Cloning Nit Noi’s Thai chicken curry

There’s a Thai restaurant around here (3 or 4 of them nowadays) called “Nit Noi” which means “a little bit” in everyday conversational Thai, apparently. They make a fantastic chicken curry dish. The first time I ever had it, my thoughts ran about like this: “Oh. My. God.” (bear in mind, I am an atheist — I would say, and “avowed” atheist, but… avowed to whom?… anyway] Continuing my previous line of thought, I thought, “Oh. My. God. I didn’t know food could be this good.” and though I eat food, generally, very fast, so fast that it astonishes my friends — once a friend’s mother asked, “where’s your food?” at a restaurant.. the answer was, embarassingly, “in my belly,” — I’d already eaten it. Embarrassing. Anyhow… I didn’t know food could be this good, and I found myself thinking, on this first occasion of eating Nit Noi’s Curry Chicken, this most embarrasing thought: “I cannot eat this fast enough.” This while shovelling it in as fast as I could. And this is not one of those places where they give you chopsticks, which might (once upon a time) have slowed me down. No. I was using an American style fork, and using good old boy shovelling style. Still not fast enough. That’s how good it was. Holy crap. Super fucking good. Best Food Ever. Did Not Know it was Even Possilbe for Mere Food to Be THIS GOOD good. So…. About 4 years ago I set out to try to clone it. I’ve gotten pretty close — but Nit Noi still has me beat, but just by “a little bit.” My recipe nonetheless seems to please the people who’ve tried it. I made it this past Tuesday for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and everybody seemed to like it.

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Ingredients:

  • Some chicken breasts, boned and skinless.
  • 1 fresh pineapple, ripe, but not too ripe.
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 2 pkgs “A Taste of Thai” brand Panang curry paste. I’m pretty sure “Mae Ploy” brand would work as well (maybe better) if you can find it. But whatever brand you get, make sure its “Panang” curry paste, and not some other “red curry” paste, or “yellow curry” paste, or what have you. It must be “panang.”
  • some snow peas
  • some tomatoes
  • some new potatoes (don’t have to be new, but get the red skinned kind in any case.)
  • some thai chile peppers, 2 or 3, or however much heat you like. Having some hot chile oil at the table is probably not a bad idea either.
  • some green beans
  • some brown sugar
  • some salt
  • (optional) fish sauce instead of salt. Golden Boy is a good brand, but has proven hard to find for me. There are some mighty weird fish sauces out there. It should be clear, not opaque. I just use salt. (Perhaps this is where Nit Noi beats me by “a little bit,” — along with not using a pre-made curry paste, no doubt.)
  • Sweet Thai basil, some in the pot, some as a garnish. Regular basil may be substituted.
  • White rice (doesn’t go in the dish, just along with it.)

You may notice I’m a little vague with the amounts. Sorry about that, I’m not the measuring type.

Cut up the chicken breasts, potatoes, pineapple, and tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Cut the ends off the green beans and de-string the snow peas. Cut a slit in each of the chile peppers, and while holding them under running tap water (to keep the pepper fumes out of your lungs) remove the seeds and membranes. Mince the pepper skins very very finely.

Start heating up a large pot (I think I use a 2 or 3 gallon pot with a heavy copper bottom). Put in the curry paste, minced chilies, and a little bit of coconut milk (1/3 to 1/2 can). Stir it around and let it start to cook, then put in the rest of 1 can of coconut milk. Add the chicken, and let that cook for a short time. Then add the rest of the coconut milk and the potatoes. The idea here is to add the ingredients in the order of longest required cooking time to shortest. Add some salt (or fish sauce) and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. (When I first started making this dish, I didn’t realize how crucial salt was to getting the taste right, and my first attempts suffered from a lack of salt.) Let the potatoes go for awhile (15-20 mins?) Add the green beans. (About now, you should start making the rice). After a bit, add the tomatoes, pineapple, and snow peas, and some basil. Total cooking time counting from when you add the curry paste in the beginning is probably about 50-60 minutes — enough to cook the potatoes. Sometimes the potatoes at Nit Noi come out very slightly under-done. I’m not sure how they do it at a restaurant, I suspect, in order to avoid keeping the customers waiting, they pre-cook the potatoes most of the way, and only finish them in the pot when the dish is ordered.

Here’s how to make the rice, in case you don’t already know how. I learned this method from a chinese cookbook, there are doubtless other methods.

First, rinse the rice. Yeah the package says not to. I do it anyway. Do I really need that extra starch? No. So I rinse it out 5 or 6 times, rubbing the rice between my fingers. At first it feels smooth and a bit slippery, but then, hard, and like gravel, and the water runs clear, or clearer than it did when I started. Then fill the rice pot with enough water so that the surface of the water is about one knuckle over the surface of the rice (almost, but not quite 1 inch — as long as your pot isn’t test-tube or frying-pan shaped, this will work.). Then put it on the stove on medium heat (or a little hotter) and when you see it begin to boil — bubbles coming up — then put a lid on it, and turn the heat down to just below medium, and let it go for 15 minutes without opening the lid. After fifteen minutes (I set my microwave’s timer) remove it from the heat and let it sit for a couple minutes. That’s it. You may have to experiment a few times to find the perfect settings on your stove. Or, buy a rice cooker.

