In my travels in Thailand, I never came across Khao Soi noodles, but then I never went anywhere further north than Bangkok. This noodle dish is typical of the Chiang Mai and northern Laos regions, and are also much like (and probably derived from) the Burmese 'ohn no khao swe', one of the Burma's most famous dishes.
I first tried this dish at Janetira Thai on Brewer Street in Soho over the summer and was instantly hooked. It's a rich, filling dish; chicken is simmered in coconut milk with a spicy curry paste until the sauce is thick and the meat is tender. This sauce is ladled over fresh egg noodles and garnished with crispy fried noodles, bright, crunchy pickled mustard greens and vibrant pink shallots.
So on a wet, windy and cold night, I needed something warm and comforting. While some might veer towards meaty stews, my thoughts often stray to something Asian and spicy. I cheated with shop-bought Mae Ploy red curry paste and added additional flavourings to pep it up a bit, which turned this into an easy and quick mid-week dinner. Home-made curry pastes with fresh ingredients are invariably better, but this was a great fix.
My local Asian supermarket was all out of fresh egg noodles so I used dried, and subsequently couldn't be bothered to cook and then fry a portion of the noodles for the crispy garnish. My laziness was detrimental to the enjoyment of the dish - a little crunch contrast to the egg noodles goes a long way. That showed me.
Khao Soi Noodles
For the curry paste:
4 tbsp red curry paste, home-made or shop bought (use a decent brand, like Mae Ploy)
1 tsp medium curry powder
1 tsp minced ginger
1 inch of fresh tumeric, minced (wear gloves, or you'll have yellow hands) or 1/2 tsp tumeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Bash the tumeric with the ginger and the curry and coriander powders, then mix in the red curry paste.
4 chicken legs
1 tin of coconut milk
2 tin's worth of water or stock
1 heaped tbsp of palm sugar, to taste
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 black cardamom pod
2 tsp fish sauce, to taste
4 bundles of fresh egg noodles - you want a tagliatelle-like thickness. Untangle about 1/5 of each bundle to set aside for frying
4 Asian pink shallots, sliced finely
100gr pickled mustard greens, it usually comes vac-packed - not the Sichuan, spicy sort . Rinse well and chop into bitesized pieces
2 limes, quartered
A few sprigs of coriander, chopped
1 spring onion, julienned
Nam prik pao (roasted thai chilli paste, but any chilli oil will do - in fact it's pretty spicy anyway so you may not need it at all)
Don't shake the tin of coconut milk up - you want the separation of the coconut cream from the milk. If you have this, open the can and skim it off the top. Add to the wok and fry it for a couple of minutes, then add the curry paste and fry for 5 or so minutes. If your can of coconut milk hasn't separated, then no worries - use a quarter of the coconut milk and simmer down for 10 minutes until thickened, before you add the curry paste.
Add the chicken legs and cover the chicken legs with the sauce well. Add the rest of the coconut milk, black cardamom pod, kaffir lime leaves and the tins of water / stock, and simmer gently for 40 minutes, turning the chicken legs every so often. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce bit by bit, tasting as you go along.
Meanwhile, for the fresh egg noodles, fry the reserved noodles in a little oil until crisp. Place on kitchen towel to drain. For the rest of the noodles, add to boiling water, boil for a couple of minutes and drain. Divide into bowls.
Bring the chicken curry up to a rapid simmer. Add a chicken leg to each bowl, then ladle the sauce over equally. Serve with the accompaniments on the table for everyone to add bits and pieces to their liking. I found a squirt of lime was essential.
(I'm going to Bangkok and Koh Chang in January. Where must I go, what must I eat? Tell me all, please!)