Ever wanted to make that perfect thai curry? Read on and I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to do so.
- 1 lb. boneless chicken thigh meat, cut into bite-size chunks
- 1-2 cups coconut milk
- 3-4 Tbs. massaman curry paste
- 3-4 Tbs. unsalted roasted peanuts, ground finely
- 1 medium-size potato, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 10 baby pearl onions, skinned
- Fish sauce
- Slivered fresh hot thai chillies
- 1-2 tsp. tamarind juice
- Palm Sugar
(Recipe from “It Rains Fishes” by Kasma Loha-unchit)
Don’t just pop out to QFC or Safeway and grab any old ingredients. You need the right fish sauce, the right cocount milk and the right curry paste to make this a success. Also, even though you might gross out at thigh-meat – get it – it will make your curry so much better than chicken breast.
Part 1, the basics:
[don't forget you can click on the pictures for close-ups]
The night before, put a can of coconut milk in the fridge. This will allow the cream to separate from the watery fluid of the milk. Take it out of the fridge and use care not to turn it over, open the top of the can and you should have thick cream ontop.
Next, prep all the ingredients before you get started. The bulk of Thai cooking is in the prep..
• Spoon out about 2/3 of a cup of coconut cream and put into a heavy bottomed pan. On medium-high heat, bring the coconut cream to a boil.
• Keep a close eye on it and in a few minutes, it will bubble and start secreting oils. At this point it will start to let off a fragrant odor.
• Reach for your massaman curry paste and drop about 3 tablespoons of it into the now fragrant coconut cream. Stir in well to blend into a thick paste.
• Keep boiling the paste and ‘fry’ the curry paste for a few minutes, helping unlock it’s flavours. After a few minutes, your guests will be wandering into your kitchen saying “Wow. That smells fantastic”. Beat them back with a wooden ladle and move on.
• Add in 3-4 tablespoons of ground unsalted roasted peanuts and maybe a ½ cup of coconut milk to form a thick creamy sauce.
• Toss in the chicken and sauté on medium-high heat until the meat is no longer pink.
• Add the rest of the can of coconut milk, the potatoes and pearl onions. Stir well to mix and cover and simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are just cooked. A good test is to poke the spud with a knife until it can easily slide in.
• Once cooked, your curry should look something like this. The most critical step is next – “balancing”.
Part 2: The makings of a curry guru.
If you have tried to taste your delightful smelling curry, you probably noticed it tastes like crap at this point. The art of making Thai curries is in this final step – “balancing” the curry.
There are a few key tastes you are trying to balance out: salty, sour, sweet and hot. The perfect balance is personal preference. I like my massaman hot, slightly salty, slightly sweet with a hint of sour. If you order this dish at a thai restaurant in seattle – you’ll get mostly sweet – overbearingly so. Play around and figure our where your tastes are.
Describing in words how to balance is not easy. This is by far one of the most important lessons you get in cooking with Kasma: tasting first hand what is right, and what is not right. Don’t worry if you screw up and make it too salty – you can always ‘fix’ a curry by adjusting the other ratios. So where do these flavours come from?
Here’s how I balance:
- First of all, establish the heat level. This is mostly set by the amount of curry paste you used and also by throwing in enough thai chillies to taste. Thai chillies are hot little buggers, so go easy on them. Dip a spoon and taste your curry sauce. It won’t taste that great yet. If it feels hotter than you want – don’t worry – the sugar will cut and smooth out the heat later on. If its not hot enough, toss in some chilies. If you are serving to a mixed group of heat-tolerance, ease up on the heat and compensate with some prik nam plah at the table.
- Now lets define the salt. Grab your big fish sauce bottle. Hopefully you were able to find a good brand – like “Golden Boy“, which is not too salty of too fishy. Slap it in – 3-4 tablespoons should get you going (less if you got an inferior brand). Give it a taste now, it should taste quite salty. Not to worry, we’ll soon fix that.
- Add the tamarind. A couple of teaspoons and then taste again. You should start to sense the hints of sour coming thro’ over the saltyness. Things will still be very salty. Keep adding until you get the hint, tasting after each addition.
- Now for the start of the magic, you are about to transform the taste of your curry. Start adding the palm sugar. A couple of tablespoons should get you in the right direction quickly. You’ll notice how the consistency of the curry changes slightly as the sugar dissolves. Taste it and it should start to counter act that salty taste, smooth out the heat and start going in the sweet direction.
- Keep adding sugar until you feel it’s on the edge, or starting to get too sweet, then bring back the fish sauce, etc. The trick is to find that knife-edge balance between salt and sweet while still retaining that microscopic hint of sour from the tamarind.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice and let your guests squeal with excitement. You, my friend, have entered the realm of the “glory chef”.