Sunday, April 6, 2008
Thai Red Curry
Occasionally I get the urge for a dish that will burn incandescently in my mouth and bring on a sort of purgative heat that brings to mind a sweat lodge or a Russian sauna. The only thing that can satisfy this is a Thai curry. Instead of plunging into an icy lake at the end, however, I recommend plunging into an icy Singha beer.
Thai curries differ somewhat from Indian curries. In the case of many Indian curries, the heat comes from dried spices, toasted to bring out the aromatic oils, and sauteed with oil and onions to form a spicy base for meat and vegetables. Thai curries are formed on a base of fresh herbs, such as kaffir lime leaves, chilis, and roots pounded together to make a fragrant and spicy paste. Since ingredients like galangal, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro root elude me here on the Tokaido, I reach for a handy packet of Mae Ploy red curry paste. Two heaping tablespoons of this, sauteed in some oil to the point where my nose starts to water, and I start to think of Thailand, where I learned to make curry at Pim's restaurant on PhiPhi Island. According to her recipe, which I have adhered to in spirit, but not in letter, I then add about 200 grams of chicken - thigh meat is tastier, but I usually add breast as it's cheaper here. I cook the chicken until it's about half done, then I knock in a can of coconut milk, which I let simmer gently. Two tablespoons of fish sauce, two of sugar, and a squeeze of lime, and some sturdy vegetables - let's say some green beans and baby corns (fresh, or it's not worth bothering, as Pim said), or whatever's on hand really, then a low simmer until the chicken is cooked. It should be served by itself, in a bowl, like a soup. Serve the rice in another bowl, take a spoonful of rice (they don't use chopsticks for curry in Thailand!) and dip it into the curry.
I like to have a cooling salad on the side - one I enjoyed frequently in Viet Nam. It's incredibly simple - just some thinly sliced carrots and cucumber dressed in nuoc cham, with a handful of chopped cilantro thrown in for good measure.
1 red chili, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1/4 cup of sugar
1 biggish lime, juiced (or a lemon, in a pinch)
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1/2 cup water
salt to taste
I use warm water to help dissolve the sugar - but other than that, toss it all into a bowl and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Use it as a low-fat dressing for salads or a dipping sauce for spring or summer rolls.
The next day, I fished out some of the chicken, fried the leftover rice with some bacon and corn, and drained some of the leftover salad (now sadly devoid of carrot) for a lunch bento. I had some eggplants languishing in my cupboard, so I stir-fried them quickly with soy, garlic, and honey for a side dish. It was quite an excellent lunch.