Friday, January 25, 2008

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken and Butternut: 'Curry' curry

Here is one of the more popular Thai curries. It sells well, made with chicken, fried tofu, or fish, at our deli, Donderos' Kitchen, in Athens, Georgia. Despite being a staple in Thai dinners, this one is actually the closest to an Indian curry, from which it originated. In fact the curry's name in Thai, kaeng karee (or garee) [gang gah' ree], is derived from the south Indian word 'kari' for curry. Thus 'curry' curry.

Four-ounce cans of "garee" curry paste are available at Asian groceries under the 'Maesri' label. Be sure not to get the sour 'yellow' curry paste, which is for a different dish. While at a place to get Asian groceries, get your canned unsweetened coconut milk ('Chaokoh' brand is reliable, and my Thai sister-in-law uses 'Arroy' brand), plus the fish sauce ('Squid' brand is fine, as is 'Tiparos'). Fish sauce keeps at room temperature after opening. Butternut is the best substitute for the Thai pumpkin, although kabocha squash is also close.

Thai curries scream for good white rice (please save the brown rice for something else). And it should be 'jasmine' rice, or at least a long-grained rice, and cooked without salt. My next blog posting, dated 1/26/08, gives the method for proper rice cooking, which is actually easy.

This recipe, with rice, serves six or more Western style (more than that Thai style, with less curry and more rice), but leftovers are really good. Beer is the best accompaniment, or very dilute unsweetened iced Chinese type tea, or water. Wine doesn't really go well, in my opinion, and I like wine with food.

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken and Pumpkin Tim

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast
1 small butternut (or kabocha) squash, about 1/2 to 3/4 pound
1 (4-ounce) can Thai yellow curry paste (“garee,” not the “yellow sour curry”)
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 (14 to 15-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 can of water
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce, plus to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 sprig (5-6 leaves) basil, Asian type preferred, plus additional for garnish
2 red chili peppers for garnish

Trim away any tough parts and excess fat from chicken. Cut meat across into 1/4-inch or thinner slices. Cut longer pieces in half. Peel the squash. Split it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice crosswise 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces.

In a heavy pan over medium-low heat, gently fry the oil and the curry paste, stirring frequently, about 1-1/2 minutes. Add several tablespoons of coconut milk, and stir to combine well. When bubbling, add another four or five tablespoons of coconut milk, and stir until bubbling again. Add more coconut milk, part at a time, gradually increasing the amount added, and raising the heat, until all is used. Finally, add the water, half a can at a time, heating to a simmer after each addition.

When simmering, add the squash. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until just tender to the bite (about 5 minutes). Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce, the sugar, plus the chicken. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes if using breast, 4 minutes for thigh (the chicken cooks very quickly). Taste the sauce, and if not salted enough add more fish sauce or salt. Add a little water if the sauce is very thick. (It should have the consistency of heavy cream.) Remove from the heat and let it sit 5 minutes, covered. Taste the sauce again, and add enough salt to make it very slightly salty (the meat and vegetable soak more up). If the sauce is not mildly sweet, add a little more sugar (Thai curries are usually somewhat sweet). Add 5 to 6 basil leaves, and stir them in.

The curry can be cooled and stored (the flavor improves by aging a little, at least half an hour). Reheat quickly (can microwave in covered dish), so as not to over-cook. Taste the sauce and add fish sauce or salt if not salted enough.

Serve with unsalted steamed rice, Thai jasmine type preferred. (Recipe for cooking Thai rice is posted on my blog just after this recipe.) Place curry in a serving bowl and garnish with more basil leaves and red chili, thinly sliced on an angle.

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