taste: un-thai’d curry

It’s like Unchained Melody, but tastier. This recipe began with a shopping mission, and its modifications are largely the result of what was or was not available (or rather, locatable) at Trade Fair. I have written before about the wonders and idiosyncrasies of our local market in Astoria, and I am still learning what’s hidden in its depths. As it turns out, Thai is perhaps the one national cuisine that isn’t broadly represented,* and Thai red curry paste? Nowhere to be found. So of course, once my goal of following a recipe precisely and resisting my usual temptation to tweak it failed through no fault of my own, I went ahead and tweaked it anyway.

NB – If you want to serve this dish over rice, start it as soon as you’ve chopped the vegetables – the curry takes very little time to cook once everything’s prepared. First, thinly slice two medium onions and two red peppers. Our peppers here are in larger chunks (as the recipe originally stated), which meant they didn’t soften as much as I’d have liked in the sauce. Also, we doubled the quantity. You can never have too many peppers in our house.

Not a very Thai kitchen after all, as it turned out...

Vigorously shake up your two 14oz cans of unsweetened coconut milk to combine the liquid and solid inside, then add half a cup of the milk to a heavy-based pan, along with the zest and juice of two limes and one heaped tablespoon curry paste. Use Thai red curry paste if you can get it; we substituted Patak’s Biryani curry paste.** You can also use 8 kaffir lime leaves in place of the limes. Stir these together in the pan over a medium-high heat until everything is blended and thickening, about two minutes.

For inauthentic ingredients, these smell pretty good

Add the rest of the coconut milk to the pan, along with the onions and two large sprigs of Thai or regular basil if you have some – we did not. Bring the pan to the boil and keep boiling for five minutes or so until the mixture has thickened slightly. Turn the heat down to medium-low.

Cut one and half pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts into thin strips and add to the pan along with the peppers, an 8-oz can bamboo shoots (drained), four teaspoons tamarind paste, two teaspoons Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce); and one teaspoon sugar.

Chicken, peppers and various potions, simmering away

Let everything simmer for 6-8 minutes until the chicken is cooked through, stirring often. Serve over the rice, with ladles-full of extra sauce.*** This makes enough for six, or for two with lots of leftovers.

Fragrant curry over rice

So, what’s the verdict? I thoroughly enjoyed this experiment, and the end result was fragrant, citrusy, and indeed, ‘bright and warming’ as the magazine claimed. It was one of their restaurant recipes, which I imagine are pretty difficult to adapt and scale down to domestic kitchens. If you’re ever in Las Vegas, the origin of this dish is at Wazuzu at the Wynn, which requests “Casual business attire, please” and yet has a gigantic sparkly lizard/snake (?) on the hot pink wall. Ah, Vegas. Please vote sanely today. I would make it again, with the above modifications as to the quantity and thin-ness of the pepper pieces, and once everything was assembled it was dead easy and delicious. Win! (Wynn?)

* Well, Trade Fair also doesn’t carry much in the way of ingredients for fine British cuisine, either (except the Patak’s), but we do have the incomprehensible aisles of the EuroMart nearby if we ever need Ribena and Hob-Nobs.

** I’ve been reminded of the existence, and excellence, of Patak’s curry pastes recently by Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, which sings their praises. Sorry – Jamie’s Food Revolution as the American edition I found in the library has it.

*** I realize, of course, that this became yet ANOTHER dish of something-over rice. For Sarah, I promise the next dish will be chocolate-based.


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