Just in time for the Thai New Year festival, Songkran, we will finally make a pot of Kaeng Khiao Wan after fooling around with other stuff. Your curry paste is ready…homemade or not…it’ll be fine either way.
Once you have that most important ingredient, then the rest is easy. You just go search your fridge and find one choice of protein and one choice of vegetable. And no, I’m not limiting you to just one of each, but you need to have at least one. I put two kinds of meat and three kinds of vegetables in my curry, and no one has given me a citation yet.
This is YOUR choice and your preference. I would recommend ingredients readily at hand or whatever is in season at the time. I’ve made a fish curry with squash blossoms, venison with tomatoes, tofu with mushrooms, shrimp with asparagus and tomatoes, pork with kubocha pumpkin, chicken with guava. Anything you can imagine; be bold and experiment.
Traditionally, you will see chicken curry with Thai eggplant, beef curry with pea eggplant, fish ball curry with fingerroot and Thai eggplant the most. Eggplants appear most often because they are readily available in Thailand and so tasty when they’ve soaked up the curry. Eat your curry over fluffy white jasmine rice. Ummm, just writing about it makes me hungry. I’m going to make a sample pot with beef shank and Thai eggplant. I also happened to have kabocha squash left over in the fridge from making pasta (that I ate with green curry with shrimp and tomatoes) the other day. So, I’m going to put them in the curry too.
I use the beef shank in the curry because it tolerates the cooking and simmering very well. It makes the the normally tougher cut tender. Just simmer them and they will come out melting in your mouth.
Let’s gather ingredients! Keep in mind that the amounts of each ingredient are only guidelines and can be adjusted base on your preference.
Green curry paste 3-6 tablespoons, depending on how spicy you want; I used about 4 tablespoons
Beef shank or other kind of protein–chicken, shrimp, fish, tofu, etc. trimmed and cut about 1 1/2 inch thick, 1 lb.
Coconut cream 2 cups I use the brand Aroy-D
Thai basil, pick only the leaves, discard the stems 1/2 cup
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Coconut palm sugar 1 tablespoon
Salt as needed
Note: Green curry paste is the one we made from the recipe I gave you last time. If you use a pre-made curry paste I don’t know the strength of the paste so be cautious, if you don’t want your curry to be too hot. You can stir-fry the entire amount you expected to use, but add it to the pot of curry a little at a time, starting at 2 tablespoons, and you taste it as you add to adjust to the right amount.
Coconut cream is preferably fresh squeezed but if you don’t want to make that effort, skip the next four paragraphs and go buy coconut milk or coconut cream in the can or box. It’s okay too. I just want to add this so people who want to take the time and do it just like in Thailand would know how.
If you can get your hands on coconut–either dried and shredded, frozen shredded, frozen cut in pieces or whole coconut–then you can squeeze your own coconut milk. The proper fresh coconut for coconut milk is at least half an inch thick inside the shell. If you already have one in pieces, check to see how hard it is It should be hard and firm, not thin and flimsy. The firmness should be about the same as Granny Smith apple. You should be able to slice the pieces thinly and they still hold stiff, not letting gravity get the best of them.
Why am I so fussy? Because if you get coconut that’s too young, you won’t get thick enough coconut milk. If you have frozen shredded coconut or dried shredded coconut, you really can’t tell much about it. I can tell because I have seen them all at every stage. I can tell you that most shredded coconut is good enough.
OK, once we eliminate the under-age candidate, then we’re ready to squeeze. The coconut flesh needs to be shredded or grated. We are going to use the blender method. You at least own a food processor or blender, right? That will be our tool. In Thailand we would just go buy fresh grated coconut from the market (We call it Ma Praw Khood), add warm water and squeeze. Here I just put pieces of coconut in the food processor and let the machine shred them for me. You can add a little liquid but if your machine can operate without it, you don’t have to.
Once you get the shredded coconut, add very warm water to it. You can boil water and mix the boiling water with room temperature water with 1:1 portion. Add water just to the level of covering the shredded coconut and let it sit for at least five minutes. Then get a mesh colander or cheesecloth. Strain the contents through the mesh and start squeezing the wet shredded coconut (of course you save ALL the liquid). Repeat the process again at least 2 times with the same shredded coconut but keep the coconut milk all separate in separate bowls. These are call Ka Ti Sod in Thai. Ka Ti = Coconut milk.
For dried shredded coconut, as long as it is not sweetened or baked, you can use it. Soak it in warm water until it comes back to life again, then put it in a blender with water, give it a swirl. You don’t need to puree it, though. Then follow the instructions above.
Let the coconut milk you just made sit in peace without any disturbance for at least 10 minutes in a warm place, or until it separates into two layers that you can obviously see. The top part is the coconut cream or Hua Ka Ti (Coconut milk “head”). You should skim all of it if possible, save it in a bowl together. You can see that from three bowls, you can get the most coconut cream from the first bowl and the rest are less and less content of the cream. Keep the rest of the content that I would call it “skimmed coconut milk” in English but the Thai would call it Hang Ka Ti (Coconut milk “tail”). You can combine the “skimmed coconut milk” together in a container but separate from the coconut cream. The coconut cream might need to be mixed with these coconut skimmed milk later.
This is the part that you have to read through at least once before you start, and you might want to refer back to it during the cooking.
In the picture I cooked the curry paste using a wok and then transferred the curry into a pot. You don’t need to do the same. You can start cooking in the pot so you don’t need to clean both the wok and the pot. I just like to make my husband wash a lot of pans. ;-p
1) Cook 1/2 of your coconut cream over medium-high heat until it starts to break. You will see a layer of film start to form.
