One of the most requested meals that I get asked for when relatives come to dinner is my Thai red curry. It’s quite a simple dish to make and is a recipe I cobbled together years ago after getting some hints from a Thai chef who runs a Thai restaurant (true story). After a number of hits and misses, I finally produced a combination that repeatedly gives great results. The primary and magic ingredient is a simple paste available from all Asian stores and some supermarkets.
Maesri produces numerous other flavours, such as Green curry, Penang curry, Mussaman curry etc, and all are prepared more or less in the same way as I’ll describe for the red curry. The important thing is that you buy the paste in these cans, not paste in a jar or soft packet etc, especially if other brands, or you won’t get the same results. Now I’m not going to give you any precise measurements or the like, as I never really measure ingredients except by rough estimates (you’ll just have to experiment with quantities that suit you).
What you do is take a tablespoon or so of the paste (the more you add, the hotter the curry) and put it in a suitable bowl. Then add around four really heaped tablespoons of brown sugar, add a heap of fish sauce (I mean a heap, at least four or more tablespoons worth) and then maybe a half a tablespoon of dried basil. Mix the lot together until you have a smooth, but not watery, paste and then set aside. You can prepare this hours in advance and just let the stuff brew. The final heat and sweetness will depend on the amount of curry paste and brown sugar used, so don’t go overboard on your initial try. Some may also look aghast at quantity of fish sauce that I use, but trust me, it’s essential and you won’t notice it when the curry is fully cooked.
Then dice up some chicken thighs, or whatever you prefer (prawns go well, but the cooking process changes) usually getting rid of as much of the fat and grisly bits as possible and marinade that in a small amount of Chinese cooking wine and lime juice (a few tablespoons of wine and a few teaspoons of lime juice) for a little while. The marinade isn’t really necessary with chicken thighs, but I’ve been doing this since year dot. When ready to cook, put about two tablespoons of oil (I use rice bran oil) in a wok (I really prefer a wok, but you can use pretty much anything you want, even a camp oven, but cast iron is usually better in my opinion as the curry will be slow cooked) and start heating the oil. Don’t let the oil get too hot; I just put the coconut cream in the oil at the start of heating. At this stage, put just the solid cream of the coconut cream (why I use coconut cream) into the oil, leave the water part out for the moment.
Bring the coconut cream to the boil (let it bubble up) and mix with the oil and then put in the paste mix. Stir this in well until fully mixed and let it begin to boil once again. At this point, put in the remainder of the coconut cream (the water) and bring to boil. Once it starts to boil, add the chicken (drain off the marinade first) and allow to be on high heat for about 30 sec while mixing the chicken and sauce. Then bring the heat down to a very low simmer and cover the wok. Leave it simmering for around half an hour, checking every so often to make sure that the bottom isn’t sticking (stir to make sure and turn down heat if necessary).
Note: By boiling the coconut cream at the beginning, it enriches the coconut flavour before adding other spices. The chicken doesn’t need to be seared, as it can then draw in the curry flavour while cooking. I never sear, ie seal, any meat when I’m making a curry or the like.
Chicken added to coconut cream after paste blended into coconut cream. Now for slow simmering.
At around the half hour mark, get a tomato or two (depending on size and I prefer Roma tomatoes), and slice them into strips, discarding the inner soft parts (these just add unnecessary acid). Add the tomato to the curry, mix in and continue simmering for around another half hour. At some point in time, you’ll see the curry change consistency and colour, and red oil will come to the surface, that’s when you know that the curry has reached its proper cooking point. You can now either serve, keep simmering, or turn off the heat and then heat again later on. You can make this days in advance if you like and then just reheat; but make sure that the curry reaches this ‘oily’ point before turning off the heat. From now on, you can’t really over-cook the curry, unless you cook it dry. When the oil comes to the surface, it’s pretty much up to you as to how much further you want to reduce the liquid and, to speed things up, you can just remove the lid.
Serve with yoghurt (the yoghurt cools things down for those who may find it too spicy) and plain rice. I find Basmati to be the best, despite Jasmine rice often being preferred for originality. Basmati rice, when properly cooked, tends to separate nicely; whereas Jasmine rice tends to stick together, not as much as many Japanese rices, but still somewhat sticky. Roti also goes well with this dish to soak up the sauce.
So in summary, what you need is:
1. Maesri curry paste
2. fish sauce
3. brown sugar
4. dried basil
5. 440ml can of coconut cream
1. Meat of choice
3. Roti (optional)