When I'm not paying the bills with this small-town, bi-weekly food column, I work in public relations. At the company I work for, one of our largest clients is the Aspen Chamber, mainly responsible for spring, summer and fall destination marketing efforts. And one of our biggest mandates is to extend the summer season on both ends.
As an almost long-time local, I recognize the double-edged sword that are the shoulder seasons — in the world of PR and marketing, off-season is a four-letter word. Bogged down with the incessant onslaught of visitors all winter and summer and the accompanying high-intensity and event-packed weeks, Aspen's 6,000-plus year-round residents are often eager for the mellow pace and empty streets that signify spring and fall. But restaurants still have to pay vendors, hotels have to keep the lights on, and locals still have bills to pay.
In the spring, “off-season” has traditionally started with the closing of the ski areas in mid-April and persisted until the holiest of holy festivals, The Food & Wine Classic, kicks off in mid-June. In autumn, generally accepted off-season dates are Labor Day to Thanksgiving. But these artificial demarcations are a disservice to Aspen. Anyone who was here in late-May or early-June this year was treated to more classic bluebird Colorado days than we saw in August or September. And the few spats of snow notwithstanding, the past few weeks of fall have proven some of the most beautiful in recent memory.
But how to change the perception that everyone packs up and heads to exotic locales as soon as the mountains close and the month or so before they open isn't an easy one to solve (and here is where a food column-related point finally emerges from this rant). The Catch-22 is that people need to be here to patronize restaurants and events to make it feasible for the eateries to stay open and the organizations to put up the dough to host them. But people won't show up unless restaurants are open and events are happening.
By my last count, there are a little over 100 eateries in Aspen, with about 30 shutting down for some portion of both the spring and fall. I actually surprised myself when doing the math, because I assumed well over 50 percent of restaurants were closed, based solely on the number of times I've already had to change dinner plans this October.
And while I have taken advantage of some of the absurdly good prix fixe deals this fall (Element 47's three-courses and a glass of wine for $47 comes to mind), one fun activity I've enjoyed recently is attempting to recreate some of my favorite dishes from temporarily closed or recently shuttered restaurants.
One of my favorites was always the Thai Green Curry with Chicken at Elevation. While it didn't quite turn out like Elevation's, it was still quite delicious!
Thai Green Curry
Green Curry Paste:
4 small green Thai chilies, OR substitute 1 to 2 jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup shallot OR purple onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece galangal OR ginger, grated
1 stalk fresh minced lemongrass OR 3T frozen or bottled prepared lemongrass
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
3/4 to 1t shrimp paste
1 (loose) cup fresh coriander/cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1/2 t ground white pepper
3 T fish sauce
1 t brown sugar
2 T lime juice
1 to 1.5 lbs. (about 0.7 kg) boneless chicken thigh or breast, cut into chunks
1 can coconut milk
4 kaffir lime leaves OR substitute 1 t grated lime zest
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise several times, then cut into chunks
Generous handful fresh basil
2 T coconut oil or other vegetable oil
1. Place all the "green curry paste" ingredients together in a food processor, and process to a paste. If necessary, add a few Tof the coconut milk to help blend ingredients. Set aside.
2. Prepare the lime leaves by tearing the leaf away from either side of the stem. Discard the central stem. Then, using scissors, cut leaves into thin strips. Set aside.
3. Warm a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl around, then add the green curry paste.
4. Stir-fry briefly to release the fragrance (30 seconds to 1 minute), then add 3/4 of the coconut milk, reserving 2-3 T per serving portion for later.
5. Add the chicken, stirring to incorporate. When the curry sauce comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium or medium-low, until you get a nice simmer.
6. Cover and allow to simmer 3-5 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally.
7. Add the red bell pepper and zucchini, plus the strips of lime leaf (or lime zest), stirring well to incorporate. Simmer another 2-3 minutes, or until vegetables are softened but still firm and colorful.
8. Do a taste-test for salt, adding 1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce if not salty enough. If you'd prefer a sweeter curry, add a little more sugar. If too salty, add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. If too spicy, add more coconut milk. Note that this curry should be a balance of salty, spicy, sweet and sour, plus bitter (the bitter is found in the fresh basil garnish).
9. Serve this curry in bowls with rice on the side, allowing guests to add their own. Top each portion with fresh basil, then drizzle over 2-3 T coconut milk, and enjoy.