Japan Eats

Recipe: Asian chicken salad

This coriander-packed Thai salad makes a great appetizer, but it’s just as good as a spicy sandwich filling.

To give the salad a fresh, crispy texture, it’s important to rinse the sliced vegetables in ice water. It’s also best eaten within 24 hours.

When you mix the ingredients in the bowl, use both hands. The taste will be much better than if you mix using utensils (wood, metal or otherwise).

Asian chicken salad

Asian chicken salad

Ingredients (for 4 – 8 people)

  • 500 g of chicken breast
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 200 – 250 g cabbage
  • 120 g cucumber
  • 50 – 60 g red onion
  • 40 – 50 g celery
  • 20 g of roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint

Dressing

  • 2 red peppers (dried and finely chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
  • A pinch of salt

Garnish

  • Roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons of crushed peanuts

Method

First we’ll prepare the chicken. Remove any excess moisture with a paper towel then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and black pepper onto all sides of the chicken breast. Place the chicken on a plate then rest it for 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons of sake over it then wrap the plate with cling film (2 layers) before cooking it in the microwave for 5 ½ minutes. Take the plate out of the microwave and allow the chicken to rest until it is cool enough to touch.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the dressing. Mix all of the ingredients other than the peanut oil and salt in a large bowl. Now add the peanut oil. Do so slowly stirring the dressing with your other hand. Check the flavor and add salt to taste.

As the chicken cools, prepare the vegetables. Rinse the cabbage then slice into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick. Rinse the cucumber and cut into slices approximately 1 mm thick. Peel the red onion then slice thinly, following the grain. Remove the strings from the celery and slice the stems diagonally into 1 – 2 mm pieces. Cut the leaves into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick.

Fill a large bowl with ice water (enough to cover the cabbage, cucumber, red onion and celery) and rinse them for 5 – 6 minutes before draining.

Once cool, break the chicken breast by hand into bite-sized pieces (follow the grain). Add this together with the liquid on the plate into the bowl containing the dressing.

Now add the vegetables to the chicken/dressing mixture.

Add 20 g of roughly chopped coriander and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint to the bowl. Combine all the ingredients by hand.

Decorate the salad with fresh coriander and crushed peanuts before serving.

Restaurant review: Old Thailand (Iidabashi)

Solid Thai food for those who prefer to be stirred rather than shaken.

A couple of years back I was fortunate enough to see a musician friend play Tokyo’s famous Blue Note Jazz Club. It was a great show, and afterwards we sat down to talk about how the gig went. As we ran through the set and talked about the players, I made some off-handed remark about how much I loved the opening piece – a wild, cacophonous explosion of sound, the likes of which is rarely heard at a Japanese club. “Yeah, the chaos,” he replied “it’s the one thing we’ll play like that in Japan. Back in the States, most of our set is like that. But after years of playing here, we learned that Japanese audiences don’t go in for chaos. Now we dial it down when we play Tokyo.”

Khao soi

Chiang Mai's famous khao soi.

Anyone who’s explored Tokyo’s so-called ‘ethnic’ food scene will spot the similarity to what happens when a Thai, Indian or even Vietnamese restaurant opens. Strong flavors, be they spices like chili or cumin, or herbs such as cilantro (coriander) are quickly brought down to a level more acceptable to the majority of Japanese customers.

Prior to visiting Old Thailand, we were assured that despite being part of a restaurant chain, their dishes were pretty authentic, and certainly the familiar ‘chili scale’ illustration (one chili meaning not particularly hot, three meaning pretty darn hot) suggested that we’d be swabbing our faces with oshibori in no time.

The lunch menu offers all the Thai standards, and then some. Khao man gai (boiled Thai-style chicken with steamed rice),  kaeng khiao wan (green curry), and tom yam-flavored noodles head up the menu. Elsewhere, a ‘new lunch menu’ offers a green curry with shrimp and avocado, as well as a personal favorite – khao soi (noodles in a soupy chicken curry).

We ordered khao soi and pad ga prao kai (minced chicken cooked in basil) and were impressed when both dishes arrived in a matter of minutes. The khao soi was a pretty good approximation of what one would find on the streets of Chiang Mai, albeit somewhat oilier and containing the kind of thin ramen noodles which tend to clump together. Still, pretty good for a dish that many Japanese are yet to discover.

