Thai cooks heat up things with curry paste Essay

Staples of Thai cooking, curry pastes flavor spicy dishes, from mild
to fiery hot. Good cooks first pound the chilies and seasonings with a
mortar and pestle to make a smooth paste. This mixture can be stored
for fairly long periods, becoming a conveience food that can be used in
a variety of ways.



Although most good cooks in Thailand might cringe at the thought of
using anything but their fresh homemade curry paste, many transplanted
Thais in the West have found purchased curry pastes a very easy way to
duplicate dishes from back home. Westerners are also discovering that
curry pastes make excellent short-cuts for distinctive curries and a
good way to season meat for grilling or to flavor stir-fried dishes.



You can purchase curry pastes and other special ingredients in
markets that cater to Southeast Asians. The pastes are inexpensive,
packed in small pckets, cans, and bags. If you can’t find them,
you can make pastes wit authentic ingredients from an Asian market or
readily available alternatives found in most supermarkets. The homemade
pastes are more aromatic and less hot than the purchased.



Here we give recipes for three popular Thai curry pastes, and for
dishes prepared with each. The first is a mild, slightly sweet paste
inspired by Muslims in Thailand; the second is a hot, spicy green
mixture; and the third is a medium-hot red paste called panang. Use the
smaller amount of curry paste suggested by the recipe if you’re
working with a purchased paste, since these are usually much hotter than
the homemade versions.


Most cooks in Thailand pound the ingredients patiently with a heavy
mortar and pestle until a smooth paste forms. If you don’t have
the time (it can take as long as 30 minutes), a food processor is a good
alternative. It may take several minutes with the processor to achieve
a really smooth paste. Muslim Curry Paste (Krung Gaeng Mussaman) 12
thin slices (about the size of a quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos)
or ginger Hot water 2 tablespoons salad oil 1 cup minced shallots or red
onion 10 to 12 cloves garlic, pressed or minced 16 large dried mild red
chilies such as California chilies 2 tablespoons ground coriander 2
teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground mace 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
10 cardamom pods, hulls removed 2 stalks fresh lemon grass or 2
teaspoons grated lemon peel 1 teaspoon shrimp or anchovy paste 1
teaspoon salt



If galangal is dry, soak in hot water to cover until soft, about 30
minutes. Drain and finely chop; set aside.



In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine oil, shallots, and garlic.
Cook over low heat, stirring, until limp. Rinse chilies and remove
stems and seeds. Tear chilies into 1-inch pieces. Add to shallot mixture and stir to coat in oil. Add coriander, cumin, mace, cloves,
and cardamom. Stir just until chilies begin to brown (do not burn),
about 1 minute. Remove from heat.



Trim off root end and tough stalk end of lemon grass. Remove tough
outer leaves, then finely chops the rest.



Ina mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chili mixture,
chopped lemon grass, shrimp paste, and salt. Pound or whirl until
finely ground, partially covering mortar as you pound to prevent
splashing. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 1 month. Makes about
1-1/3 cups. Green Curry Paste (Krung Gaeng Keo Wan) 6 thin slices
(about the size of a quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos) or ginger Hot
water 8 to 12 fresh small hot green chilies, each about 4 inches long 3
stalks fresh lemon grass or 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel 1/4 cup finely
chopped fresh coriander (cilantro), including washed roots 20 to 22
cloves garlic, pressed or minced 1/2 cup minced shallots or red onion 4
teaspoons ground coriander 2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pepper 2
teaspoons each grated lime peel and salt 2 teaspoons shrimp or anchovy
paste 2 tablespoons salad oil



If galangal is dry, soak in hot water until soft, about 30 minutes.
Drain and mince.


Wearing rubber gloves, remove and discard stems and seeds from
chilies; finely chop. Trim off root end and tough stem end from lemon
grass, peel off tough outer leaves, and finely chop the rest.



In a mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chilies, chopped
lemon grass, fresh coriander, garlic, shallots, ground coriander, cumin,
pepper, lime peel, salt, shrimp paste, and oil. Pound or whirl until
finely ground and a smooth pastef partially cover mortar as you pound to
prevent splashing. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 1 cup. Panang Curry Paste 12 thin slices (about the size of
a quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos) or fresh ginger Hot water 10
large dried medium-hot red chilies such as New Mexican (or combine 9 to
10 large dried mild California chilies with 4 to 6 small dried hot red
chilies) 2 stalks fresh lemon grass or 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel 12
to 14 cloves garlic, minced or pressed 1/2 cup minced shallots or red
onion 1 teaspoon each pepper and salt 1 teaspoon shrimp or anchovy paste



If glangal is dry, soak in hot water to cover until soft, about 30
minutes. Drain and finely chop. Rinse chilies; remove stems and seeds.
Break chilies into small pieces and soak in hot water to cover until
soft, about 30 minutes. Drain well and finely chop. Cut off root end
and tough stem ends of lemon grass. Remove tough outer leaves and
finely chop the rest.



