Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gaeng Heng Lay: Northern Thai Pork Curry

Of Burmese origin, where "hin" means curry, "Gaeng Heng Lay" a popular pork curry in northern Thailand, literally says "lay curry" curry. But then the southern Thai "Gaeng garee," a yellow curry of Indian origin, translates to curry curry. So much for confused etymology and imported words that in Thai become redundant.

Heng lay is made traditionally from "three-layer" pork belly and uses tamarind and palm sugar rather than coconut milk in the sauce. It is a richly delicious dish, even if made with less fatty cuts of pork, such as butt.

This particular recipe was a hit recently with the St. Bartholemew church staff, for whom I've prepared weekly staff meeting lunches for several years.

Heng Lay Curry, Northern Thai Pork Curry

2 large stalks lemon grass thinly sliced
1 tablespoon galangal, chopped
2 hot jalapeno or "finger" chilies, preferably red, including seeds, chopped
1/4 cup or more water to process the above ingredients plus 3 cups for curry
4 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
2 1/4 pounds trimmed pork butt in 1/2-inch wide rectangular strips 2-inches long
2 teaspoons thick black soy sauce
5 large shallots, sliced
1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
Juice made from 4 dry tamarinds and 1/2 cup water mushed together, put through sieve
1 1/4 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Fish sauce to taste

Puree sliced lemon grass, chopped galangal, chilies and just enough water to process in food processor, or pound them well in mortar.

Marinate pork with pureed ingredients plus spices. Let rest at least an hour.

Heat pot, made of enamel or stainless steel. Bring marinated pork plus soy sauce, but no added oil, to fry. Stir frequently and cook until raw color is gone. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add water and simmer, covered but stirring occasionally, until becoming tender.

Add shallots, sugar, tamarind juice, ginger, garlic plus 3 tablespoons fish sauce.

Simmer 10 minutes. Taste and add more fish sauce if salt is needed (or use salt). Add water if sauce not a little soupy. Add sugar or more tamarind juice if not suitably sweet-sour.

Simmer another five minutes. Taste for salt, and add fish sauce or salt if necessary. Remove from the heat.

This is best made ahead and reheated to serve.

Serve with unsalted white rice, preferably Thai jasmine rice.


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