When I eat garlic, it lingers on my breath for days. For some reason, I am extra sensitive to its effects. It oozes out of my pores. I leave a faint (or not so faint) whiff of garlic as I breeze through a room. Because this is unpleasant to my close associates (read: my husband), I am forbidden to indulge in some of my favorite binge eating. Do other people do this, too? I wonder what the taboo foodstuffs are in other relationships.
Sometimes, I dream of being single again. When I lived alone, I used to roast a head of garlic or two and spread the creamy, carmelized cloves on hunks of baguette. Now I just save these gloriously gluttonous moments for when Retrogrouch goes away for several days. I’m very responsible about it, too. I plan for mid-week, so I’ll have a couple of days to clear the stuff out of my system.
This week, I decided to binge like a mofo. I started planning for a Thai garlic pepper chickenfest. I haven’t had much chicken since I taught the food politics class in the fall. The articles we read, and the papers my students wrote, really made me re-evaluate eating cheap chicken. But suddenly, I wanted good chicken, and I wanted it with garlic, and I wanted it NOW.
One of the miracles of Thai food is garlic pepper squid — squid flash-fried with white pepper and a bit of coating, then mounded over lettuce leaves with a huge pile of fried, chopped garlic. A friend took classes with the celebrated Bay Area Thai cookbook author and teacher, Kasma Loha-Unchit, and then he practiced on us. My eyes nearly rolled back in my head when he introduced us to this dish.
I soon discovered you can make this with any seafood or meat, but chicken is particularly good. I think tofu would work as well, but since it takes a longer time to fry up golden than meats, be sure that the pieces are small. And by all means, check ahead to confirm that your dining companions and loved ones are ok with garlic eau-de-cologne.
And sorry, sweetie, I know you’re in England, where the food is not exactly jolly good, and I know you love this dish, too, but believe me, I’m doing it for our relationship.
Thai Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken
(adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s recipe in It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking)
4 chicken half-breasts (i.e., one small package)
2 heads as-fresh-as-possible garlic, chopped
2 t. ground white pepper, or more to taste
2 T. fish sauce
2 t. cornstarch
3 T. white flour
vegetable oil for frying
Slice chicken breasts into thin strips. Chop all the garlic by hand into small pieces. Smashing the cloves with the back of a cleaver first will help make this process easier. Add to bowl with chicken. Add rest of ingredients to bowl, and mix thoroughly, being sure that each piece of chicken is coated well. The chicken and garlic will look dry. If it looks wet, add a bit more flour.
Fry chicken in several batches to avoid over-crowding in a wok with about a cup or two of vegetable oil. Watch carefully, since the garlic can burn. When chicken and garlic are golden brown, remove to dish with paper towels, then transfer to platter lined with lettuce leaves. Between batches, be sure to remove ALL stray garlic pieces with a fine strainer so they don’t burn in the oil. The oil can be cooled, strained and reused in stirfries, since it will pick up a nice garlicky odor.
Serve with other, more reasonable dishes with vegetables and jasmine rice. Or, if you’re completely alone and without hope for future alliances, half the recipe and serve with kimchi radish pickles and rice. I like to wrap up the chicken pieces in the lettuce with bits of garlic. Heaven.
Serves 2-3, if you can restrain yourselves.