Cook up simple but satisfying kai jeaw
As much as I love foie gras, oyster, and vin blanc (white wine), it is the simple dish of fried eggs that I always crave. I fell in love with fried egg in high school; sure, I made spaghetti alfredo for my school lunch box, but kai jeaw, fried egg made Thai style, was my dinner.
Kai jeaw is a simple staple dish of Thailand — something like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of America. This golden dish is something your mom makes when you complain of hunger at midnight. But you don’t need to trouble your mother every time you crave it; you can buy a freshly fried omelet over rice for 20 baht (approximately $0.50) on the streets of Thailand.
Kai jeaw, simply put, is a deep fried omelet, and although it sounds easy to make, it is a dish that requires attention and involvement.
Here’s my take on how to cook up light and airy, luminous gold, nutty tang, it’s-so-oily-don’t-tell-my-mom kai jeaw.
Ingredients: Egg(s). One or two, depending on preference. Rice. Try pairing the dish with jasmine rice as well. One cup of oil. Peanut oil or olive oil is recommended if you can indulge in some. Wedge of lemon or lime.
Optional but highly recommended: Prik Nampra, a delicious Thai chilies and fish sauce and Thai chicken chili sauce.
Thai street vendors use a black wok on a blazing Asian stove to cook up some kai jeaw, but here in America, we must make do with a saucepan. I like my kai jeaw light and fluffy, and to do this you need cookware that is comparatively deep. Depending on your cookware, make sure the depth of oil in it is approximately an inch, and slowly heat the oil to a medium to high temperature.
Crack an egg in a separate bowl — there’s a reason this instruction comes after you start to heat the oil — and while waiting for the oil to heat up, beat the egg with fork for a minute and add in a few drops of lemon juice.
To check if the oil is hot enough, drizzle a little bit of egg into the saucepan; the egg should fluff up immediately. If the egg takes a couple of seconds to bubble, the oil is not hot enough; make sure there’s no smoke either.
Once the oil is hot enough, pour the egg into the saucepan. Start pouring the egg near the oil, and as you continue to pour, slowly lift the bowl higher so that the egg gets fluffier. Even when cooking with just a single egg, I fry them in two batches, ensuring enough room for the egg to expand to its full potential.
At this point, lower the heat to medium — you want to make sure you don’t burn the egg. Flip it once the top catches a golden touch and repeat so that the other side does too. Then serve the golden, fluffy kai jeaw on hot rice.
Some people like eating their egg with ground pork, sliced onion, or basil leaves. You can add these ingredients to your recipe as well, but remember that the more additions you make, the less fluffy and more meaty your kai jeaw gets. Experiment with both and then take your pick.
You can also add some sticky sweet Thai chili sauce, bottles of which are often seen at the white trucks serving Thai food on Margaret Morrison Street. It adds flavor and spice to the dish, so go ahead and give it a try.
I enjoy my egg golden-brown and eat it with chilies and fish sauce. The sauce is pretty easy to make and can be done in a few simple steps.
Ingredients: A few Asian chilies. Fish sauce. Wedge of lemon. You can use the same wedge used to make the fried egg; only a few more drops of lemon juice are needed. A couple cloves of garlic. In my opinion, much like butter, garlic makes everything tastier.
Cut the chilies crosswise and make them very thin, then put them into a small sauce bowl. Thinly slice the garlic as well — again, the thinner the better — and place them with the chilies. Squeeze a few drops — three to five drops — of lemon juice, and add just enough fish sauce to cover all the ingredients. Let the sauce sit until your meal is ready.
I prefer to make the chili and fish sauce before cooking my meal to give some time for the flavor of all the ingredients to come together. This sauce can be eaten with just about anything. It is a good idea to refrigerate leftover sauce and add more chilies, garlic, or fish sauce when needed. This allows the flavor to develop well.
Just as a warning: this dish, along with anything fried, is not recommended to be cooked during the winter by people who have their own kitchens. Clothes and beds — and the entire apartment, for that matter — will end up smelling like kai jeaw for the entire week.