Photo by Zachary Mazi (me)
Provenance of Dish
I learned this dish from the landlord of the property on which we stay in Thailand, Khun Ay. Ay ran a cooking school on the same property as our rented house, and she showed me many of the traditional ways of cooking in Northern Thailand in Summer of 2020. The versatility of this dish makes tasting different mushrooms a journey of joy, as each changes the experience of the dish. Northern Thailand has a robust culture of foraging and wild mushrooms, which is ever unfolding for me, and I hope now for you. Consider this the gateway recipe.
8 ea garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 ea shallots, peeled and halved
12-18 ea chilies, Thai bird's eye (very spicy)
-or- 2 ea Chilies, Anaheim or other mild green chilies
-or- some combination of the above chilies depending on desired spice level
.5 # Mushrooms of your choice*
2 tsp fish sauce (nam pla) or 1 tsp shrimp paste (kaphi), or simply 1 tsp kosher salt if you can't find the other ingredients)
Preheat the oven to 450°F, with convection if you have it.
Peel the shallots and garlic. Roast the chilies, garlic and shallots in the oven at 450°F (with a fan if you have it) until the ingredients are browned, though not burned (or in a dry pan on the stove, or over open flame, skewered, in the latter case (flame), leave the peels on the garlic and shallots, and peel when cool enough to handle). You may peel the chilies if you like, which will result in a less stringy final product; or don't, it is up to you and I have had the dish prepared in Thailand both ways. The variance I have enjoyed in this dish [and in the mother sauce, nam prik nume, which is everything in this recipe before you add mushrooms], in how roasted or charred, and how peeled the chilies have been has been quite wide.
If you have a large granite mortar and pestle, use this to smash the first thre ingredients together, though in this case, the result of smashing is not meant to turn the ingredients into a smooth puree. If you want to use a food processor (or that is all you have) pulse it on and off quickly to mix and break up thoroughly, but again, the goal is not to blend into a smooth puree (Not this this wouldn't be delicious, it is just not authentic).
Dry sauté mushrooms in a pan, or even simmer briefly in (2-3 Tbsp) water (or stock) to soften, allowing the water or stock to dry, and then dry sauté the end result so that all the liquid is gone and the mushrooms brown slightly. If using shiitakes (Hed Hom in Thai), you may need to cook them longer in water and cut them small, as they are tough little buggers to make sauce-palatable as necessary for this dish).
After the mushrooms are fully cooked, use the mortar and pestle to smash them, put them into the food processor separately from the other ingredients and pulse, or use a knife to cut them to the desired size and consistency per your preference.
Mix together the chili paste and the processed mushrooms, taste and add the salt, fish sauce, or shrimp paste to season, and viola, you have made nam phrik hed (which translated directly means water-chili-mushroom)
*This recipe is an excellent mushroom showcase, make it using different varieties to compare flavors. Here in Thailand, I have made it with the following, all with wildly different results: Hed Hom/Shiitake (Lentinula edodes); Hed Har (Phlebopus portentosus); Hed Khai Han/Thai Caesar Amanita (Amanita hemibapha); Hed Thob (Astraeus Hygrometricus); and Hed Nng Fah/Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus osteatus). Some of these mushrooms do not have English names. The Caesar Amanita version of this recipe was the most profound, as the metallic fishy flavor I often associate with mature mushrooms from section caesaraea was a perfect analog to the shrimp paste and charred chilies as the base for this recipe.