Secrets of Thai Green Curry

Oct 04 2010

Thai green curry has slowly become a very popular dish in this country. This is because it looks fresh and green, feels light, tastes slightly tangy, sweet sour, creamy, and coconuty, has a beautiful thick yet runny sauce consistency, and smells and tastes aromatic and spicy. It transports one back to South East Asia and goes well with rice. You can cook it with meat, fish or vegetables too.

At Take 5 cafe we have cooked Thai green curries for 14 years because it is constantly in high demand! It runs out before I can shop for, and cook the next batch!

Cooking a Thai curry is however a tricky business because it is akin to juggling many balls at the same time as it involves the art of balancing and pulling together opposite tastes(like sweet and sour) in fusion-like eruption, that is tantalising to the taste buds.

A common mistake chefs make is to assume that the secret of a Thai curry lies in creating your own ‘home-made’ paste( a romanticist idea they import from their understanding of Indian cooking). This is fallacy more than fact because 1) a good Thai green curry involves 3 pastes not 1 paste as I will explain below 2) the Tthai paste you get in a jar imported from Thailand has got more ingredients sourced cheaply there, than you might possibly buy in the UK at high prices, and this paste does not result in an inferior curry as happens in Indian cooking using ready sauces. In fact the paste has the right quantity of ingredients all properly combined together and, 3) It deflects attention from the real problem which is to focus on the balancing acts you need to perform as you are cooking a Thai curry. I will elaborate on this below.

1)A Thai curry involves 3 pastes. Paste A is a greeny thick paste which you can buy ready made, preferably made in Thailand. This is the paste people focus, on trying to recreate it on their own, and in the process neglect a lot of steps involving Paste B and Paste C . Paste B is the evolving paste that you create from start to finish which along the line will involve using Paste A, in one of its spiralling steps. Its all the steps of Paste B that you really need to pay attention to, as I will explain.

2)Paste A involves a load of ingredients that can be hard to obtain and are expensive and fiddly too like krachai, fresh turmeric, etc. You need to buy them separately usually and end up having to freeze the rest. You also spend a long time trying to peel and blend them to the right consistency as well as taste very close to the imported jars of ready paste. That’s why the most reputable Thai restaurants use these ready green jars of paste A.

3)Given that creating your own Paste A is not crucial, a ready jar helps you to focus on the balancing act to create the prefect sauce.

Below is my simple, time tested recipe secret that my customers have consistently loved.

Do a shopping at a oriental supermarket buying a small plastic jar of thai green curry paste, a small packet of kaffir lime leaves, a tiny amount of galangal , a couple of shoots of lemongrass, a small jar of non concentrated tamarind paste, coriander, shallots or just normal onion, palm or just white sugar, green cilies of your own fancy, coconut milk, dessicated coconut, 1 lime. and eith some chicken breasts diced or a medley of vegetables. a jar of thai fish sauce, a few basil leaves.

1)Fry together in a kwok, gently for 3 minutes, 1 small onion, some garlic paste, the lemongrass shoots chopped small, an inch or more of the galangal chopped fine or pounded, about 7-10 lime leaves(tear a few into half too), and 2-3 finely chopped green chillies, and a few chopped basil leaves.

2)Add to the kwok, a dollup(1 to 2 tablespoons) of the paste you bought, about 5-6 drops of fish sauce, and 2 -3 tablespoons of the tamarind paste, and fry over gentle heat for about 3-4 minutes till you smell the flavours, and the mixture turning slightly darker.

3)Next, add the diced meat or vegetables and stir through gently for 2 minutes.

4)Now add the coconut milk can to this simmering mixture and another too, if its too thick. Add 1/2 to 1/3 small cup of hot water too. Stir slowly till you see the mixture beginning to boil. Now reduce the fire to minimum and allow to simmer

5) In the meantime, use a small spice mill type of blender(which does not require water) to blend half a cup of dessicated coconut and half a cup of finely chopped coriander leaves. Make this into a fine pastely green paste(Paste C) and keep aside

6) Now back to your simmering mixture, taste that the meat or vegetables are cooked and add a tablespoon of sugar, and squeeze in
half a lime too, and a few more chopped basil leaves. Gently stir in, then add then Paste C you just blended. Stir it in and after 30 seconds the entire curry will turn very green. Switch off fire and serve with warm rice. Thai pandan/jasmine rice is ideal but you can use any other rice too.

Tips: 1)If you are not a vegan, add some extra thick double cream towards the end for extra creaminess, 2)A vegan version of Paste A should be available and omit the fish sauce. If not blend together a small onion or a few shallots, a little galangal, krachai, lemongrass, green chillies, few leaves of basil, ginger, garlic, lime leaves, a teaspoon of turmeric powder or some fresh turmeric, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. 3) Tweak salt, sugar, lime juice, amount of creamed coconut to create a sauce of your own liking. 4) Ask me at the cafe if you are not getting a nice tasting curry after a few attempts and I will give you a free demo.

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