Think of coconut milk like milk and coconut cream like heavy cream. It acts the same way. With store-bought coconut milk, place it in warm place for a while, and the cream should float to the top and you can skim it. When you buy a can of coconut milk, you might see it already separated if you don’t shake the can before opening. BUT Some coconut milk contains additives or emulsifier that keep the coconut milk from separating. That foreign additive could be flour, starch, Guar Gum or something else that I don’t know. In that case, the coconut milk will not separate under any circumstance. That’s the reason why I specify the brand of the coconut milk I used. I’m not trying to collect the advertising revenue but it’s the brand I’ve found that could split when I cook!
For people using the coconut milk that will never separate even though you threaten that it’s the end of the world, then you should add the coconut oil while you stir fry the curry paste. I normally don’t use the cold press, expensive, virgin or extra virgin coconut oil, but just regular coconut oil but if you can’t find it, virgin coconut oil is better than vegetable oil, but you have to pay the virgin surcharge. Mix about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (depend of how much oil you want on top of your curry) with 1/2 cup of coconut cream, heating it until the mixture is bubbling.
Most of my Thai cooking guru friends (who really are legend of the Thai cooks) asked me to warn you that DO NOT USE THE VEGETABLE OIL, OLIVE OIL OR ANY OTHER FOREIGN OIL to cook the curry as most recipes on the internet would tell you. I totally agree.
When you heat the coconut cream (cream not milk remember that), the contents will start to break. You can see the fat separate from the cream.
Why do I have to do that?
Because the curry paste needs to be cooked at a higher temperature in order to release the aromas. If you cook it in just coconut milk, you’re just boiling it and never get the full flavor out of the curry. We need to stir fry or “Pad” the curry paste.
2) Add the curry paste to the bubbling coconut cream that already has some coconut oil mix in (either from the heat until the cream breaks or from mixing it in directly since you can’t get the coconut milk to break) and lower the heat to medium.
Stir-fry the curry paste and keep it bubbling.
Keep adding more coconut milk or coconut cream to the EDGE of the pot or wok to prevent the paste from drying and burning.
This process will give your house the pungent smell of the Far East. You might sneeze a few times. That’s normal. However, if your co-worker sneezes the NEXT DAY when you toss your hair or just simply walk by, then that’s a problem. You might need to install a new vent in your kitchen! You should cook the curry paste for at least two to three minutes. I usually go slightly longer (never use the stop watch to see how long it is exactly…sorry…I will next time).
The curry paste needs to be cooked throughly or it will make your pot of curry bitter. I cook it until I see the coconut milk break even more. (See both bottom pictures, left and right above)
In this step I let the coconut cream break into oil even more just to get color.
A good Thai curry will have some colorful oil floating on top. How much of the oil depends on you. I like very little oil so I won’t let it break so much. A friend of mine likes a lot of oil on top (like a quarter inch thick), so he has to let it cook much longer. Also when you eventually add more coconut milk to the entire curry, the coconut milk (or actually the cream) will break even more. So, be prepare to get more oil. If you want to cook it longer, keep adding the coconut cream to the content to prevent it from burning.
This oil on top of the curry shows how well you know how to cook the curry. If your curry looks “dull”, meaning no oil on top, you don’t know how to make the curry the right way and this is what this second step is all about.
NOTE: If you are not sure how much curry past you want to use, cook a lot of curry paste and set some of it aside for now.
3) Once you cook the curry paste, then you are ready for the meat. Add the meat of your choice to the cooked curry paste and coconut cream.
This step is just like searing the meat before you stew it, but use less heat to prevent the curry paste from burning…no biggie!
Once you are done searing the meat, if you cooked the curry paste in a wok like me, you should now transfer it to a pot. I chose the beef shank, which needs a long time to cook. I transfer the meat and cooked curry paste to the pot and add the water or the skimmed-coconut milk to cover the meat.
Bring it to boil and simmer for at least 2 hours until the meat is tender.
If you use chicken or seafood you don’t need to do this. I used water or skimmed coconut milk because I have to cook the meat for a long time and I don’t want the coconut cream to break, because at the end I would get a pot of thin curry with thick green oil on top.
NOTE: If you chose to use shrimp or other seafoods, save the shrimp to the end so it won’t overcook.
4) Once the meat is tender,
you can add more coconut cream and vegetables. Cooking a pot of curry is the same as stir-frying; you have to know the cooking time of each ingredient needs and arrange them in order to make sure that EVERYTHING finishes cooking together perfectly at the end. You don’t put eggplant in the pot before meat that needs to be cooked for a long time, for example.
I put kabocha squash in first and waited until it was nearly cooked.
Then added the eggplants.
If you haven’t already seasoned the curry, now you can do so. The curry should be salty with a hint of sweetness, but not too sweet. I don’t put more than two tablespoons of fish sauce and season it with salt instead of fish sauce. If you don’t mind the flavor of the fish sauce, you can add more. Everything is up to your preference, including the thickness of the curry.
I like my curry very thin but flavorful. My husband likes it very creamy. So, I reserve some coconut cream on the side and add it to his bowl when I serve it. There is no right or wrong with a bowl of curry. Everything is up to your personal taste. In Thailand you will find most of the curries are thinner and way spicier than the curries served at Thai restaurants here.
My friend went to live in Thailand for nearly two years, came back and told me he never have a bowl of good curry there because he likes his curry thick, no-oil-on-top and very mild curry (almost like a white, thick soup in the bowl) of which Thai people would not even consider that a “curry” yet. It’s all personal.
Now both vegetables should be perfectly cooked by the time I’m done seasoning the curry and have turned off the heat.
5) Add the Thai basil leave AFTER you turn off the heat.
That basil is very sensitive to heat, so just the left over heat from the curry is enough to wilt the basil.
I allow you to eat the curry you had just made now…enjoy!