NOEL KING, HOST:
Food and love have some things in common. They can both make you hot and sweaty. But if the pandemic is keeping you socially distant, you can still have a spicy Valentine's Day. This kitchen cupid is here to help.
(SOUNDBITE OF "AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN" THEME SONG)
KING: Jack Bishop of the PBS TV show "America's Test Kitchen" shot a spatula through my heart, which is not as painful as it sounds. He gave me a virtual cooking class, teaching me and you to bring the Valentine's Day heat even if, like me, you're cooking for one.
JACK BISHOP: I love spicy food. So it's Valentine's Day. You're going to cry at some point or other. So why don't you just start it over dinner so that, you know, by dessert, you're no longer crying?
BISHOP: That's part of the thinking here.
KING: So Jack gave me a recipe that's designed to slap you in the taste buds.
BISHOP: We are going to make a Thai chicken with basil. And this is one of those dishes that's meant to be really spicy. It will wake your senses up.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEAM HEAT")
THE PAJAMA GAME: (Singing) I got steam heat. I got steam heat. But I need your love to keep away the cold. I got...
KING: First, I had to arrange my kitchen while Jack, who was in Boston, watched over Zoom. I had to slice and dice and pulse and saute while keeping my microphone upright, not dropping my phone-phone into the blender and also keeping one eye on him.
I think we're in good shape now.
BISHOP: Yeah. We're going to have to prioritize, like, seeing your face and seeing your food.
KING: Oh, this is what my face looks like. Now I'm bouncing up to get myself on mic.
BISHOP: I should ask, do you describe yourself as a beginner cook, an intermediate cook or an accomplished cook?
KING: It's such a good question. I cook constantly. I can't claim that I'm good at it. But I do like making elaborate recipes. But I cook, I would say, four or five times a week.
BISHOP: OK. I'm going to classify that as intermediate/advanced. How does that sound?
KING: Oh, I'll take it. Thank you.
The Thai chicken goes with rice, which Jack has a special way of making.
BISHOP: I hear from people all the time, I can't cook rice. It really causes a lot of people who are pretty good cooks a lot of trouble. And so we're going to start by rinsing the rice and then sauteing the rice.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)
KING: I rinsed it in a strainer until the cloudy water became clear.
BISHOP: What you're doing here is rinsing off some of the starch. So this is going to make it much less likely to stick to the pot or each other. Rinsing away of the exterior starch really gives you a much fluffier, less starchy end result.
KING: Next - and this was new to me - we sauteed the rice in some canola oil before cooking it in water.
BISHOP: As soon as the water comes to a boil, you want to reduce the heat to low - and, really, as low as it goes - and then put the lid on.
KING: OK. Let me ask you a question which is a little embarrassing. You know how it begins to boil around the edges first before it comes to a full boil? At what point does a boil constitute a boil?
BISHOP: So the entire surface of the liquid should be in motion.
KING: I wish you lived in my house. This is - like, there are all of these things that I had never known.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO HOT")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Too hot - too hot - too hot, lady. Too hot, got to run for shelter, got to run for shade.
KING: The heat in this dish comes from little Thai chilies.
BISHOP: They are very spicy.
KING: The only Thai chilies I could find are these little babies. Where's the camera on this? Here they are.
BISHOP: Oh, yeah. They're perfect. Yeah. They're red.
BISHOP: They kind of curve at the end. And they are very spicy. So where do you think most of the heat is? Is it in the seeds? Or is it in the colored flesh?
KING: My thinking has always been it's in the seeds.
BISHOP: The majority of the heat is actually in the white pith, the thing that holds the seeds on the inside, and then very little actually in the colored flesh. So I like to tell people, if you want to be able to sort of take it back, what you should do is remove the seeds and the white pith before you start cooking and save them. You can always add them later in the dish. But once they're in the dish, there's really no removing them. But it sounds like you're ready to sort of take a risk and just keep them in there. In which case, you just need to remove the stems and then throw the chilies into the food processor.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE WHIRRING)
BISHOP: So are you ready to start some chicken prep?
KING: So my mom came and visited this past summer. And I was rinsing the chicken in water. And my mom says, you're not supposed to rinse chicken anymore because you might spray salmonella all over the kitchen. It's actually better if you don't rinse it. Tell me, as an expert, what is this?
BISHOP: Your mother is totally right. I mean, there is no reason to rinse chicken. We've actually done taste tests of chicken that we rinsed and didn't rinse. And nobody could tell the difference. And the only thing you're doing, which is exactly what your mother said, is that you are now spraying salmonella all over your sink and maybe over your counters. And so there's no benefit to it. And there's only downside. So there is no reason to rinse your chicken.
KING: My mom and I actually had a whole argument about this. So Ma, I am very sorry. You were right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT HOT HOT")
BUSTER POINDEXTER: (Singing) It is sweet. I can't resist feeling hot, hot, hot - feeling hot, hot, hot. Oh, Lord.
KING: Finally, it was time to eat.
BISHOP: We're ready to serve. Spoon some rice into a bowl and then a healthy spoonful of the chicken.
KING: Ooh, you smell good.
BISHOP: So you're going to show me your bowl. I'm living vicariously through Zoom.
KING: See that?
BISHOP: That looks good.
KING: Mmm. This is the best rice I've ever made. And this chicken is fantastic. It's so good.
BISHOP: Are you crying? Or are you managing the heat level?
KING: This is good heat. This is some good heat. I really like this. I'm not going to lie to you. There is a world in which I might make this again, I might throw another pepper in there (clapping). I may be eating Valentine's Day dinner alone. But it's all worth it. This is great.
BISHOP: Well, you have your chilies as your companion.
KING: There you go. Exactly, keeping it spicy. Thank you so much for being with us. This was a ton of fun. I would advise everyone to do it, whether solo or paired up.
BISHOP: And I got to say, you're definitely a pro cook. I'm super impressed. And, you know, I'm glad we got to hang out and make some food together.
KING: Amen. Cheers to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT HOT HOT")
BUSTER POINDEXTER: (Singing) Feeling hot, hot, hot. Feeling hot, hot, hot.
KING: Jack Bishop's complete basil Thai chicken recipe is at NPR.org - wishing you a very spicy Valentine's Day.
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