Aussie Thai Red Curry
I recently Instagrammed about my Dad regularly making Thai Red Curry at home, and this set off a wave of interest in his recipe. But the truth is, it is not his recipe at all, and this is the story of how a Thai Chef pulled my Dad into his little restaurant and taught him on the spot how to make a great Thai Red Curry. You see my Dad made the cultural faux pas of asking “ You don’t pre-prepare your curry and reheat it in a Microwave, do you?”
The stunned perplexing look of disbelief on the face of the owner immediately revealed his shock. “Thai food, reheated???” he objected. “Sir do you like to cook?”
“Yes, yes, I do, very much!”
“Then come with me into the kitchen, I will teach you how Thai people cook. I will teach you how to cook a Thai Red Curry.”
‘Brilliant! Thank you.”
We were immediately led behind the counter and into the immaculately clean kitchen.
The restauranteur started by throwing the wok onto the open gas, heating it up rapidly. It seemed the ingredients that he would use were already neatly arranged on the shelves around and above the cooking area.
He threw in a tablespoon of oil. Coconut oil is very healthy, has a low smoke rate, doesn’t break down quickly and because it is rich in taste, you need to use very little. We often use this when we are cooking curries of all sorts as it seems to add an extra richness to the taste. It was here that the gentleman chef drew my Dad in with a delicate wave of his hand, beckoning him to come closer as if a family secret was about to be revealed.
“You see the wok, it is very hot now. Now it is time to throw in your Chili Paste. The Thai Red Curry is all about your paste.”
He then threw in a liberal tablespoon of the Red Curry Paste into the wok and started frying it off. This was for one serving, so you might just use two to three depending on how red and how hot you would like the curry to be.
He made sure to constantly turn the paste in the wok so that it did not burn and once the paste started to gather hues of golden red-brown, he immediately added thick coconut cream, which sizzled like a hot blade of steel being immersed in water, with the redness now mixing and bonding to the rich milky substance. Be careful which type of coconut cream you use. The best contain only coconut extract and water, preferably with a 60% or greater content of coconut to water. The ones that have guar gum or locust bean are also acceptable if we are in a bind, but avoid any that have preservatives like potassium sorbate or other more harmful preservatives. We have found AROY-D Coconut Milk on our travels as the best of the bunch and it is usually a product of Thailand or Vietnam.
At this point, the chef added Thai fish sauce, but as we now do not eat any animal products, my Dad one day stumbled upon the brine or salty water that comes with green olives. It was surprisingly similar in its salty taste to the fish sauce the chef used, and we have used it as a substitute ever since. With the heat on high, the chef reduced the red creamy liquid now for a few minutes until it started to thicken naturally into a rich red sauce.
It was at this point the chef threw the vegetables for our curry into the wok, consisting of Bok Choi, zucchini, julienned carrots, eggplant and broccoli. Due to the convection heat of the wok on the open flame, the vegetables cooked in about three minutes with the chef expertly working the pan and turning all the ingredients without spilling a drop.
You could sense it was almost ready. He just leaned over for the final ingredient…he took some fresh stalks of Thai Basil, with its rich green and purple colour, ripping off the leaves and throwing them into the curry, so that their flavour would permeate the entire curry, leaving it to the last moment, so that the basil wouldn’t go limp and lose its vibrant colour. He then took it all out of the wok and poured it onto a plate rustically, topping it off with a fresh stalk of Thai basil leaves next to a bowl of freshly steamed jasmine rice on the side.
My Dad uses similar vegetables, but first blanches the broccoli and fries up the eggplant, carrots and zucchini separately for a few minutes. This is because on our current stove, we cannot seem to get the required heat of a commercial kitchen hotplate and if we place the vegetables all into the wok, it takes forever and they stew, ruining the freshness of the red curry sauce and losing the goodness and vitality of the vegetables in the process.
Once the veggies are quickly fried, Dad then places them in the curry sauce for a few minutes so the flavours can infuse. We don’t often have access to Thai Basil, but when we do not, we use regular basil. While not the same, it is still very good. (Sometimes, we don’t get access to any basil, would you believe it, like now, here in Spain. We will use some fresh coriander/cilantro instead.) We too will serve it with steamed jasmine rice or as an alternative, sometimes, we will serve it with rice noodles, as they have such a light taste and do not take anything away from the flavour of the curry.
When we sat down in the alfresco dining area to eat the curry, prepared with love especially for us, we had an anticipation that had all our mouths watering simultaneously. That first taste exploded on our palates with a freshness and flavour that transported us to the Thai countryside even though we were sitting in a small suburb of the Sunshine Coast of Australia’s Queensland.
Well, that’s it! It’s as simple as that, well not quite… My Dad says that a real Thai Red Curry is won or lost by the paste, and making your own, is the key to a truly great Thai Red Curry.
The recipe that my Dad uses to make the red curry paste is an ancient and well-guarded recipe that he learnt on the road from a Thai Chef Sage.
Funnily enough, it appears on eatingthaifood.com so the guy who put this up, must have run into the same Thai Chef. Just kidding, Dad just borrowed this recipe, but it is a good one.
In the instructions, it suggests to use a pestle to grind all the ingredients down, but we have traveled with a Thermomix since May 2010. While not traditional and perhaps not grinding the flavour out of every ingredient, it does the job and fast, chopping and mixing all the ingredients consistently. Also, in this recipe it suggests using dried chilies, but we have used fresh ones in this instance.
Consistency of the paste is important. Whether using the pestle or a food processor, make sure you grind down the dry ingredients first. In the end, you have to combine all of the following ingredients to form the paste.
Red Curry Paste
3 teaspoons white peppercorns
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon coriander powder
8 dry red spur chilies (soaked in water for about 10 minutes to soften them)
½ teaspoon salt
10 – 14 small cloves of garlic
5 small shallots (Thai shallots are the size of grapes, so it’s about 2 tablespoons worth)
1 tablespoon finely sliced lemongrass
1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander roots
1 tablespoon finely sliced galangal
Skin of ½ kaffir lime
½ teaspoon of shrimp paste OR for vegetarians substitute two tablespoons of the brine water you get in a jar of green olives. It is not the same, but has a surprisingly good taste.
Ingredients for the Curry: Serving 4 People.
Coconut Oil: 1 Heaped Tablespoon.
Thai Red Curry Paste: 2 Tablespoons.
Coconut Cream / Milk: 400 ml / 13.5 oz.
Vegetables: Bok-Choi or Pak-Choi, Julienned Carrots, Zucchini or Seasonal Yellow Squash, Broccoli, Eggplant even Red Bell Pepper / Capsicum.
Thai Fish Sauce, OR – If you do not eat animal products, try the brine or the salty water that comes with green olives. It has a surprisingly similar taste. (2 tablespoons or to your preference)
Thai Basil or regular Basil. A good handful of basil to infuse into your curry and some left over to garnish. After the meal, the freshness of the basil garnish serves as a great palate cleanser.
Method: Follow the cooking method in the story or tweak as you see fit so that it works best for you. Happy Cooking!