Sorry for being a disappearing blogger last week. I just came back from Toronto and am trying to catch up. This month and next month I’m hitting a heavy traveling period, but maybe I will have more culinary adventures at restaurants to share with you.
In the meantime, let’s make stir-fried clams with Nam Prik Pao.
Even though I like to eat clams, I hate cleaning them, so I normally didn’t cook them very often until I found these treasures: “previously cooked, wild caught” clams frozen in the frozen section at the Asian market. I don’t get how I could have missed them for this long.
Just to make up for all the time that I never cooked them, I went clams crazy. Spaghetti a la vongole, stir-fried clams with fermented soy beans, clams with white wine sauce, etc. The favorite one at my house is this one: spicy stir-fried clams with Nam Prik Pao.
I already introduced you to Nam Prik Pao before in the pork floss shortbread and Tom Yum Goong. The ingredients of my homemade Nam Prik Pao are: fried dried red chili, fried shallots, fried garlic, tamarind paste, shrimp paste, palm sugar, and the last ingredient that makes my Nam Prik Pao different than the store-bought one is dried shrimp. All of the ingredients, regardless of how they were cooked or fried before, are to be mushed with a mortar and stir-fried in vegetable oil.
Thai people use Nam Prik Pao as a condiment in many dishes and also as a sandwich spread, believe it or not. I make my own Nam Prik Pao so I can get the chili heat level just the way I like it, extremely mild…haha, and make sure that no MSG “accidentally” falls into the jar. (The recipe is still on a “procastinatable recipe list” but I will get around to it maybe after I post the sixth recipe using it…)
Clams stir-fried in Nam Prik Pao is surprising popular at my house. Why am I so surprised?
Because it contains many “stink” factors. Dried shrimp sure don’t smell like flowers, shrimp paste…ahem…errr…really smells like fermented rotten seafood (of which you can drop the word “fermented” and the leftover words are still not that far off from describing the paste smell). Also fried garlic and fried shallots don’t really smell like melted cheese either.
I don’t know if you ever came across this funny news story (funny to us, the Thais) about “Burning Chilli Sparks Terror Fear”, in which a Thai restaurant in Soho caused a terror alert in London because they were just making their own Nam Prik Pao. The police thought they were under chemical attack!
Nam Phrik Pao is probably the most difficult paste to find. If you don’t spot it at your local Asian grocery, I would recommend going online. The Temple of Thai carries about 3 different brands Mae Anong, the brand used by many Thai restaurants, Pantainorasingh, this is a milder one and Mae Pranom, the old brand, quite spicy. Amazon also carries the Mae Pranom brand, too.
Before you even start, you need to clean the clams. Even the frozen ones need to be soaked in a lot of cold water until they’ve all opened again. Discard all the closed ones. Toss them around in the water to make sure that the excess grains of sand all fall out of the shells. Your teeth don’t need to be sanded down in the process of dining.
Ingredients (for 1)
Clams, still inside the shells but already cleaned, 2 cups (1 lb.)
Nam Prik Pao 1-2 tablespoons
Chopped garlic 2 teaspoons (2 large cloves)
Sliced red jalapeño chili 1-2 pods (I am being brave and didn’t de-seed them.)
Water 2 tablespoons
Fish sauce or soy sauce 1- 2 teaspoons
Oyster sauce 1 teaspoon
Sugar (brown) 1- 2 teaspoons
Oil 1-2 tablespoons
Fresh Thai basil leaves, a handful or approximately 1/2 cup
1) Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat until it’s hot with faint smoke.
2) Add chopped garlic in the hot oil, toss and turn until it releases its fragrance.
The garlic should look nearly golden.
3) Add sliced chili and stir until the chilis are cooked.
4) Add 1 tablespoon Nam Prik Pao,
oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar and use a spatula to break the paste and mix them together until there are no lumps left. Taste it to see if you like the flavor, adjust the taste with more fish sauce, sugar and Nam Prik Pao if necessary. I actually didn’t measure the exact amounts. I just estimate them.
If the sauce gets dry, add more water. This is your final seasoning.
5) Add the clams and increase the heat to the highest.
Toss around really quickly. If you are using the fresh clams, close the lid over the wok and shake, or toss until all the clams are cooked. If you are using frozen clams, toss them really fast until they’re all coated with the sauce.
6) Turn off the heat and add the basil leaves. Toss a few times until the basil leaves wilt a little, then put everything in a bowl. You can serve it with a bowl of steamed rice or a slice of toast. I even made a bread bowl for it
because the left over sauce usually causes a fight if I don’t have enough bread to mop up the sauce!
But if you like pasta, boil the pasta while you are making the clams, and toss the cooked pasta in once you finish cooking the clams.