But it was the ga prao that dominated conversation. It was surprisingly bland, with none of the flavor we were expecting. Where was the promised ‘three chili’ spiciness? Clearly, this was a case of a Thai classic being modified to suit local tastes. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing (the Japanese have reworked countless foreign dishes to great effect) but here the result was mildly disappointing.

Old Thailand delivers plenty of ambiance, and the long lines suggest this is a popular destination for Iidabashi’s office workers come lunchtime. But if, like me, you like your Thai liberally seasoned with chaos, I suggest you ask ahead.

Directions: Turn left from Exit B2A of Iidabashi station. It’s 3 minutes walk across the bridge and on the second street to your left.

Tel:03-5212-4566
2-3-8 Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku,
Tokyo-to, 102-0071
Hours: 11.30 – 15:00 (L.O. 14.30) and 17.30 – 23.00 (L.O. 22.00)
http://www.sscy.co.jp/oldthailand/


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Thai noodle salad

Again with the nampla!

This week, a variation on the classic Thai glass-noodle salad (yum woon sen). This dish works well as a kind of otsumami (small dish to accompany alcohol) – the zest of the lemon juice and the spice of the peppers loose nothing after a few glasses of beer or shochu.

This particular recipe uses ingredients which are readily available in Japan. For a more authentic Thai flavor, exchange limes for lemons and add extra peppers. Also, in Thailand the coriander root is used to give the sauce even greater flavor. If you want to try this, use a mortar and pestle to crush a coriander root together with the chopped red pepper, then add fish sauce, sugar and lemon/lime juice.

Thai noodle salad

Thai noodle salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 50 g cellophane noodles (bean threads)
  • 100 – 120 g cabbage
  • 60 – 70 g celery (including leaves)
  • 50 g red onion
  • 100 g shrimp
  • 100 g ground pork
  • 10 – 15 g coriander

Salad dressing

  • 3 table spoons of Thai fish sauce
  • 1 and 1/2 tea spoons of sugar
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
  • 1 – 2 red peppers

Method

Cut the cabbage into thin strips and the red onion into thin slices. Next, slice the celery stems diagonally and the leaves into large pieces.

Chop the coriander stems finely and cut the leaves into large pieces.

Place all of the vegetables into a large salad bowl, roughly 25 cm in diameter.

Wash the shrimp carefully and boil them. When cooked, drain and cool so that the shells can be removed.

Pour 2 cups of water into a small pan and bring it to the boil. Next, put the ground pork into the pan and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes, stirring so as to break it up.

Before cooking the cellophane noodles, prepare the salad dressing. Remove the stalk and seeds from the red pepper and cut into 5 mm pieces. Place these in a small bowl.

Add fish sauce, sugar and mix together with the peppers. Finally, add lemon juice and mix together roughly.

Place a pan with 4 -5 cups of water onto a high heat. Once it has come to the boil, place the cellophane noodles into the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles and cut them into lengths of about 10 cm. Place in the salad bowl.

While the cellophane noodles are still warm, pour the dressing over the ingredients and mix together by hand. Serve with a garnish of coriander leaves.

Tokyo Bites: 2010 Thai Festival

Rachael White reports from the 2010 Thai Festival in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

Tokyo Bites: 2010 Thai Festival from Japan Eats on Vimeo.

Restaurant Review: Plik chee fah 2 (Shinjuku)

Reliable Thai, only a few minutes walk from Shinjuku Station.

One of the quirks of living in Tokyo is that some types of cuisine are ubiquitous, while others are virtually ignored. There are numerous French bistros, Italian pizzerias and Chinese fast-food joints, yet finding a decent bowl of Vietnamese pho or Malaysian laksa can prove difficult. And don’t even get me started on the dearth of Lebanese or Moroccan food.

Pad Thai

The lunch menu features such dishes as Pad Thai, tom yum goong and green curry for under 1000 yen

Thankfully, good quality Thai cooking is well represented. From the casual charm of Shinjuku’s Bankirao to the upmarket Mango Tree in Marunouchi, lovers of lemongrass and chili needn’t go far to get their fix.

One of the most popular is Plik chee fah. Hidden away on the 5th floor of an unremarkable building on the west side of Shinjuku Station, Plik chee fah serves up good quality renditions of familiar favorites – curries, noodle dishes and spicy salads. The restaurant is especially popular at lunchtime, when it packs in the crowds of (mostly) young professional women.

