dinner: thai-style beef thing.

I had very high hopes for this dish (though I understand that “thai-style beef thing” does not communicate “high hopes” very well). In fact, when I made the chicken tarkari a few weeks ago, that was a last-minute decision after I bought all the ingredients for both that dish and this. I love Thai food. There are two places in my area that are really good, and I order from them at minimum once a week. On top of that, Molly‘s description of the dish in question was really compelling:

… 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.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that it didn’t deliver. I just can’t figure out why. I followed the directions exactly, with the exception of leaving out the sugar and forgetting to top with lime. I was somewhat put off by the taste of the fish sauce, which makes exactly zero sense given the quantity of Thai food I eat. I used Squid brand – the only brand available at my supermarket (next time I’m trying the Asian market) – which SheSimmers (aka Leela), a Thailand-born Thai food blogger, described as follows in her recent review of Thai fish sauces:

… I would be perfectly happy using [this] in all dishes including those in which fish sauce is the star of the show.

So either Thai restaurants use way less fish sauce than this recipe did – which doesn’t make sense, since I only used two tablespoons (I doubled the recipe) – or they use it with a completely different flavor profile – which also doesn’t make a ton of sense – or they use a brand with a very different recipe. I have no idea what was up here, is what I’m saying. I guess we’ll see when I make something with fish sauce in the future.

Notes & Verdicts
Stir-fried Minced Beef with Chiles and Basil
by Orangette

Notes: I doubled the recipe. I also left out the sugar, forgot to top with lime, and used water where “chicken broth or water” was suggested since the only chicken broth I had was the kind my mom can’t eat and I was cooking for the family.

Verdict: Very spicy, but otherwise bland. There wasn’t a very interesting flavor profile and I don’t feel the flavors ever really melded. I’m not going to say this is a bad recipe, but it definitely didn’t work for me. C-

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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8 Responses to dinner: thai-style beef thing.

  1. “Full of burning” is not a good flavor for a dish.

  2. Hannah says:

    I think what the problem here was that you left out the sugar and the lime, though the using water instead of broth may also have been part of it. Thai and Cambodian food use sugar and citrus to balance and round out the flavor profile of the fish sauce.

    • Sara says:

      Hey, that’s helpful! The idea of sugar in dinner food is pretty horrifying to me but I’ve also never cooked with fish sauce. I’ll make sure to include sugar next time I do (though this particular recipe isn’t getting a second outing, gotta say).

      • Hannah says:

        Think about it like adding salt to sweet baked goods. You need a little bit of it so it’ll taste right.

      • k___ says:

        Definitely, definitely add the sugar and citrus. I can’t speak to fish sauce because, uhh, it freaks me out and I avoid cooking with it, but even teriyaki sauce doesn’t work without sugar!

  3. pnadathur says:

    I’m not sure if this could be the problem, but I often find that Thai dishes that I find totally delicious in restaurants are just not THAT exciting at home — and it’s because I have to use regular basil instead of holy basil. Totally different flavour, and the holy basil is INFINITELY better.

    Also leaving out the sugar probably makes a big difference. I will often add a pinch of brown sugar or palm sugar (if I’ve got it) to stir fry or spicy food — it’s the je ne sais quoi!

    I’d encourage you to try it again because thai food is the best. actually. or you could try this http://rasamalaysia.com/thai-basil-chicken-recipe-gai-pad-krapow/ and by the way that blog is pretty fantastic.

    • Sara says:

      These are awesome suggestions. I was briefly reading Rasa Malaysia but I found some of the recipes to be pretty contrived. I’m glad to have your recommendation!

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