I had Thai food for the first time when I moved to Phoenix. I fell in love with Gai Tom Kha (Chicken Coconut Soup with Galangal) and Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Green Chicken Curry) from Thai Lahna. For some reason I assumed this cuisine was complicated and couldn’t be replicated in a residential kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’d never heard of many of the ingredients and didn’t have the first idea where to find them (or the balls to walk into a non-English speaking grocery store).
I’ve overcome my fear of walking into ethnic grocery stores (plus the ingredients can be easily found in your local store if you live near a multi-ethnic neighborhood). I’ve been collecting curry recipes, for about four years now figuring SOMEDAY I’d make curry at home. Yet, they sat in the recipe basket collecting dust until I returned from Philadelphia.
In September Chris whipped up shrimp curry for our Saturday dinner. I was expecting a multi-hour stint as his sous-chef. Instead, the curry was easier to prepare than anything else we made that night. I distinctly remember him laughing at my pile of neatly diced onion. “This is working people food,” he told me. “Rough chop everything. About three whacks on an onion. You want the ingredients to retain their identity when cooked,” he instructed.
Returning to Raleigh I was determined to concur curry. I found a recipe, made it, and fell in love all over again. Then I sent him a thank you note – and bragged about my success.
He wrote me back (with a bit of a snicker) with his “Thai Curry for Dummies” Guidelines. They are so easy and clear I’m sharing them.
There are only two required ingredients for Thai Curry-
Curry Paste(red, green, yellow, etc)
That's it....everything else is optional more or less (except peeling the shrimp!)
Start by heating oil in a deep pan
add coarsely chopped onions, peppers, and garlic
sauté until translucent
add a teaspoon or two of the curry paste
add a few splashes of fish sauce if using (I don't care for it)
fry for a few minutes to bring out the flavors
add your meat.... shrimp, chicken, beef, tofu, etc
sauté meat until browned on all sides.... a few minutes max
now add full can of coconut milk to the pan
add carrots and/or potatoes if using them
bring to a full boil for a minute or so
turn off the heat and keep covered
let sit for 20 minutes or so.... then serve over rice.
There are a thousand variations on curry... every household has their own way.
Try this method and then experiment with different types of pastes and ingredients
I do a fragrant chicken curry that has Apricot Preserves in it...... out of this world.
Thus spake Blue.
Here’s what I’ll add. It’s important that you overcome the fear of hot oil. If you don’t have enough heat under your wok or pan, you’ll end up with watery and bleached colored curry (not appealing).
Experiment with peppers. Thai chili peppers (the red ones you see in the store) are very hot (prig kee nu), but they add essential flavor and heat. You can control the heat with the amount you add. Chili peppers freeze really well and are easier to chop/dice when frozen. So if you don’t use a whole pepper you can put it in a freezer bag and stash it for later use. (I do this with my ginger root too)
A green pepper is also used – more for color than flavor – in most curries. I’ve used anchos and pasillas and the earth hasn’t opened up and swallowed me for my sacrilege (yet).
Make sure your protein is diced in bite size pieces that will easily fit in your mouth. At a real Thai table you’ll find spoons, not so much with the forks and knives.
One way to speed up cooking chicken curry is to have frozen shredded chicken and frozen/peeled shrimp in your freezer. Dump them in that really hot skillet so they can brown/caramelize/warm up – but DON’T OVER COOK THEM TO DRYNESS (or rubber in the case of shrimp).
Curry paste and curry powder ARE NOT the same thing. Live and learn. Curry paste stores in your refrigerator FOR EVER (unless you cook curry two or three times a week – then it goes kind of fast).
If you want to feel healthy about this meal, you can buy light coconut milk. For the uninitiated coconut milk is UNSWEETENED. It is not Cream of Coconut. *shudder*
Other types of veggies found in curry include green beans, baby corn, bamboo shoots, thai/Japanese eggplant and sweet potatoes.
Curry is a great fall dinner meal and way to use up left-over turkey (if the turkey doesn’t have other flavors going on. Mesquite Grilled Turkey Curry just sounds too gross to contemplate.)
Go … this week and curry.
Photo credit C.H.Paquette