Today I want to make a departure from my memories of Lista’s Italian Cuisine and write about a dish that I have become very fond of and often make at home: Thai Red Curry.
Several years ago my wife and I joined some friends to celebrate a birthday at one of the popular local Thai restaurants. At the time I was familiar with the typical Americanized versions of Asian cuisines like Chinese take-out and Sushi — but had never tried Thai food. That day I was introduced to pa pia sod (spring rolls), tom kha koong (coconut soup), phat thai (stir fried rice noodle), and phanaeng gai (chicken curry).
Since then we have frequented that Thai restaurant, and have tried many dishes, but my favorite is always one of the curries with coconut milk. So after eating curry time and again at restaurants; and after I did some research about ingredients and methods, I came up with my own version of Thai Red Curry (kaeng phet) that I can make at home and I think is pretty darn good. Admittedly, I have not endeavored to make the curry paste from scratch since there are some very good products available at the grocery store.
For my family, we like that Thai cuisine is primarily gluten free, and can be vegetarian and paleo friendly (depending on what you eat). For us it can be a healthier choice when eating out and when looking for something different at home. Although some items on a Thai restaurant menu have added sugars (often used to balance out the spiciness) you can choose to leave out the sugar when making curry at home — which is great for those of us that want to eat sugar free. Since Thai curries are traditionally served with jasmine rice which has a higher glycemic index (73) you might be better off with a long grain white rice (50) or basmati rice (53) if you are watching carbs.
There are a few ingredients in this recipe that you might not have in your pantry but really make for an authentic tasting curry:
Coconut Milk — I have been using Goya brand because I can find it without added gums and thickeners (which we prefer not to eat). I also choose to use coconut oil since I believe it has heart healthy benefits (this can be a controversial subject so I leave it up to you) plus I like that it adds to the coconut flavor in the curry.
Red Curry Paste — This is vastly different than curry powder which has a primarily Indian flavor profile. I have been using Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste which I find to have a good flavor and mild heat (the 4 oz jar would make 2 batches of curry).
Fresh Garlic and Ginger — To amp up the store bought curry paste. Although Thai cuisine calls for galangal a close cousin of ginger but a truly different thing; I find ginger is much easier to find in the grocery stores.
Fish Sauce — Made from fermented anchovies, this is one of those pungent, umani based products that only works in certain applications — however, without fish sauce the curry will not have that traditional Thai taste or aroma.
Thai Basil — Thai basil is different than Italian basil or “sweet basil.” Thai basil has smaller thinner leaves and purple stems, and imparts a distinctive ‘licorice’ flavor which just adds to the curry’s unique taste. (In a pinch you can substitute sweet basil or a pinch of star anise).
So now you should be ready to make Thai Red Curry. You can use a wok to cook this dish or use a large heavy, deep sided skillet (which I prefer). If you prep all the ingredients ahead of time and then start cooking… it literally takes minutes to finish this dish. Cooking the rice will probably take longer than making the curry. The recipe below is for Red Curry Chicken but you can use beef, pork, duck, shrimp, tofu, or just vegetables if you want.
Thai Red Curry Chicken
Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
1 TBSP Coconut Oil
pinch Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1-2 cloves Fresh Garlic – minced
1 TBSP Fresh Ginger – peeled and minced
2 TBSP Prepared Red Curry Paste (more or less to taste)
1-2 TBSP Brown Sugar (optional)
1 lb. Boneless Chicken Breast – sliced into thin strips
1 large White Onion – peeled, cut in half and sliced
1 (25.5 oz) can Coconut Milk
1 large Red Bell Pepper – seeded and thinly sliced
1 large Zucchini – halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 lb. Long Thin Green Beans (haricots verts) – fresh or frozen
1 cup Thai Basil (or sweet basil) – washed and left whole with stems
2 TBSP Fish Sauce – or to taste (optional)
1 TBSP Corn Starch dissolved in 2 TBSP water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Steamed Rice for serving
Lime wedges for garnish (optional)
1. In a large heavy bottom, deep sided skillet heat oil on med high, add pinch of red pepper flakes (if using), minced garlic and minced ginger and cook until fragrant. Stir in Thai red curry paste and brown sugar (if using) and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add sliced chicken breast and sliced onion to pan, stir fry until chicken turns white about 5 minutes.
3. Pour in coconut milk, stir to incorporate with curry paste and bring to a simmer.
4. Add bell pepper, zucchini, green beans, and Thai basil to pan and stir to cover with curry sauce. Stir in fish sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
4A. Optional — if you want sauce to have thicker consistency, add corn starch and water mixture and simmer another 5 minutes or until thickened.
5. Taste sauce and if needed adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve over hot cooked rice and garnish with lime wedges if desired.
There you have it, my version of Thai Red Curry Chicken (kaeng phet gai). This recipe is for a mild-medium red curry — if you like your curry hot and spicy add more curry paste or a couple sliced red chilies with the seeds when cooking. Taste and adjust to your liking.
If you prefer a protein other than chicken, try beef sirloin (partially frozen) that is thinly sliced across the grain… or thinly sliced pork loin… or peeled and deveined raw shrimp (added at the end with the vegetables). You can also use firm tofu either fried or unfried… or add extra veggies like eggplant, squash, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”