Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thai curry

Thai curry

This is my contribution to the "anyone can cook" camp. If you have 20 minutes and are capable of cutting things and stirring things, then you can make delicious Thai curry.

I learned this dish from Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai Cooking, but you don't need to open a book to do it yourself. It's so simple!

I'm going to show you how to make Thai red curry with chicken, zucchini, and summer squash.

Part of the beauty of this dish, though, is its flexibility. Use green or musaman curry if you like; use beef, pork, or tofu instead of chicken; use mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, pineapple, or pretty much any other vegetable you enjoy/have lying around. You'll just adjust your cooking times slightly depending on the meat or veg you use (I'll mention this below, too).

Other pluses: you don't have to worry about your meats or veggies drying out from overcooking because they're in a sauce, so they stay moist. And it only uses one pot!

Let's begin. Follow along step by step, or skip to the bottom for the short (five step!) version.

Our cast of characters:

Cast of characters

Red curry paste, coconut milk (unsweetened), nam pla (fish sauce)--all available at your grocery store; look in the pasta or ethnic foods aisle--one pound of boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces (you can use chicken breast if you prefer), and one zucchini and one summer squash cut into bite-sized pieces. Not pictured: brown sugar.

It is important that you cut up your chicken and veggies ahead of time--once you start cooking, it goes so fast that you won't have time for doing it as you go.

You'll also want to start a pot of rice cooking now--it will be done by the time the curry is!

All right, here we go!

Open the can of coconut milk. It may look something like this:

Coconut milk

Alternatively, you may see solid white. Either way, the coconut milk is separated. You'll want to pour it into some kind of vessel so that you can mix it back together:

Coconut milk

Perfect. Now, get out a wok or a pot, pour half the coconut milk in, and turn the heat to medium.

After about two minutes, the coconut milk will start to smell delicious and be bubbling gently:

Cooking the coconut milk

At this point, add your curry paste. Depending on your taste for heat, you can add anywhere from one to three tablespoons. I usually use a heaping tablespoon:

Adding red curry paste

You'll be able to add more later if you want it a little hotter; you'll also be adding water later so if it ends up a little too spicy, you can dilute it more.

Mash the paste around in the coconut milk until it is all mixed in, for about two minutes:

Cooking red curry paste with coconut milk

Cooking red curry paste with coconut milk


Now, add the chicken. Just dump it all in. Use your spoon to stir it around, coating each piece entirely in sauce and cooking slightly for, you guessed it, about two minutes:

Adding chicken

If you're using beef or tofu, just take 1 minute. Also, if you're using tough veggies like sweet potato, pumpkin, or broccoli, go ahead and add them now.

You'll know it's been long enough when the chicken pieces start to look white instead of pink:

Par-cooked chicken

Now we add everything else! First you'll add the rest of the coconut milk and half a cup to a cup of water. If it looks watery, don't worry--it's supposed to be that wet. Thai curry is a lot soupier than, say, Indian curry.

Next, add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce:

Adding fish sauce

This stuff smells strong up close (it's anchovy extract, after all), but it's definitely not an overpowering flavor in the sauce. It's absolutely essential. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can substitute soy sauce. But to you omnivores, even those who think they don't like fish: use the nam pla.

Add your veggies!

Adding squash

Next add two tablespoons of brown sugar. If you have palm sugar, even better, but brown works fine:

Adding brown sugar

Now stir everything together. At this point, taste the sauce to check the spice level. If you want it hotter, add a little more curry paste. If you want it milder, add up to another half cup of water. Simple! (If you're eating with someone with a lower spice tolerance than you, feel free to add a little paste or a dash of cayenne powder to your bowl after serving, like I do.)

Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat and vegetables are cooked through. And...that's it!

Thai red curry with chicken and squash

To serve, place a mound of rice in a bowl (we used brown Texmati):

Thai curry for dinner

Spoon a generous amount of meat and veggies over the rice:

Thai curry for dinner

Don't forget to go back for some delicious sauce! The rice will soak it all up:

Thai curry for dinner

And there you have it: a beautiful plate of Thai red curry with chicken, zucchini, and summer squash:

Thai curry

Extra bonus feature!*

When you're eating Thai curry, don't reach for the chopsticks! To eat like people in Thailand do, observe the following:

You'll need a fork and a big spoon:

Thai curry

Holding the spoon in your right (or dominant) hand and the fork in your left (or opposite) hand, use the back of the fork to push food onto the spoon:

Thai curry

Then eat from the spoon!

Thai curry

With wet curries like this, it really makes the most sense to eat from a spoon, so you can get all of that delicious sauce. Enjoy!

Thai red curry with chicken, zucchini, and summer squash
Adapted from Quick and Easy Thai Cooking by Nancie McDermott

serves 3-4 (or 2 very hungry people!)

1 can coconut milk
1-3 tablespoons red curry paste
1lb chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
2 tablespoons brown sugar or palm sugar
1/2-1 cup water
1 large zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large summer (yellow) squash, cut into bite-sized pieces

1. Simmer coconut milk over medium heat for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
2. Add curry paste mix in. Cook 2 minutes.
3. Add chicken, tossing to coat, for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until chicken and squash are cooked through, stirring occasionally.
5. Serve over rice.

*Yes, it's redundant to say "extra bonus." So sue me.

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