Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thai Curry Un-Recipe

Whenever I order Thai Curry from most restaurants, I'm usually disappointed. It's typically too sweet, not spicy enough, watery, oily, and lacking in flavor. I've never been to Thailand and experienced the real deal, but I do believe it's possible to make something more satisfying in ones own kitchen.

You really don't need any special exotic ingredients to make the basic recipe and you can even get decent curry paste online. This is a very quick dish assuming you have the stock already made. I have used boxed chicken broth in a time crunch and it has worked just fine.

Quick disclaimer: My style of cooking is to casually follow a sort of outline of ingredients and instructions, improvising depending on my own preferences and what I have on hand. Hence the Un-Recipe in the title :)

Homemade Thai Green Fish Curry! It doesn't look like much, but trust me, it's tasty!

About the Ingredients

I'm going to talk a little about some of the key ingredients and then provide a recipe and instructions for how to make the curry.

Curry Paste

I highly recommend making your own curry paste if you have access to the raw ingredients. If you can't find things at Asian markets or grocery stores like Whole Foods, you can usually find them online. The flavor of your own curry paste will always be better and fresher than any curry paste you purchase pre-made. The other advantage of making your own is you can manage the spice level yourself. For instance, my husband hates spicy, so if I make curry using the ready made curry paste, he can't eat it. I've tried a few different recipes throughout the web and this one is my favorite. Note that Galangal is a type of ginger and if you can't find it you can try to substitute young ginger if you can find it. Galangal has a very floral sort of taste to it and is milder than ginger. You can try using reconstituted dried galangal if you can find it online.

If you don't have access to the raw ingredients, or are just lazy (like me sometimes) the best ready made curry paste is Mae Ploy. I've seen this brand used in Thai restaurants in Seattle (that I actually liked their curry), so if you want to reproduce that kind of flavor without making your own paste, then this is the brand to use. I personally prefer the Green Curry Paste, but the Panang comes up close second. I have tried the Red and I'm not a huge fan, but it's not awful. Just not my favorite. The other reason I recommend Mae Ploy is that there are no additives. The items on the list are exactly what you would put into it if you were making it yourself, there's no special preservatives or anything like that.

My advice is to use Green curry for poultry and fish and to use Panang curry with red meat.

Coconut Milk

Most coconut milk is canned and has added preservatives and stabilizers. Making your own coconut milk is the most economical and of course produces the best quality result, however it's pretty labor intensive. And given that the stuff doesn't really preserve well, you'd be stuck doing it each time you want to make curry. I mean if that's your thing, and some days, it's totally mine, then go for it. You can even make coconut flour with the leftover desiccated coconut! It's definitely the way to go if you have the time and want to save money.

That being said, it's tough to find additive free coconut milk. Fortunately I have found it online! I buy the Arroy-D in the 8 oz size and find one or two is enough for most of the recipes I make. I normally get the 6-pack but I just noticed they have 12-packs now! Sweet!

Once opened, it does not freeze well and will go sour within a day or two (just like real coconut milk.. cuz this is.. real coconut milk). If you don't want to use a whole carton, you can always give any leftovers to your dog, they love that stuff!

Kaffir Lime Leaves

These are strictly optional, you can use lime zest if you don't have them, but the flavor will be slightly different. If you do find them in a grocery store (again, sometimes places like Whole Foods have them if your Asian grocery store doesn't), you *can* freeze them. I usually buy a bunch and store them in the freezer since they aren't delicate and don't take up much space.

Fish Sauce

I use the Red Boat brand because it's very high quality and doesn't contain anything beyond salt and rotten anchovies. I use Fish Sauce to make my own HFCS-free Worcestershire sauce and often throw it into stews for a little Umami. Trust me, get this stuff, you will end up using it for all kinds of things.


When sweetening your curry, Sucanat is the best thing to use, but you can use brown or turbinado sugar if that's what you have. Thai cooking traditionally uses palm sugar or Jaggery (a blend of palm sugar and cane sugar) or coconut sugar (not very environmentally sustainable). I used to use coconut sugar a lot and it worked really well with the Thai curry but after reading about how it's being harvested and how it destroys coconut crops, I decided not to use it. Sucanat is the most minimally processed sugar you can buy, it's literally just evaporated cane juice with all of the molasses and minerals intact. The point is, you want to use sugar that has a molasses flavor to really give the curry a well rounded sweetness.

The Recipe

This is for 1 quart of stock, which ultimately makes 6 1-cup servings of the curry.

2 T butter, ghee, coconut oil, or other saturated fat

About 3 cups of chopped vegetables, whatever you have on hand, be creative!
The photos here used: 1 medium sized potato, 1 very large carrot, 1/2 onion, 4 oz green beans
You can also use zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, just think about what's typically in Thai Restaurant menus for ideas.

About 2 cups of chopped meat, raw or cooked

1-2 T curry paste (depends on how strong you want it)

2-4 cups of homemade stock, this can be chicken, fish, duck, whatever. Chicken is the most universal and goes with the largest variety of meats. In this case I used fish stock because I had baked a whole fish, made stock from the leftover bones, and had a bunch of fish meat leftover. Again, use what you have on hand and be creative. If you plan to thicken the stock, then use more stock, otherwise use less.

12-16 oz of coconut milk, add this to taste. I often use a lot of coconut milk, but you can use less depending on your preference and how thick you want your curry.

Salt, to taste
Fish Sauce, to taste
Sucanat, to taste
2-4 Kaffir Lime Leaves, optional

1/2 of a Lime (for juice)

Optional: 1-2 T flour or 1/2-1 T rice flour for thickening Traditionally you don't thicken Thai curry, but if you want to you can. I personally like it thicker so I make a roux. It's kind of fun because then your curry almost looks like Japanese curry before you add the coconut milk. Use rice flour if you aren't a fan of wheat, I recommend sprouted brown rice flour if you can find it, it's not quite as grainy and has enough protein in it to brown like wheat flour.


1. Sautee the long cooking vegetables (things like potatoes, eggplant, carrots) in the fat over medium heat until they are glistening (5-10 minutes). If you are using a slower cooking raw meat, then add it now (chicken, beef, duck, etc).

2. If thickening add the flour and stir until the flour has absorbed enough fat that it won't clump (about 2 minutes)

3. Add the curry paste and make sure the vegetables are well coated.

After sauteing onion, potato, and carrot in butter, add some curry paste

4. Add the stock and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. You can either simmer on high to reduce the stock to make it thicker, or boil the stock for 5 minutes until thick from the added thickener and then turn down the heat.

The fish stock came straight from the fridge so it was very gelatinous!

5. While the stock is simmering, add the kaffir lime leaves, Fish Sauce, and Sucanat. You can add more later so be conservative, this is just to get some flavor cooked into the vegetables.

6. Once the curry has reached the desired thickness, add coconut milk and adjust the seasoning by adding salt, fish sauce, and/or sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

I use Arroy-D 100% coconut milk with no additives

7. Add the quick cooking vegetables and the chopped meat (if cooked or quick cooking like fish).

Adding the chopped up cooked fish and the frozen green beans

8. Squeeze the juice out of the lime half, and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve over rice, rice noodles, or just eat it like soup!

Cooking Notes

I learned an interesting technique for chopping carrots from a Japanese cookbook. This technique has you create sort of rounded wedges as you chop the carrot. I use this method when chopping carrots for stews because I find the soup clings to the carrot and it is much more enjoyable to eat in this shape.

To cut a carrot in this manner, you just cut a wedge off the end as you roll the carrot.

Chopping a carrot, Japanese style

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