The thing about cooking curries, tagines and other big pot dishes, particularly if there are only one or two people eating, is that there is a minimum amount that you can realistically make. So I often – with varying degrees of success – have to find other uses for those bits and bobs. This is particularly true of Thai curry pastes. They act as a kind of counterbalance to the law of diminishing returns, in that past a certain point, the less you make, the more effort you have to put in to get good results.
I mean, it’s not as if you want to be swimming in curry paste (especially with those mouse shit peppers – ouch) but you don’t want to be arseing around with half a stalk of lemongrass or a thimblefull of ginger. The red curry I made last week has left me with a small tupperware container of a fantastically flavourful paste that really doesn’t take to freezing. It becomes all bitter and twisted if left in sub-arctic conditions. At the same time, I didn’t want to make the same thing again, not least because I didn’t have as much time.
Happily for those of us like me who are efficient (erm lazy) is that dry Thai curries, unlike their sodden cousins, don’t take hours of preparation and cooking. This is especially so if you have the paste already made. They’re not strictly speaking dry per se – they use some stock – I think the name may have something to do with the fact the meat’s cooked by frying rather than simmering. But I’m not absolutely sure about that. Any enlightenment would be welcomed.
The whole thing takes about 30 minutes to make (once the chopping is done) and the end result is fragrantly redolent of Thai street markets. But not as spicy (not to self – next time double the amount of chilli in the paste).
The important thing is to make sure the flavours and aromas are well balanced. The savouryness of the fish sauce and the sweetness of the basil and sugar. Hot chilli and citrussy fragrant lime leaves. Astringent galangal and pungent garlic. Once you have that sorted, the disparate strong flavours all combine into a surprisingly subtle and delicate whole that adds to the flavour of the chicken without overpowering it.
The red curry
Enough for four with a side dish or two and rice
I used the paste from last week’s Beef Panaeng, but if you are making it from scratch you could leave out the peanuts and chuck in some more bird shit peppers. That will give you a general red curry paste that could be used for pork, prawns, tofu, shellfish or even some stronger fish like salmon. It’s one of those fantastically versatile pastes that will last in the fridge for about two weeks(ish) in a sealed container.
The vegetables are also very flexible. I used pea aubergines for their delicate, almost grassy flavour and lovely crunchy-squishy texture. I also added baby sweetcorn (we had a lot of that in Thailand) for it’s snap and sweet flavour. But you can use anything really, i’ve eaten with carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, peas, bamboo shoots in the past. You just need to adjust cooking times to suit.
2-3 tblsp groundnut, sunflower or similar oil
3-4 tblsp of red curry paste
4 free-range chicken thighs
2 small red onions
2 cloves garlic
200g pea aubergines
200g baby corn
1 mug stock
1 tsp sugar
3 kaffir lime leaves
Pull the skin from the thighs and bone them, then slice into bite sized strips. Finely dice the onions and garlic, and chop the lime leaves into as small pieces as you can manage. Heat the oil until it is smoking hot and add the onions and fry. When they are coloured, add the garlic and lime leaves and stir-fry for about a minute. When you start to smell the garlic add the paste, stir fry for another minute and chuck in the chicken.
Stir fry the lot for about three minutes, or until the chick is mostly whiteish, then add the vegetables and keep stirring for another two or three minutes.
Pour in the stock and stir vigorously so that the curry paste that’s welded itself to the pan lifts off and combines with the liquid. Add the sugar and a little fish sauce, stir it in and leave to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. If the sauce looks like it’s disappearing add some warm water.
Taste the sauce for balance – then add whatever you think it needs: fish sauce for depth and pungency, sugar for sweetness, salt or soy sauce for salt, lime juice for sourness and chilli for heat. Mine needed a few drops of some scotch bonnet chilli sauce because there was almost no heat at all. Next time I’ll add some more mouse shit chilli peppers to the paste, or at the garlic stage.