Monday, March 11, 2013

Thai Green Chicken Curry

A green curry is a wonderful addition to "green month" (and I think we can all agree that "green" and "chicken" aren't usually a good pair- it suffices to say this may be one of the few cases where they are).

When I was in Australia, I was very happily able to take a Thai cooking class along with my aunt and one of my cousins. I love Thai food and I thought it would be a fun idea, and I'd be able to see/use/understand/taste the more authentic ingredients, which I'm not always (or, maybe ever) able to find. In addition to the actual food, I also learned that I would probably never get anywhere if I had to use the knives this woman used so masterfully. I've decided that it's got to be French, German, maybe east-west hybrid, or nothing for me. Asian knives with their straight blade are too much to handle- I need something that will rock. That, and I kept hitting my knuckles on the cutting board.

The recipe here is based on the fantastic green curry from that class, with some changes made for taste, location, and ingredient availability. For instance "7-10 long green chiles" are not something I happen to have on hand. Frankly, I cannot remember the specific taste or heat of these particular chiles, but I have jalapenos at my disposal and I know what those are like.

A fresh Thai green curry made with freshly made curry paste is an amazing thing.
Well, I suppose this is more like "freshly doctored"- with a bright and amplified flavor. The scent of the finished curry paste is really fantastic though.

Part of the reason we're doctoring the already made green curry paste instead of completely starting from scratch is that there are some ingredients found in the curry paste that are probably unavailable to many of us. Namely, galangal and kaffir limes. So luckily, we're able to get some of that flavor without having the actual ingredients on hand.

And so sorry, we were told that we were not allowed to substitute ginger for galangal. They're related, true, but very different. Galangal is definitely heavier and more woody than ginger in texture, and has a more spicy and piney flavor. I went against orders and used ginger because I have to make do. As alluded to above, I've never been able to find it, and have always substituted.
Maybe someday I'll happen upon it...

As for the kaffir limes and leaves, also difficult to find in the area, I ended up bringing some back with me. Packaged and dried, they still have that citrusy-lemongrass-freshly cut grass scent. When whole and fresh, the leaves are funny looking, with two leaves lined up together vertically on one stem- the proximal one smaller than the distal. While not required in the recipe since some of that flavor is already in the curry paste, they're definitely a nice addition. If you can find fresh, fold the leaves along the stem and strip the stem away before use. (As you can see in the photo, the leaves have been halved since the stem is removed.)

Another important ingredient in Thai cooking is Thai basil, which is different from the more readily available sweet basil. Thai basil has a purple stem, smaller and more pointed leaves, and a stronger flavor (plus a licorice and mint scent and taste, with a slightly numbing sensation left on the tongue when a leaf is chewed).
Apparently if you can't find it, mint is a better substitute than regular basil. Or perhaps you could substitute half regular basil and half mint.

The one warning I have is that shrimp paste and fish sauce are kind of rank as far as ingredients go. Actually, what I really mean is that they stink in a really nasty sort of way (don't spill). But they're necessary, they add a certain bit of funk that if not present would cause the dish to be off. Without them, things wouldn't be quite right. It's the same thing that anchovies frequently do. For example, anchovies are required in a Caesar salad dressing. If they're not there, the flavor is wrong and it's not really Caesar salad. But does everyone know they're eating anchovies when they eat a Caesar salad? I don't think so (anchovies are usually pretty good at being covert).
But when everything is all together? It's an entirely different story.

And wow, I was not expecting to find Thai eggplants- so I didn't put them on the grocery list. But I got lucky and there they were. What a happy surprise.

So there it is.
The funny thing (to me anyway) was that I was able to tell that it wasn't quite right until everything had been added and was simmering away. Once everything was there it smelled like it was as it should be.

In the end, I think the curry turned out to be a very nice adaptation and I'll definitely be making it again. Sweet, hot, spicy, salty, fresh and each bite left us wanting more.

If you decided to tackle this one, be sure to serve with hot steamed rice.

Thai Green Chicken Curry
Serves 6 or more

Green Curry Paste: makes about 600 g/2 c
4 large jalapeno chiles, ribs and seeds removed, roughly chopped 
4 large garlic cloves
2 stalks lemongrass, dry outer leaves and top removed and discarded, thinly sliced
3 medium shallots, roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns, finely crushed
2/3 c packed (35 g) Thai basil leaves
1/2 t (5 g) salt
1/3 c (80 ml) vegetable oil
1 thick 5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into about 10 pieces
1 t (8 g) shrimp paste
scant 1/2 c (100 g) prepared green curry paste (if you can find Mae Ploy brand, it's great)

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until the mixture reaches a uniform consistency. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and re-process as necessary.
You will need a slightly generous 3/4 c of this green curry paste for the recipe below (what amounts to around 240 g). Place the rest of the curry paste in an airtight container or tightly sealed freezer bag and freeze for later use (which should give you enough for 1 1/2 recipes more of green chicken curry).

*Heat and sensitivity to it are subjective, but I think I would call this curry a mild/medium heat- nice for winter, but not completely overwhelming. Actual heat can very much depend on the quality of your chiles, never mind the number used. If you want more heat, you're more than welcome to add more chiles than my version calls for, or add more of the curry paste.

The Curry:
1/4 c (60 ml) vegetable oil
3/4 c (240 g) green curry paste (above)
2, 400ml cans of coconut milk
2 1/2 lb. (a generous 1 kg) boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
kaffir lime leaves (a nice addition if you can find them, but optional- I used 4 whole dried leaves)
1/3-1/2 lb. (150-225 g) green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb. (225 g) Thai eggplants, quartered (if you can find it great, if not, substitute something of your choice- bamboo shoots, peppers, onion, mushroom, broccoli...)
1/3-1/2 lb. (150-225 g) zucchini, thinly sliced
3 T (44 g) packed brown sugar or palm sugar
5 T fish sauce (75 ml)

Optional accompaniments:
fresh cilantro (coriander) 
sliced green onions
Thai basil
sliced chili
lime wedges

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the green curry paste and saute a couple minutes until fragrant. Pour in about 200 ml of coconut milk (half a can) and saute a further 2 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and stir to combine. Once fully incorporated, add the chicken, Kaffir lime leaves (if using), green beans, eggplant, zucchini, sugar and fish sauce. Bring the curry to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the everything is cooked through (maybe 15-20 minutes). 

Serve hot with steamed jasmine or basmati rice and accompaniments.

1 comment:

  1. Made this recently and loved it.
    Sticks to the ribs on a chilly night!