Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Some thoughts and tips about Thai Curries... A Quick Post

I am not an expert on Thai food. I wish I were! I'm pretty great at eating it - it's my favourite food. But I'm an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to cooking it. I've watched lots of the dishes being cooked and read up on them, so I think I know a little bit.
I was recently asked by a friend for some alternatives to the regular Red or Green curry. So here are my thoughts.

Massaman Curry is dark, spicy and hot. So it generally suits beef, lamb or brown chicken meat (thighs/legs with bone in). Often it has potato added to give the dish more substance. I like to do this as the spicy sauce goes really well with the more plain taste of the potato.

Orange Curry has turmeric, lemongrass and spices, so is not quite so strong. You could make a curry with chicken, fish or prawns. This is not the same as Sour Orange Curry (Kaeng Som) which is a thin soupy stew which is made from seafood or fish.

Red or Green curry many of us have tried to make. Trying to make your own paste will give you something special - but it is time consuming and getting all the ingredients can be difficult. Even if I go to a Thai or Chinese Supermarket, I am not guaranteed to get hold of Thai Sweet Basil. You cannot substitute with Italian Basil, it is not the same. And I will warn you now that chopping galangal, even into chunks to put into your food processor, isn't easy - it's like wood!

If you make your own paste, I would only suggest you make enough for one meal. If you make double, you have to pour oil over the top and put in a sealed non-metallic container in the fridge and use within 5 days. It will lose vibrancy of colour over time.

You can get really quite good ready made pastes from the Chinese or Thai supermarket. Mae Ploy is a good brand. There are quite a few restaurants that actually use this paste, so I don't think there is any shame in using it.

One word of advice: PLEASE don't bother with the Sharwoods/Blue Dragon/Amoy/Loyd Grossman jars of Thai curry sauce - very bland and unsatisfying.

You can easily make a lovely vegetable Thai curry, and even if you are making a fish/meat curry, I would suggest you add some vegetables. The tiny little Thai (Pea) Aubergines are typical, but can be hard to find. You could substitute the small cream Aubergines (eggplants), chopped into chunks. Chunks of chopped capsicum pepper may not be traditional, but work well. Squash would be another tasty and healthy choice, as would French beans (though they will take quite a long time to soften). Even baby corn, cut in half on the diagonal would give some pleasant colour and an alternative texture. Go with what you like! 

You need some Coconut milk/cream. For the method I will set out below, which is the most traditionally Thai method, but not the easiest, you will need tinned coconut milk. Thai makes are the best - Aroy D is available even in some branches of Tesco. PLEASE DO NOT SHAKE IT!

You scoop the thickest cream off the top and heat until it splits. Then fry the paste for 1 min before adding the rest of the coconut milk. Heat through, then add your other ingredients. If you are using meat, it goes in first, with the veggies following suit. Beef may need 25-30mins cooking to become tender. Chicken will need at least 15 mins to be safe. If using prawns, fish or seafood, they will need a similar cooking time to the veggies (10mins), so could all go in together.

Once the ingredients are cooked (depends on whether using meat, fish or just vegetables), you can stir in a final flourish of fish sauce and lime juice.

If your coconut milk doesn't have thick cream on the top or you just don't fancy heating it until it splits, use a neutral oil to fry the paste - groundnut or vegetable will be great. Fry the paste for 1 min before adding the rest of the coconut milk. Heat through, then add your other ingredients.

Another way is to buy powdered (dried) coconut milk/cream. Reconstitute with water, then use oil to fry the paste.

Thai curry just HAS to be served with Thai Jasmine rice. It is worth searching out because of its wonderful aroma. Steamed for 10-12 minutes, it is a the perfect accompaniment!

Do any of you have any other tips for Thai curries?


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