Thai Curry and Other Coconut Curries

I have always found that Thai curry is one of those foods which is never as good when you make it at home as it is when you go out to eat it. This probably stems from the fact that the Thai curry paste available in most shops is nowhere near as good as the stuff that most restaurants use. It’s also taken me a long time to figure out how to get the coloured oil on top of the curry which gives it the authentic look – and in the process, really helps to meld the flavours together.

The coloured oil is formed when the coconut milk is cracked. This is where the coconut oil starts to split out of the rest of the liquid. It happens when the coconut milk is heated and boiled and as the water is driven off, the balance of oil to water is changed so the milk, which was previously an emulsion of oil in water, now has too high a fat content so the coconut oil starts to leak out. Coconut oil is a colourless liquid however it absorbs both colour and flavour from the curry paste which is why it always has a vibrant shade, far more intense than the rest of the curry.

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Cracking coconut milk for red curry. Top left – curry paste by itself. Top right – immediately after the coconut milk is added. Bottom left – the coconut milk has started reducing and the colour is intensifying. Finally the bottom right image is after the coconut milk has begun to crack. You can clearly see the red oil splitting out of the mixture.

It should be noted that not all Thai curries contain coconut milk. A notable exception is Jungle Curry which is water based. This is a direct result of the lack of coconut trees in the northern parts of Thailand where this curry came from. Unsurprisingly, it was the coconut curries which caught on in the western world. Whether that was because they are naturally creamier in texture or because they are less spicy is unknown but red, green, yellow, massaman and panang curries have all become very popular in England. Unlike their coloured counterparts both massaman and panang curry make use of peanuts giving them a distinctive flavour. Panang is very similar to red curry and can be quite spicy whereas massaman curry is very mild. It is very creamy and nutty and generally contains both peanuts and boiled potato. Despite the lack of spice in it, massaman curry is definitely one of my favourite curries.

One of the best things about curry is that you can make it to your personal preferences. You can swap ingredients in and out until you find the perfect combination for you so you never have to eat the same thing twice. In my recipes, I always use onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. These come canned from my local supermarket and are normally in the Asian section. It is also common to add red/green/yellow peppers to their respective coloured curries. I have also seen mange tout added to green curries as well as green beans. The chicken can also be switched out with beef, pork, tofu, quorn or just left out entirely. Prawns are also popular in curry however if you use them, you want to add them to the curry very last minute so they don’t become overcooked so make the rest of the curry first and add the prawns just before serving.

I hope you enjoy the recipes below.

 

Thai Chicken Curry

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large chicken breast

Curry paste

600ml coconut milk

1 large onion

Water chestnuts

Bamboo shoots

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unflavoured oil

Optional:

2 garlic cloves minced/finely chopped

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Chop the onion. I tend to chop it into eight sections by cutting it in half and then quartering both halves.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan.

Add the curry paste and the garlic/ginger if you are using them.

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Fry for a minute or two to let the flavours come out of the paste.

Add 200ml of the coconut milk. Stir until it is combined with the paste and then boil for five to ten minutes, stirring regularly, until the coconut milk splits. You will know this has happened as you will start to see coloured oil appearing on top of the mix. The coconut milk will have reduced down a lot during this time. Once you start seeing the oil appear, you should continue to boil the mix for another minute to ensure it is split properly.

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Add the chicken and fry until it is sealed and opaque on the outside – about five minutes

Add the onion and fry for another minute or two.

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.

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Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.

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Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.

Serve with rice.

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Thai green curry garnished with a little bit of reserved coconut milk.
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Thai red curry garnished with a little fresh chilli and coconut milk.

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry

This curry is a combination of my basic curry from my last curry post but it is elevated to the next level by the addition of coconut milk instead of stock.

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chicken – off the bone

1 medium sweet potato

Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)

1 onion

400ml coconut milk

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped

1 tbsp unflavoured oil

Peel and cube the sweet potato.

Cut the onion into large chunks – like before, I do this into eight pieces.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Place the oil, garlic and spices into a wok and heat until the aroma starts being released.

Add two tablespoons of coconut milk to stop the spices burning.

Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is sealed and opaque on the outside.

Add the onion and sweet potato and continue to cook until the onion starts going translucent. It’s fine if the sweet potato is still hard at this point.

Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir it through.

Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the spinach now. If you use fresh spinach, add it a little at a time and let it wilt down before adding the next batch otherwise it won’t all fit into the pan! If you are using frozen spinach, just add it all in at once.

Once the spinach has mixed in, bring the curry back to boil and simmer for another five minutes.

Serve immediately with rice.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I said before, the brilliance of curries is that you can tailor them to your tastes. By adding extra vegetables and removing others, you can create an almost unlimited amount of different meals to spice up your life.

I hope this has given you some ideas about different meals you can add to your repertoire – the hard work is already done when you buy your own curry paste.

