Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thai Red Chicken Curry

I sometimes get a little fanatical when it comes to new cuisines. I'll go all out in an attempt to conquer it and force feed it to my family, despite their lame attempts to escape. My latest obsession has been Thai food. With its luxurious fragrances and medley of spices all blended in fragrant coconut milk, it seemed an unattainable goal for me since all its ingredients seemed way too foreign for my grasp. Galangal? Kaffir Lime leaves? Lemongrass? Shrimp paste? Uh uh, honey, ain't none of this stuff deep in the heart of Texas...

Speaking of which, Thailand has now racheted itself up on my bucket list of places to visit. If anything, I'd like to go there to buy those ingredients and bring 'em back home!
(pics courtesy of National Geographic)
Enter the local Asian store where I trotted off in search of the above. Unfortunately, they didn't have any of the ingredients fresh, but I did find some bottled, dried and jarred varieties. (P.S. If anyone out there lurking by this post knows where to get these ingredients FRESH in Houston, do drop me a line!). And then I bumped into the vegetable stocking guy.

"Uhm, excuse me, do you have any kaffir lime leaves?"
"Kaffir lime leaves"
"No K-A-F-F-I-R LIME. Leaf"
"Why you want the leaf? I got beautiful key lime, green lime, ..."

I tried this recipe from a little cookbook called "Thai Cooking" (quel surprise!) by Carol Bowen. I had to play around with the spices and add a little of my own because it did not really result in the fiery red color I was expecting.

Secondly, I also tried making this dish with just the jarred red curry paste that you get in all the grocery stores. And it PALED in comparison to when you make the recipe below with the authentic ingredients. Well, the authentic jarred ingredients. So head off to your local Asian store (Whole Foods had the same jarred ingredients), and try out this curry. It's lip-smacking good and pretty close to what you get served at a Thai joint.

I served this along with some cashew beef, chicken satay and pad thai noodles for a "Thai-Themed" dinner I hosted for my niece who is off to Thailand to volunteer there. And if you assumed a little girl can go off to Thailand on her own, well, an interesting fact is that my husband is the youngest of 8 children, so his older siblings have children that are older than him. And subsequently me. Yes, I have nieces and nephews who tower over me, are older, and still have to respectfully call me AUNTY.
Bend your head around that one...
*Reposted to include fresh basil leaves, and cook's note on not heating coconut milk on high heat*Thai Red Chicken Curry (adapted from Carol Bowen's "Thai Cooking")
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 garlic gloves, crushed
14 fl oz or 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
6 chicken breast fillets, skinned and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp fish sauce
sliced red chillies, fresh Thai basil leaves and chopped coriander to garnish

Red Curry Paste:
8 dried red chillies (deseed for less heat)
1 heaped Tbsp galangal or ginger, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass chopped (I used 2 heaped Tbsp jarred lemongrass)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp shrimp paste (this stuff smells like death, so I used less then the orig recipe)
1 kaffir lime leaf, chopped (I subst. zest and juice of a key lime)
1 heaped tsp coriander powder
3/4 tsp ground cumin powder
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (optional)

5-6 fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped (optional)1 tsp each salt and black pepper powder (adjust as you see fit, both fish sauce and chicken stock can be salty!)

1. Assemble ingredients for red curry paste, place in blender and process till smooth (may need to add a little water or lime juice)
2. Heat the oil in a large wok or non-stick pan. Add garlic and cook till it turns golden.
3. Stir in curry paste and cook for 10-15 seconds or till raw smell disappears. Gradually add in coconut milk, stirring constantly (mixture may look curdled).
4. Add in chicken pieces and turn in sauce to coat. Cook gently for about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in stock and fish sauce, mixing well. Cook for a further 2 minutes or till chicken cooks through. Cook's Note - cooking this dish on high heat can cause the coconut milk to separate out into oil and cream, beware! It may took longer to cook on a medium flame, but will be more worth the effort!6. Add chopped coriander and red chillies, let sauce reduce a bit or to your preference. I found reducing the sauce down gave the meat more flavor. Serve with plain white rice.


Bong Mom said...

Exact same thing happens at my local Asian Store. They behave as if they have never heard of "Kafir Lime Leaves". Sadly I have never got ingreds to make a fresh paste and was very happy with the jar and now you go and burst my bubble. Boo hoo.

Love all Thai curries and this one is no exception

Ann said...

@ B Mom - Ugh - sorry! Once you go real, you can't go back! maybe it was just the brand I used "Taste of Thai, or "Thai Kitchen", sth like that. Very forgettable!

sayantani said...

Ohh still you got key limes, here when I asked for couscous in a big supermarket chain they looked at me as if I was talking french. I like to make the fresh paste as well but has to substitute for so many ingredients and mine never get that authentic red colour. this dish is looks mouth watering.