In a mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chilies, chopped
lemon grass, garlic, shallots, pepper, salt, and shrimp paste. Pound or
whirl until a smooth paste forms, partially covering mortar as you
pound. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 1 month. Makes about
1-1/4 cups.–Pensri Kitporka, Milpitas, Calif. Panang Beef Curry (Gaeng
Panang Nua) 3 dried kaffir lime leaves (optional) Hot water 1 can (about
14 oz.) coconut milk 2 to 4 tablespoons panang curry paste, homemade
(recipe precedes) or purchased 1 pound boneless tender beef steak (such
as sirloin), cut across the grain in 1/4-inch-thick slices 2 to 3 inches
long 1-1/2 tablespoons palm sugar of firmly packed brown sugar Fish
sauce or salt 1 or 2 small fresh hot chilies, thinly sliced



Soak lime leaves in hot water to cover until pliable. Cut in thin
shreds; reserve. Skim off enough of the thickest part of the coconut
milk (in floats on top) to measure 1/2 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch frying
pan, bring this thick milk to simmering over medium heat. Add curry
paste; stir until oil bubbles out of coconut milk and turns orange, 2 to
4 minutes. Stir in meat, remaining coconut milk, and sugar. Cook,
stirring, until meat loses its red color, 3 to 5 minutes. Add fish
sauce to taste. Pour into a bowl and garnish with lime leaves and fresh
chilies. Serves 4. Muslim Curry (Gaeng Mussaman) 1 can (about 14 oz.)
coconut milk 2 to 4 tablespoons Muslim curry paste, homemade (recipe
precedes) or purchased 1 pound boneless beef chuck, cut into about
1-inch cubes 1/2 cup water 1/3 cup roasted peanuts 7 cardamom pods,
hulls removed 1 cinnamon stick, 2 to 3 inches long 1 medium-size potato,
peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 talbespoons palm sugar of firmly
packed brown sugar Fish sauce or salt



Skim off enough of the thickest coconut milk (it floats to the top)
to make 1/2 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring this thick milk
to simmering over medium heat. Stir in curry paste. Cook, stirring,
until oil from coconut milk bubbles out and turns orange, 2 to 4
minutes. Stir in beef, remaining coconut milk, water, peanuts,
cardamom, and cinnamon stick. Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Add potato
and sugar continue simmering, covered, until potato and meat are tender
when pierced, about 25 minutes longer. Add fish sauce to taste. Pour
into serving bowl. Serves 4.



Skewered Pork with Peanut Sauce



Mix together 2 to 3 tablespoons panang, Muslim, or green curry
paste (homemade, recipes precede, or purchased), 1/3 cup salad oil, and
1-1/2 tablespoons each lemon juice and soy sauce.



Cut 1 pound lean boneless pork (such as 1-2nch-thick chops or a
portion of a shoulder, leg, or loin roast) into 1/4-inch-thick slices
about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Mix curry mixture with meat.
Cover and chill 2 to 4 hours. Thread meat on thin wood skewers, keeping
meat flat. Place on a rack in a pan (about 12 by 15 inches) and broil
about 2 inches from heat, turning once, until lightly browned on all
sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve with peanut sauce (recipe follows). Makes
4 servings.



Peanut sauce. In a 1- to 2-quart pan, cook and stir 1 small onion
(chopped) and 1 clove garlic (pressed or minced) in 2 tablespoons salad
oil over medium heat until limp. Stir in 1/2 cup chunk-style peanut
butter, 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken broth, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1
tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1/8 teaspoon
cayenne. Stir until hot. Green Chicken Curry (Gaeng Keo Wan Gai) 6 dry
kaffir lime leaves (optional) Hot water 1 can (about 14 oz.) coconut
milk 2 to 3 tablespoons green curry pste, homemade (recipe precedes) or
purchased 1-1/2 pounds chicken breast, skinned, boned, and cut into
1/4-inch-thick strips about 3 inches long Fish sauce or salt 1/3 cup
fresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dry basil 1 small fresh hot green
chili, thinly sliced (optional)



Soak lime leaves in hot water to cover until pliable, about 30
minutes; drain.



Skim off enough o the thickest coconut milk (it floats on top) to
make 1/2 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring this thick milk to
simmering over medium heat.



Add curry paste and stir until thick and most liquid evaporates, 3
to 4 minutes. Stir in chicken, remaining coconut milk, and lime leaes.
Simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until chicken is no longer pink when
cut, about 2 minutes. Add fish sauce to taste. Pour into serving bowl
and garnish with basil and chili slices. Serves 4.