If you want to make a lower fat curry, check out my basic curry recipe. Again, you can add whatever meat and veg you want to it and it is a water based curry so has far less saturated fat in it that coconut based curries. The base recipe I use is also vegan!

If you enjoy baking, you should also try your hand at my Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart. Crumbly shortcrust pastry layered with luscious raspberry caramel and white chocolate mousse, this is not one to be missed and will stun anyone who eats it (providing you don’t finish it yourself!)

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. These things are actually amazing!

H

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Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes have been a staple of my lunches since going to university. They are relatively economical, can be made with pretty much anything you have (including leftovers) and are delicious. You can use them to make a small amount of meat go very far which I have found to be a life saver when you are living off a student loan. They tend to freeze well and are also quite sturdy so once cooked, portions can be cut and put either in boxes or just wrapped in Clingfilm before being put in the freezer as the pasta has enough structural integrity to hold its shape when cool. This meant taking a slice of it in my bag to lectures was a simple task and provided me will a filling lunch during the day.

One of the things I find really interesting about this dish in particular (and to be honest, any dish involving mushrooms) is how they cook. As the fruiting bodies of a fungus, mushrooms hide beneath the soil and once ready to produce spores, they absorb liquid – rain in the wild – and sprout. They can appear out of nowhere overnight but this property is also what leads to them being very easy to burn when cooking. When you first add the mushrooms to an oiled pan, they absorb all the oil up too resulting in basically dry frying them. This can cause them to burn if they aren’t stirred constantly which is a faff if you are trying to get on with another part of the meal. To avoid this, small amounts of water can also be added which again, will be absorbed but if you manage your proportions well, can leave just enough liquid in the pan to prevent burning. Once the mushrooms get to a certain temperature, the heat breaks down the cells holding in the liquid resulting in the mushrooms releasing any water, juice and oil which is contained in them also causing them to shrink which is why the reduce down so much in volume whilst cooking.

The other interesting part of this dish (from a science perspective) is the cornflour. When I was younger, I used to be allowed to play with cornflour as a treat if I was well behaved. Whilst this was a messy, messy endeavour for all involved it did have the benefit of being an introduction to quite a complicated bit of science, the non-Newtonian fluid. As a small child, few things were more exciting than this bizarre mixture that ran through my fingers and I could sink my hand into but if I tried to jerk it out again, the mixture would turn solid and shatter with enough force. Even now as a 21 year old, I find it fascinating! In this recipe, you can only have this fun before the cornflour is added to the sauce as the moment it is mixed in, it thickens up massively giving the sauce a smooth texture.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Chicken Pasta Bake    –     about £1.90 per portion, makes 6 portions

2 Large Onions (or three medium/small)

500g mushrooms roughly chopped

2 chicken breasts – cubed

½ cup of milk (125ml)

Chicken/mushroom stock

4 tbsp of cornflour

Oil

400g pasta shapes – I use spirals normally

Cheese

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Optional

Garlic

Basil/parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Dice up the onions and sautee in a pan with a small amount of oil.

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Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and a small amount of water (I would go for about two tablespoons). This helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. (Should you wish to add garlic, one or two cloves either diced or minced should be added at this point)

Add the chicken and stir until it is sealed (that is to say that the outside of all the chicken has gone white.21104359_1686135108084854_1141188406_o

Add the milk and bring to the boil

Add the stock – if powder, just sprinkle it in and if it is a cube, crumble it up into the mix and stir it through

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Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to create a slurry and add it a bit at a time to the mixture making sure that you stir well after each addition and wait for the sauce to thicken up before you add more. If there is more liquid in the sauce, you will need more of the cornflour but you may not need it all!

Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the basil or parsley at this point

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.

Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour it all into an ovenproof dish pushing any exposed pieces of chicken down below the surface

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Add a layer or grated cheese over the top and place in the oven. Personally I use cheddar for this but you could use any cheese that you like (though I would avoid blue cheese in this scenario as I don’t think it would go with the chicken and mushrooms particularly well!)

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Bake for half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the top layer has gone crispy.

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For a vegetarian alternative, use more mushrooms instead of the chicken! It is still delicious and will reduce the price too.

This can be eaten cold and freezes well.

 

Whether batch cooking for yourself or making dinner for friends, this recipe is wonderful for many occations and is super versatile. You can add or take away ingredients or even change up the sauce completely to keep things fresh. Personally, chicken and mushroom is a favourite of mine so I tend to make this one quite a lot!

Let me know in the comments if you try this one yourself and pop a picture in if you can!

See here for the last recipe in the Cooking From Basics series – a delicious bolognaise sauce – or if you fancy trying your hand at some bread making, why not have a look at my recipe for Artisan Bread from last week.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a super chocolatey recipe that you do not want to miss!!!

H