Kalai said...

Hi Ann,
you have a beautiful blog with amazing recipes. Would like to try some of ur recipes, will definitely come back often.

Jagruti said...

First time here and love your space..great collection of recipes..
cheers and do visit me if you can

WizzyTheStick said...

Good to know I am not the only weirdo in the supermarket asking for unknown items:-)Got a pot of lemongrass growing outside. It's a weed here and doesn't feature much in our cooking except boiled as a tea for fevers hence the local name fever grass.

Kajal - Aapplemint said...

I once tried the tender leaves from my orange tree when i did not kaffir lime leaves ... lol ...It kinda worked. You should give it a try sometime !

Mimi said...

I also use tender young citrus leaves from a lemon tree. Someone gave me some kaffir lime leaves once and they are definately a different flavor from lemon leaves, but lemon leaves give the curry a wonderful flavor.

I think you can grow citrus in Texas if I'm not mistaken. You should see if you could acquire a tree. Citrus does well in pots if you don't have room for a tree or a yard to grow things in.

Yum. I haven't made red curry in a long time. I should make some!

Ann said...

@Wizzy - lemongrass is a WEED over there??? Lordy, you should start and import/export business to send it over here!
@Kajal and Mimi - Thx for the idea. See, this is where I get all conservative, I never would ahve THOUGHT of substituting a leaf from any citrus tree. Mimi - we're hit and miss with citrus here, my dad tried a little guava and lemon tree last year, and we got our unprecedented snow and freezing winter, and everything died. Well, we can always try again - another incentive to make this curry again!
@all - Thanks everyone for stopping by!

tasteofbeirut said...


Around here, apart from Lebanese, we are crazy for Thai food! Luckily I live next to a bunch of Thai and other Asian grocers! Usually they keep their leaves in little packets in the freezer.
Re: mastic, it comes from a specific tree or bush and it is used as a flavoring agent, has nothing thickening about it. I love the perfume of it, but I know gringos (my english cousin for one) who really dislike it; it is a unique flavor and used in pastries and ice-cream in the mid-east and also Greece and Turkey.

MeetaK said...

i have so been craving thai food lately! well instead of hopping on the plane this sounds like the most awesome thing to satisfy the craving thanks!

Joanne said...

I absolutely love thai food but haven't really made it myself yet. For exactly the same reason as you! Dear kaffir lime leaves. Where are you in my life? As soon as I hunt those down, I'll be making this.

I've seen galangal at Whole Foods along with lemongrass.

This looks delicious though! I really hope to give at a go soon!

Nostalgia said...

I have an international grocery store and I always thought that it will be easy to just pop in there and get all the ingredients. I guess I will have to try before I assume. I am glad you finally found all the ingredients and make the delicious dishes. Thanks for sharing

Yasmeen said...

Tantalizing flavors of the chicken, even I can never find lime leaves here,guess zest is the next best substitute :D

Malar Gandhi said...

I am a die hard fan of Thai cuisine, this curry looks fabulous...

Jaya Wagle said...

Thai red curry, cashew beef, chicken satay and pad thai, all in one go. Way to go girl! I love Thai food but a friend once told me it is cheaper to eat it out than to cook it at home. I have stuck to that for the last ten years. Besides, the long list of ingredients throws me off. And I agree, they never understand you at the Asian grocery store.
Towering nephews and nieces. Tell me about it. I have cousins who are like that and they have to call me Tai (elder sister).

Gulmohar said...

That's a great dish..I'm also learning some dishes from my Taiwanese friend :-)

Pedhakka said...

Yummy dish...Will surly try to make it at home and keep you posted.

Muneeba said...

I want a plate piled high with everything from your Thai themed dinner for your niece! And yeah, I have a bunch of aunts who're younger than me :)

sra said...

Ann, thanks to your comment, I realise I made a mistake about the cabbage and cauliflower - I've righted it now!

If you go to Bangkok, and I hope you do, visit this store called Spice Story in the Siam Paragon mall, the basil I bought there was never any good but the lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime, all dried, are quite good.

Arlette said...

Seems we all of us have the same problem; getting the right ingredients... I live in a small town in Northern Ontario, where mostly are French Canadian...
The nearest big city to me is four hours driving... either to Toronto or Ottawa. Its so hard to find Ethnic/Multi curlture ingredients in the stores around here. Love
Your dish and the flavours you used..I bet they taste awesome.

Ivy said...

Your dish sounds delicious, although I don't cook Thai food as most of the ingredients are hard to find.

Cooking Foodie said...

I cant tell you how many times this has happened to me... kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemon grass... I wish they wrote the names of ingredients in English... I have seen leaves but I dont know what they say...