Sunday, February 28, 2010

Red curry chicken

For a really full-bodied curry, there's nothing like pounding your own curry paste. John and I had so much fun doing this at Thai cooking school that I came home and bought a mortar and pestle straight away. We made a wicked green curry in December that burned our throats and made us cry. It was delicious as it was evil.

I had been wanting to try a red curry ever since. Red curry is tamer than green, as it uses ripened red chillis instead of the hotter green ones. I finally worked up the motivation yesterday when I spotted these little Thai eggplants at the Super 88 in Dorchester. Called turtle eggplants for their shape and coloration, these slightly bitter gems play wonderfully against the sweet tang of curry. We ate them everywhere in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but they can be hard to find in the U.S. I have also used the long Asian eggplants in curries, which are not as bitter but still lovely.

Making curry is nothing more than gathering the ingredients and giving your arm a good workout. If you don't have a mortar, paste can also be achieved with a coffee grinder and food processor. Most everything here is available in Asian groceries or an online store like Temple of Thai, but one thing I cannot lay my hands on in Boston is fresh kaffir lime. In place of this, substitute equal amounts of regular lime zest and minced kaffir lime leaf.

1. Throw 1 T. coriander seeds and 2 cardamom pods into your wok or saucepan and roast them over medium heat until browned. Put these into a mortar (or coffee grinder) with 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns and 1/2 tsp. salt and grind to a fine powder.

2. Cut 10 big red dried Thai chillis in half and shake out the seeds. Soak these in water at least 10 minutes and chop them finely.

3. Mince the following ingredients fine (or chop them in the food processor): 1 tsp. galangal, the lower third of 1 lemongrass stalk, 1 tsp. kaffir lime peel, 1 T. cilantro, 3 T. shallots, 3 T. garlic, 1 tsp. shrimp paste, 10 small red Thai chillis.

4. Now add those ingredients to the mortar and pummel it all into a fine, red paste (or transfer the spices from the grinder to the food processor and puree). This makes 4-5 T., enough for one curry dish, so you may want to double it for another time.

Now for the chicken dish:

1. Cut a pound of chicken breast or thigh meat into small pieces. Season with fish sauce and white pepper.

2. Heat 2 T. peanut oil in a wok and fry 4 T. curry paste until hot and fragrant. Add 1 can coconut milk, reserving a bit for garnish, and bring to a boil. Add 8-10 Thai eggplants, halved or quartered, and simmer a few minutes until soft. Season with fish sauce and palm sugar to taste.

3. Add the chicken pieces and 2 kaffir lime leaves. Simmer a few more minutes until chicken is white and cooked through. Add some water to desired consistency.

4. Stir a handful of Thai basil leaves and transfer the curry to a platter. Garnish with more basil leaves, chillis, and dashes of coconut milk.

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