You should probably let the curry cool a bit before serving, but I’m never able to wait.

You can transfer the rice and curry to serving dishes and bring them to the table, or what I usually do is just put some rice on each person’s plate, and some curry over it and bring the plates out to the table.

What you don’t eat at the first sitting, refrigerate, and microwave it later. Sometimes it seems to be even better on the 2nd day.

~ by scaryreasoner on November 11, 2007.

6 Responses to “Cloning Nit Noi’s Thai chicken curry”

  1. perfect recipe! some tips: add tomatoes and beans just prior to serving. BTW used some curry called Bengal curry, tasted exactly the same! Thanks!

  2. please, good sir, i have often wished to be able to prepare nit noi’s beef curry in my own home… could you, would you, be so kind as to speculate on the measurements used when adding ingredients?

  3. Hmm, I’m not really the kind of cook to measure things.

    I also haven’t had Nit Noi’s beef curry. Presumably it’s similar to their chicken curry?

    In any case, I can try to guess at the amounts I use for the things which I didn’t specify, though it varies a bit each time I make it, as I go more by taste and feel and look than by measurements for this recipe.

    For a lot of things, it’s simply not critical so long as you’re in the ballpark.

    I probably use 4 or 5 chicken breasts.

    For the snow peas, I probably use about the amount that would fill a cereal bowl.

    Maybe 1.5 times that amount of green beans.

    Probably 4 smallish tomatoes, sliced in eighths, and the eighths sliced in half crosswise if they’re too big a mouthful.

    The potatoes… Hmmm. I tend to buy too many of them, but, maybe 1 pound? Maybe 1.5 pounds? Let’s see, if I went by volume, maybe 2 cereal bowlfuls of cut up potatoes. Maybe 3 bowlfuls… it’s not critical, I guess.

    Brown sugar, probably 3 or 4 heaping tablespoons.

    Salt, maybe 2 or 3 teaspoons? Maybe less. Hard to say. When I first started making this recipe, I left out the salt, and salt turned out to be critical to making it taste right. But obviously you don’t want to oversalt it. You can add salt at the table. Try some amount that seems right, err on the low side, and see how it comes out. If you find yourself adding salt at the table, you could put a bit more in next time. “Salt to taste.” 🙂

    Hope that helps.

    edit: Actually, I realized after I wrote the above, you can kind of *see* the amounts of some of the things in the recipe by looking at the picture. I used all that stuff, so you can kind of see how much. The white bowl the tomatoes are in is the “cereal bowl” I had in mind.

  4. okay, i know its been a long while… but i found mae ploy panang curry at the hong kong market on veterans memorial just south of fm 1960. a quart sized tub of it actually. it was about 7 bucks (iirc). i will have to see how much is in two of those small pouches of curry paste in the photo and use an equivalent amount.

    would whole foods be a good place to purchase thai chili peppers? i always order my curry at the maximum amount of spiciness.

  5. Hi. I know the hong kong market you mean, I’ve been there lots of times. They have the chile peppers there. Unless they’ve rearranged the whole store, they are on the right hand edge of the store (by the west wall of the store), in the produce section. They’re in little styrofoam flats wrapped with plastics (kind of like steaks come in.)
    They also have nice basil there, though not quite as nice as what Nit Noi has. I haven’t found a good source of the proper Thai basil. Probably, best to grow your own (I tried last summer, but the heat (or something) killed it. Will try again this year.

    I don’t know about whole foods and chile peppers, never been there.

    I’ve used the Mae Ploy curry paste before, same kind of tub you’ve got, probably. It is hotter than the Taste of Thai kind that I show above, but probably more authentic, and it will work fine, if not better. (*edit: actually, now that I think of it, I think the Mae Ploy I am thinking of was just “red curry” paste and not “panang,” — even that is pretty good in this dish, but that may be why it was hotter.)

    If you haven’t already, you might pick up some hot chili oil as well. i always get them to bring me some to the table when I go to Nit Noi.

    I went back to Nit Noi some time ago after not having been in awhile, and I found that in my own attempts lately, I’d been skimping on the curry — that is, not making enough of the “sauce,” if that’s the right word. Lots of coconut milk, and lots of curry paste, and if end up with too much curry sauce, that’s probably better than not enough.

  6. i picked up some sweet thai basil and thai peppers from the hong kong market just where you said they were. very inexpensive and way much more than i could use in one attempt.

    thanks!

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