I love curries. They speak to my childhood instinct of putting condiments first, “Mom, can you make ‘the good sauce’ with our London broil?” “‘Can I have tons and tons and tons and tons of Russian dressing on my turkey sandwich?” “Please pass the ketchup.” Curries are saucy yet substantial, and the flavor…
Layers of taste sensations lace each vibrant slurp. There’s the obvious chili pepper heat, which can be turned up or down depending on your preference. An underlying sweetness from palm or brown sugar. A sour note from the fish sauce (get over it, all you fish sauce-phobes, you do realize that there are anchovies in your beloved Worcestershire don’t you?). Acidity from the limes. And this is all before you add a single aromatic, protein or vegetable.
Many countries boast bountiful curries, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, the Caribbean, the list goes on and on. The variations within each country are seemingly endless. Sadly, I have not embarked on a world curry tour (sign me up!) but within my limited framework, Thai Panang Curry is the reigning champion. Panang curry is generally milder than other curries (although not mild to the American palate), red in color which turns orange when combined with the requisite coconut milk. If you’re not married to tradition (or a Thai) Panang curry can be made with beef, chicken, shrimp, tofu, vegetables, it’s quite versatile.
I’m always trying out new curry recipes but have found the one below to be a favorite. It’s a cheaters recipe in that I use a prepared Panang curry paste. You can make your own curry (mixture of spices such as, chili peppers, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, garlic, kaffir lime, shrimp paste, etc.) as I have experimented with, but I find that the prepared pastes suit me well. An obvious timesaver, I feel that with a prepared curry paste I am deferring to an expert and getting consistent results. I bought the brand (Mae Ploy) that I used in today’s recipe in an Asian market but you can find a variety of curry pastes at Whole Foods or a well-stocked supermarket.
If you do choose to give homemade curry paste a try, Jamie Oliver outlines five easy ones (although no Panang) in his fabulous cookbook, Jamie’s Food Revolution. Although be warned that in his introduction to the “Easy Curries” chapter, Jamie Oliver also touts the merits of store-bought curry pastes, a favorite brand of his being the widely available Patek’s. And the Brits certainly do know their curries!
So back to the recipe below, I make this curry very liquid because I love the sauce. I serve it in a bowl over maybe 1/3 cup of cooked basmati rice, so that you are getting more vegetables and broth than anything else. You can easily serve a larger bowl of rice with just a sprinkling of sauce if that suits you better. And finally, the protein. In this recipe, I used a product (that I also found at the Asian market) that I am absolutely in love with, Fried Tofu Pouch. The refrigerated plastic bag comes with 15 cubes of perfectly fried, pillowy tofu. The kind that you get if you order this dish at a Thai restaurant but that I’ve found impossible to replicate at home. If you are inclined to search this product out, please do, but if not, don’t let its inclusion discourage you from making this dish. You can saute one pound of cubed chicken or beef after Step 2; or simmer whole peeled, deveined shrimp or cubed tofu after Step 5. Proceed with the recipe as directed and then experiment some more.
One final note, I make this dish on a regular weeknight but it is absolutely guest-worthy. I would have my rice cooker steaming away and everything chopped, measured out and prepped in advance to cook the curry on the spot–actual cook time takes about 15 minutes. But you could even have it fully cooked before your guests arrive and just gently reheat just before serving. Just don’t tell anyone I told you so.
- 1 Tbls vegetable oil
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 4 Tbls chopped ginger
- 4 Tbls Panang curry paste
- 2 cans coconut milk (1 full-fat--do not shake--and 1 reduced fat)
- 1 red pepper, cubed
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 1 head bok choy, sliced into strips (separating green leafs from hard white stems)
- 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 4 Tbls fish sauce
- 1 lime, juiced, plus more for serving
- 2 Tbls brown sugar
- 2 Tbls shredded kaffir lime leaves (or I used 2 dry kaffir lime leaves)
- 1 pouch of fried tofu, if using
- 1 1/3-2 cups of cooked basmati rice
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- Heat wok or saute pan over high heat until almost smoking and add vegetable oil, shallots and ginger. Stir until shallots start to soften, about 2 minutes and then add curry paste. Stir until combined and aromatic.
- Add the red pepper, mushrooms and bok choy white stems. Saute until softened.
- If using chicken or beef, add here and saute until cooked through--several minutes.
- Add the coconut creme from the top of the can full-fat can of coconut milk. Stir until combined and cook 2-3 minutes.
- Add remaining coconut milk (from both cans), kaffir lime leaves and broth, reduce heat to medium and stir to blend. Cook for a few minutes.
- Add shrimp or tofu (if using) and bok choy leaves, bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes. Add lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. Cook 1-2 minutes and remove from heat.
- Serve over rice, topped with chopped cilantro and a final squeeze of lime.