Now that I’ve moved back to California from Italy and again have easy access to Asian ingredients, I’ve started cooking Thai dishes more often. After testing several different recipes and some experimenting, I’ve improved upon one of my favorites — Moo Gratiem Prik Thai. It may come as a surprise to many lovers of spicy Thai cuisine, but since chili peppers were not introduced to Thailand from the Americas until the late 16th century, prior to that time black, white, and green peppercorns were used liberally for a “spicy-hot” flavor. In fact, the Thai name for peppercorns (black, white, or green) is prik thai or “Thai pepper”, hinting at its origins as the “original” Thai pepper. It may also surprise many Westerners to learn that this bold dish is often served for breakfast, with a steaming bowl of soft jasmine rice and chili-lime sauce.
Ingredients (to serve 4):
- 1 lb lean, boneless pork chops or loin, cut into thin slices against the grain
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 TB crushed garlic
- a few dashes of soy sauce (about 1/4-1/2 tsp, to taste)
- 1/4 cup finely-chopped coriander (cilantro) root (it is sometimes difficult in the U.S. to find cilantro with the roots still attached — try a farmers’ market)
- vegetable oil for frying
Pound the garlic, coriander root, white pepper and salt together to form a coarse paste in a mortar and pestle, or pulse in a food processor or blender. (If you use a blender or food processor, you may need to add a small amount of vegetable oil). Stir in the soy sauce.
Spread the resulting paste evenly over the pork slices and let sit for 1/2-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
Heat vegetable oil (traditionally the pork is deep fried in about 1 inch of oil, but I usually stir-fry it in a smaller amount — approximately 1 TB) in a wok until shimmering. Stir-fry the pork in the heated oil until it has lost all pink color but is still moist.
Serve with Prik Manow, a.k.a. Chili-Lime Sauce (below) and steamed jasmine rice.
Ingredients for Prik Manow:
- 1/4 c + 2 TB freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3 TB fish sauce (nam plaa — I recommend “Tiparos” brand)
- 4 small red Thai chili peppers (prik kee noo*) or Serrano chili peppers
Cut stems from peppers and chop them finely. Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl and serve with the pork and rice.
*The name of this chili pepper means “mouse dropping pepper,” presumably referring to its size and shape. They are usually sold as an assortment of green and red and can be found in most Asian markets.