We were standing in the aisle of my favorite Asian grocery, looking around the foil-wrapped and multicolored cellophane disaster area when I came across a wire bin full of small tubs of curry paste.
Interested, my buddy said, "Hey cool, what kind?"
Not being able to read anything but the importer's mark and the English words "GREEN" and "MILD" placed seemingly at random among the ideograms, I said, appropriately enough, "Mild."
My friend then said the words that were to define this recipe - if it can be called that.
He said, "I don't want MILD, that's tame and weak. In fact I'm gonna say HOT is crap, too. I want there to be curry that isn't meant for soft American palates. I want to find curry that says 'FUCK YOU' on it."
We were, and I still am, in the habit of making a lot of curry because it's delicious, easy, and uses for ingredients whatever is on hand. A chicken breast left over from the bulk pack, a single chuck tender, and a handful of frozen shrimp? Yeah, throw them in. Half a bag of frozen green beans and some baby carrots? In they go! Throw some rice in the rice cooker, throw some stuff in a skillet, and then, like magic, a meal appears.
So, that being said, this is less an exacting recipe and more a set of guidelines. Feel free to experiment, it won't hurt you.
- Mae Ploy curry paste, HOT variety, amount to taste. (MILD and MEDIUM are worthless, even for flavor-averse Americans)
- Fresh basil leaves, fresh green onions, and a star anise or two added in with the curry paste are magnificent
- Dried chiles, to taste.
- Can coconut milk, 14.5oz (400 mL)
- Meat, whatever is laying around. Doesn't matter what it is, or if it's all from the same animal. Ground beef does work, but you end up with less of a curry and more of a Thai-inspired chili con carne.
- Potatoes, Mushrooms, Vegetables - A bag of frozen mixed vegetables is great here.
- Rice, optional
One favorite combo is chicken breast/mushrooms, and another is flank steak/california mixed vegetables. Another favorite combo is "what's in the fridge". The fresh basil and green onions really do make a world of difference, if you have them on hand! The star anise gives it a more Thai flavor.
If you're using a rice cooker, start the rice as you start gathering up the curry ingredients. The curry doesn't take long.
Shake the hell out of the can of coconut milk. This is to break up the huge chunk of solid coconut oil that will have accumulated at the top of the can. Don't worry about it too much, it will melt back into the curry as it heats up and cooks.
Mix 1 cup of the coconut milk with a good-sized heap (or a fun size mountain) of curry paste into a medium skillet, or if you are lucky enough to own one, a wok. You are aiming for what tastes good. For me, that means enough paste that after mixing thoroughly with the coconut milk, the curry is the color of a brown crayon.
Simmer this down until the mixture becomes fairly homogeneous. You'll definitely want any clumps of coconut oil to have melted, and you'll notice that after a few minutes, the coconut oil slick will redissolve back into the rest of it. Go ahead and taste it to see if it's as you want it to be. If it tastes overwhelmingly of coconut, add more curry paste. If it's not spicy enough, crush up some chiles and chuck those in, a little at a time. You'll want to stir the red pepper in and simmer for a bit before tasting and possibly adding more, to ensure an even mixture and avoid adding too much.
While the sauce is cooking down, peel the potatoes up and chunk them into thumb-sized pieces. Throw them in once you're satisfied with the sauce, then cover and let simmer for at least 10-15 minutes before adding the meat.
Now, chuck the meat in. You'll want to cover the pan and let it simmer until the meat is cooked, stirring occasionally. Simmer until the juices from the meat have started to mix in with the rest of the curry. Depending on the type and thickness of the meat, you may want to fish one of the larger pieces out when you think they're done and cut it to make sure. Nothing wrecks a nice meal like raw chicken.
Just as the meat is done, chuck in the vegetables or other greens, like cabbage, that you'll be adding. They won't take long, and this way you can simmer until you get the texture you want, instead of waiting on other things to finish cooking while the veggies suffer.
Serve. Eat. Enjoy.
The leftover coconut milk, and the leftover rice, are half of what you need for a rockin' coconut rice pudding for breakfast tomorrow.
Put the rice in a pot, add the coconut milk, pour milk until level with the rice, crack an egg or two, then stir like mad over medium heat until it thickens.
Add some vanilla extract and/or sugar and/or cinnamon if you want.