Monday, May 16, 2005

Thai green curry

This recipe has its origins in two recipes, one from an old-school Jamie Oliver TV show (late-night channel surfing yields remarkable results sometimes) and the other from Nigel Slater's awesome cookbook Appetite. It's another "quick and easy weeknight meal," one that can be ready in no more than half an hour, as long as you make the green paste ahead of time. I keep a screwtop jar of it in my fridge, which makes things snap-bang-easy, as long as I have coconut milk on hand. A Cuisinart or blender makes preparation of the green paste sinfully easy, but I'm sure you could also do it with a trusty chef's knife.

For the paste, you'll need:

Cilantro: a substantial handful, well rinsed
Mint leaves: another substantial handful, also well rinsed
A lime or two
Garlic: several cloves, peeled
Ginger: a good-sized piece, say as big as your thumb, cut into pieces
Hot Thai peppers (Serranos work okay if you can't find the Thai ones)
Lemongrass (optional)
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

[Note: I'm writing this recipe for Cuisinart users, but it shouldn't be too hard to extrapolate to knife users. Also, a comment on the garlic and ginger: I am a huge fan of both, so my curries tend to be rather ginger-heavy. Feel free to adjust the recipe to cater to your preferences.]

Get all your "hard" ingredients together first: the garlic, the ginger, the lemongrass if you're using it (remove the outer layers and use a finger-length section, cut into pieces), and the zest (or just peel) of about a quarter of the lime. Dump all this into your food processor, and let it whiz away until everything is evenly chopped. Cut off and discard the very bottom of the stems of the cilantro and mint, then dump the cilantro and mint into the food processor (don't bother chopping it up) and pulse until it's well incorporated. You might have to poke the cilantro down if it's avoiding the processor blade.

Cut off the stems of the peppers, and remove their seeds. Chop them roughly, and add them to the food processor, along with the juice from the lime (use two if they're not very juicy), and whiz away again. By this time it should be a thick, bright green paste, and you can add vegetable oil to make it smoother and more workable. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Then what I do is get out a clean screwtop jar and dump the contents of the workbowl into the jar, pouring a thin layer of oil over the top to prevent the green things from oxidizing, and stick it in the fridge. It keeps for a few weeks, but mine usually doesn't last that long.

For the actual dish, you'll need:

Curry paste, above
Chicken--I've never tried tofu, but I'm sure it would be good
Coconut milk
Rice (your favorite kind--basmati, brown, jasmine, etc.)
Peanut oil (for sauteing; you can use vegetable oil, but it might smoke)

Get your rice cooking, either in a rice cooker or on the stove. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces or into thin strips, whichever you prefer. Heat a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken, spread it out in the pan so that it doesn't steam, and let it be for a minute or two. When the chicken has seared nicely and is turning golden brown, stir it and mix it about to turn the chicken pieces. Continue to saute until it's golden on most sides, then add several tablespoons of the curry paste and mix well. Let that cook, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Keep the heat fairly high, but don't burn the chicken or the paste. When the garlic and ginger in the paste have gotten a chance to cook, and everything is wonderfully fragrant, add some coconut milk (I usually use 1/4 cup for one chicken breast) and mix it all together. Bring it to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and let it simmer for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly. Salt to taste, and serve over or alongside rice.

UPDATE: I have since encountered some Thai curry recipes that have you cook the chicken a slightly different way. Basically you put a quarter cup of the coconut milk and your curry paste into the skillet, sans oil, and bring that to a boil, stirring. This gets the paste all mixed into a bit of the coconut milk, loosening it a bit. Then you add your chicken and the rest of the coconut milk and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Seems to work either way, although on some level my heavily Western training likes the richness that comes from browning the chicken first.


Supersaps said...

I agree about making the paste ahead of time. Making pastes and sauces ahead of time is actually a great time-saver. ( blog entry idea...)

I also highly recommend getting the Thai chilies and the lemon grass.

I've tried tofu before --it soaks up the flavor really well in this dish. Something like seitan might be better, though.

Anne said...

The lemongrass really adds great flavor, but sometimes it's harder to find than some of the other ingredients. The nearest proper Asian market is a bit of a trek, so I've had to do without it a couple of times.

I've never cooked with seitan... do you think tempeh would work here? I've only used it in simple stir fries.

Supersaps said...

Hmm...I find tempeh more grainy. I guess it all depends on what kind of texture you prefer.