercorns and, instead of pounding, crush them by pressing them against the side of the mortar in a circular motion. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and set aside. The paste will keep well in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
Trim any fat from the chicken breast. Cut the breast in half. Working with one half breast at a time, slice horizontally almost but not quite in half. Open the meat up into a butterfly shape. Put your hand firmly on top of the meat and press down on it to flatten it. Using a very sharp knife, held at a 75-degree angle to the work surface, slice thinly against the grain into 2 to 3 long pieces. Try to keep the pieces the same size and thickness. Set aside on a plate.
Arrange the ingredients near the stove in the order they will go into the skillet: oil, chile paste, chicken, fish sauce, sugar, and a small cup of water.
Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat for 2 minutes, or until when you put your hand an inch or so above it, you can feel the heat. Add the oil, then add the chile paste, stirring it quickly, until it turns slightly brown and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken, lower the heat to medium, and sprinkle a bit of water into the pan to prevent the paste from burning. Try to keep the chicken pieces flat as you saute them to ensure even cooking. When the chicken is browned, push it to one side of the skillet and add the fish sauce and sugar to the center of the skillet. Stir and blend until the mixture bubbles, then push the chicken pieces into it while you continue to stir until the chicken is coated. If needed, sprinkle a bit more water to prevent sticking. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, garnish with the crushed pork rind and cilantro, and serve hot.
Courtesy Su-Mei Yu's Cracking the Coconut (Morrow, 2000)