Let's wing it
There is no smooth transition to be made from talking about death to discussing Thai food. Let’s wing it.
I don’t know why that fried egg looks like it has no yolk. It definitely had one, because before I took this picture, I punctured it with that spoon. I think this is my punishment for not taking a proper photograph: my iPhone ate the yolk. Anyway, please imagine that it’s there. And while you’re at it, imagine that I’m totally, totally, 100% prepared to have a baby. Go on.
I found out a few weeks ago that I’m anemic, which at least partly explained why I had nearly dozed off at a stoplight a couple of times and once cried when I couldn’t get a kitchen drawer to open. My doctor prescribed iron supplements and plenty of beef. The good, grass-fed kind, he said. It’s a very nice thing to be ordered by one’s physician to eat more meat, and I was excited about it - except that, because I was busy dozing off at stoplights, I couldn’t think of what to eat. A person can only go so far with hamburgers and steak. That was when I called up Matthew, and he told me to make a Thai dish: stir-fried ground beef with chiles and basil, served on a bed of rice, with a fried egg.
I’ve made it four times since, and one of those times was in Oklahoma, for my mother and cousins, so they can vouch for it. In fact, maybe this will tell you something. It’s thunderstorm season in Oklahoma, an annual event that I spent my entire childhood dreading, and a giant hailstorm hit that night, as we were finishing our meal. The windows along the back of the house began to shatter, and as we ran to the closets for cover, you could hear the wind screaming through the rooms. But the Thai beef was tasty enough that, after we had come out of hiding, my cousin Jason hovered over the wok, tempted to dip in for seconds, even though the leftovers shimmered with tiny shards of glass. It’s a very good recipe.
The original version of it comes from David Thompson’s excellent book Thai Street Food, and as Thai street foods go, he says, it’s fairly new - maybe only fifty years old. He recommends using as many chiles as you can handle, because the dish is meant to be spicy. As he explains, the "supple richness" of the fried egg is meant to offset the heat. What I like about it, other than the fact that it’s fragrant and bright and hot, is that it’s nearly instant. You can make it in less than ten minutes, with ingredients that you might well have lying around. The original recipe calls for holy basil, but I used regular basil. I used beef, but Matthew likes pork. And if you can’t find Thai chiles, you could easily substitute serranos. The important part is hard to mess up, and that’s chewy, saucy union of rice, egg yolk, and beef.
Stir-fried Minced Beef with Chiles and Basil
Adapted from Matthew-Amster Burton and Thai Street Food, by David Thompson
In Thailand, the eggs would be fried in the wok, either before or after cooking the rest of the dish. But Matthew claims that he always breaks the yolk when he does it that way, and he’s ten times better at stir-frying than I am, so I cook the eggs separately, in a skillet.
As for the chiles, the number that you use is up to you. I used five chiles the first time I made this, and it was pleasantly fiery. The second time I made it, I was eating solo and decided to go a little milder, so I used only three chiles. (You can always remove some of the seeds, too.) Oh, and if you have an exhaust fan over your stove, turn it on. I always forget until the chiles hit the hot wok and I have a coughing fit.
Also note: this dish comes together very, very quickly, so be sure that you’ve measured out and prepped your ingredients and have them close at hand.
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 to 10 Thai (also called bird’s eye) chiles, sliced
A pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. peanut oil, divided
6 oz. (170 grams) ground beef
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, or more to taste
A pinch of sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) chicken stock or water
2 large handfuls of basil leaves
Hot cooked jasmine rice
2 large eggs
2 lime wedges
Stir together the garlic, chiles, and salt. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil, and add the garlic, chiles, and salt. Stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant, then add the beef. Continue to cook, stirring, until the beef is cooked through and just starting to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce and the sugar. Add the basil and stock or water, and stir just until the basil is wilted. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a separate skillet, and fry the eggs. The proper fried egg for this dish, Matthew says, has a runny yolk but a browned and crispy underside.
Scoop the rice into bowls, and then divide the beef and its juices over the top. Crown with the fried eggs. Serve immediately, with a good squeeze of lime.
Yield: 2 servings