Late last summer, Emilie came up with a fabulous idea for a Cork and Spoon post series: Back to Basics. Even in late August, our friends were already sending us text messages and e-mails about holiday recipes and plans and asking pretty basic questions: what’s the best way to cook a turkey, what wine goes with this dish, how do I…and so on and so forth. So, Emilie concluded, why not write a series of posts about the cooking topics our friends ask us about the most? Couldn’t argue there!
I often get questions about Asian dishes from my friends, not exactly surprising since I am Asian and grew up in Asia, and the most popular request is how to make a Thai-style curry. I’ve already shared a few recipes with you, but today, it’s Back to Basics!
So what are the basic ingredients of a Thai-style curry? My basics are:
- red or green curry paste (homemade or store-bought)
- a can or two of coconut milk
- fish sauce (a must!)
- basil (Thai or Sweet)
- steamed white rice (jasmine)
I also like a protein, but that is, of course, optional.
Like many Asian dishes, Thai-curry comes in a plethora of forms because it is very much regionally and family based. I have been to quite a few Thai restaurants and Thai homes in my life and not one has served the exact same dish. So what does that mean? That means that once you have the basics down you really can’t go wrong.
Now for some more curry basics to keep in mind while cooking.
- As I’ve stated in other posts, do not allow the coconut milk to boil. Bubbles=bad. Your curry will curdle. Now, I often step away a tad too long from the stove and end up with curdled curry. It will taste just fine, but it won’t look very pretty.
- Asian food is about balance. Thai food may have a spicy reputation, but notice that despite the heat (for your daring, Teflon tongued souls), it is still balanced by the other flavors in the dish. Spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavors should complement each other. My usual conundrum is not enough sweet and an overpowering sour (I love my lime!). The cure? Sugar. Palm sugar is best for Thai cuisine, but it’s also pricey. Regular granulated sugar will work just fine. Don’t be afraid to add sugar.
- Use as much fresh herbs and spices (vice dried herbs and spices) as possible. This is a key difference between Thai curry and other Asian curries. Fresh basil, fresh ginger, fresh chilies, fresh lemongrass, etc.
- Cut your vegetables and proteins small and thin. This will help ensure quick cooking since everything is poached in the curried coconut milk.
- When poaching the ingredients of your curry, add in phases to prevent overcooking. For my own typical curry, chicken goes in first. After about five (5) minutes, I follow with any frozen vegetables. Once the coconut milk has re-heated, I add fleshy vegetables like eggplant and zucchini followed by “steamers” such as green beans and broccoli. The last to go in are the more delicate vegetables that breakdown if cooked too long, such as bell peppers and tomatoes.
Thai Red Curry Basic Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon red curry paste (add more for more heat if you like)
- 1 can [lite] coconut milk
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small scallions, whites and greens sliced
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce (add more for saltiness if you like)
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil (Thai basil if you can find it)
- 1-2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
Building on the Basics
-1 chicken breast, thinly sliced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 medium Ichiban eggplant, sliced into half moons
- Appx. 1 cup bell peppers sliced thinly (go for color!)
- Pour oil into a large pan, add garlic and scallions and turn heat to medium high.
- When garlic and scallions become fragrant add curry paste. Cook curry paste until it begins to break down. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Lower heat to medium.
- Slowly add coconut milk to the pan and fish sauce, stirring to blend the curry paste. Taste and add more curry paste and/or salt if desired.
- Allow coconut milk to break a low simmer, but do not allow it to boil or the coconut milk will separate.
- Add sliced chicken to hot liquid and poach for approximately 10 minutes. If using shrimp as your protein, add later at step 10.
- Add frozen peas and egg plant to curry. Allow to return to a simmer and cook 3-5 minutes. At this step, add vegetables that take longer to cook, such as squashes and root vegetables, as well as frozen vegetables.
- Add sliced bell peppers. At this step, add vegetables that cook in a few minutes, such as the bell peppers, green beans, and broccoli.
- Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about another 5-8 minutes.
- Taste and season as desired. For more heat, had a dash of cayenne or chili powder. For saltiness, more fish sauce. Good old salt and pepper is completely allowable, too!
- During the last 3-5 minutes, add half of the basil and stir in. If using shrimp as your protein add now.
- Serve over rice.