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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Welcome to red Nirvana

HAVING never been to Thailand, I’ve nothing with which to compare my new curry, although on the evidence of eating it three nights last week, I’m willing to bet good money it stands up pretty well.

I am reminded of the first time I went to Rome and ordered a bowl of pasta from a roadside ristorante. It was a simple penne al’arrabiata, if memory serves me and it was superb. However upon first bite, I realised something was very different.

This penne wasn’t floppy or soft; if anything it was a little beyond al dente, which is to say, there was a hardness bordering on crunch. My first thought was, “These clowns know we’re tourists and they’re firing out uncooked pasta and pretending it’s done.”

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But the more I ate the more I came to enjoy the stiffer pasta and I then realised that until that point, I’d been over-cooking pasta at home the whole time.

Don’t worry though, I didn’t start eating crunchy pasta at home but from then on, I’ve ignored packet instructions for cooking times and I always check the penne and the spaghetti and farfelle for the perfect al dente moment. And to be honest, this added texture makes a bowl of pasta all the more pleasurable.

By extension, whilst I’m fully in love with my new Thai red curry, I’m unsure if the real thing eaten in Thailand (if travel ever goes back to normal) will have anything to teach me. I’m sure it will and there will be ingredients I’ve never even heard of but for the meantime, this is my new favourite curry.

You know sometimes the notion just takes you for something? God only knows what the trigger was but the week before last I found myself hankering for a Thai red. The problem was: I couldn’t find any lemongrass for a while and so the curry was put on hold. I bided my time though because I wanted to make the paste from scratch so I waited and waited and kept an eye out for the lemongrass and finally I found some in Asda, of all places.

There are various ingredients I couldn’t find of course (like kaffir lime leaves and shrimp paste), but I made do and the resulting curry blew my proverbial socks off.

If you’ve never made curry paste from scratch before then please don’t be put off from trying. With a blender, or in my case, a hand blender, it’s very easy. It’s really just a matter of assembling all the ingredients (the ones you can find, anyway) and then blitzing the lot.

Granted, there are A LOT of ingredients for this curry too and admittedly, making the paste adds to the overall time required but I promise, this is unlike anything you’re getting from a jar of so-called Thai red curry paste. Check the ingredient list on those jars the next time you’re thinking of buying. I know of one at least whose first ingredient (and therefore the biggest) is water. No thanks.

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And honestly, I wasn’t joking about having Thai red curry three times last week. The first was a chicken version (the recipe to follow), the second was a noodle soup and the third was a prawn curry. All magnificent and all because of the paste.

INGREDIENTS FOR PASTE

3 shallots, peeled and then chopped as you like

1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, hard outter shell removed and chopped into four

2 red chillies, roughly chopped, seeds and all (take the seeds out of you don’t want too much heat)

7 or 8 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 lump of ginger, peeled and sliced

2 tbsps of tomato sauce

2 tbsps of fish sauce

the juice of one lime

1 tbsp of paprika

2 tbsps of coconut milk (the rest of which you can use to make the curry)

1 anchovy

1 tsp of brown sugar

1 tsp of ground cumin

quarter tsp of white pepper

quarter tsp of ground cinnamon

1 tsp of ground coriander (optional, if you think coriander is the devil’s spice and tastes like mucky soap)

THE PLAN FOR THE PASTE

Dump everything into the blender and press ‘on’. Tah-dah! The paste is made. Taste it now – it’ll be potent and strong – but if you think it’s not perfect, give it a tablespoon of light soy sauce.

EXTRA INGREDIENTS FOR THAI RED CHICKEN CURRY (SERVES 4)

dash of vegetable oil

at least two-thirds of the paste you just made

4 chicken breasts, chopped as you like

2 tins of coconut milk

4 kaffir lime leaves (if you can find ‘em)

tsp of fish sauce

handful of Thai basil leaves (or ordinary basil)

1 red chilli, sliced

small piece of ginger, cut into thin match-sticks

jasmine rice, to serve

THE PLAN

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan or work on a medium to high heat. Dump in the paste and stir fry for a minute until it’s cooked off. It should already smell sch-mazing. Add the coconut milk, stir around and bring to a simmer. Now add the chicken and lime leaves and let it bubble for ten to 12 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through. Normally, I hoke around until I find the biggest piece of chicken and I cut it in half just to make sure. I then eat it, obviously!

Add the fish sauce and taste to check the seasoning. If you think it needs a little more then… give it a little more. It may also take a pinch or two of extra sugar if it needs a little sweetness. Bring to the boil again and that’s it.

Divide between bowls and add the ginger match sticks, the chilli slices and the basil.

And again, if you don’t think coriander is the worst thing imaginable, you could add a few leaves at this stage too.

Serve with the rice and you’re in Thai heaven – or Nirvana, as the case may be.

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