Like so many of Tokyo’s other Thai restaurants, this 5th floor loft space isn’t much to look at. Plastic tablecloths protect the furniture from falling debris and the window curtains appear to have seen better days. Nor does it stand on formality – although the soundtrack of Thai pop is for the most part unobtrusive, the same cannot be said for the widescreen television which gets switched on mid-evening. All this, of course, is part of the charm, but probably not ideal for that intimate candlelit dinner.

The weekday lunch menu (11 am to 3 pm) consists of a dozen or so ‘sets’, including standards such as kao man kai and tom yum goong, for under 1000 yen. On the weekend, the restaurant serves up a lunch buffet between 11 am and 3 pm. On a recent visit, the minced chicken and basil proved especially popular (I apologize to anyone standing in line behind me).

As one would expect, the dinner menu is more comprehensive. It contains all of the classic Thai dishes one usually comes across in Tokyo: pad Thai (1200 yen), fried morning glory (a tad overpriced at 1200 yen) and popia tod (spring rolls) for 1000 yen. There are also a couple of surprises: Chiang Mai’s signature dish, kao soy (1300 yen) and a wide selection of salads, including yam wun sen (spicy noodle salad – 1200 yen) and yam mu yaw (Thai sausage salad) for 1300 yen.

We decided to take things slow and to start with drinks and the yum wun sen. The waiter, however, had other ideas. Service was extremely fast. Our salad arrived only moments after ordering, and seemed none the worse for it. A riot of flavors accompanied the first mouthful. First sour, then salty, then sweet. The perfectly cooked texture of the squid and shrimp was impressive.

Next, we decided on the kao soy. Essentially a chicken noodle soup, the Chiang Mai original balances different textures (soft noodles/a crispy noodle garnish) and flavors (sweet coconut milk/spicy chili). We found Plik chee fah’s version went overboard with the coconut milk. Thick and glutinous, it was a little too sweet. This could have been helped by a dash of lime juice, but like many other South East Asian restaurants in Japan, a side dish of lemon substituted for lime.

If you’re looking for satisfying, unpretentious Thai, Plik chee fah will not disappoint. On leaving, the staff thank you twice, in both Thai and Japanese.

Now what’s “That was delicious” in Thai?

Directions: Plik chee fah (2) is located on the 5th floor of Meiko Building in Nishi Shinjuku. To get there, walk out Shinjuku Station’s Odakyu Exit and proceed down the hill toward Seibu Shinjuku. On the left side of  the street you’ll see a large pachinko parlor. The restaurant is located in a small building in the street to the rear.

Tel: 03-5326-8588
http://www.plikcheefah.com/
5th Floor of the Meiko Building, Nishi Shinjuku.

Recipe: Asian-style roast chicken salad

This Southeast Asian dish is incredibly simple to make. The salad employs one of the great flavor combinations – sesame and roast chicken.

It also contains nam pla, the aromatic Thai fish sauce, which adds depth to the flavor. If you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute nuoc man, the Vietnamese version of the same thing (although in Japan, nam pla tends to be easier to find than nuoc man – I buy mine at Seiyu supermarket).

Serve with with rice noodles such as pho.

Asian-style chicken salad

Asian-style chicken salad

Ingredients (for 2-3 people)

  • 250g chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc man)
  • 2-3 fresh lettuce leaves
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/4 of a red onion

Method

Break the lettuce into bite-sized pieces by hand. Thinly slice the onion (against the grain) and cut the green pepper in half and then into thin strips.

Place the vegetables into a bowl, then pour just enough water to cover them. Add 4-5 ice cubes to keep them crispy. Leave these in the water for about ten minutes, then drain.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt and 1 pinch of pepper over the chicken breast and let it sit for for 5 minutes. Next, dribble a teaspoon of Thai fish sauce over the chicken and let it sit for another 5 minutes.

Spread the sesame oil over the chicken breast with a cooking brush (or use the back side of a small spoon). Dust the roasted sesame seeds over both sides of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius (410 Fahrenheit) and place the chicken on a tray covered in baking paper. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

When the chicken has finished cooking, take it out of the oven and let it cool. Once ready, tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces by hand. Plate the vegetables and then decorate with the pieces of chicken. Garnish with coriander (cilantro to those in North America) and a piece of lemon or lime.