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April 26, 2007

Curry pastes (Recipe: green chicken curry with eggplant)

Currypastes

The perfect Perfect Pantry would be as large as an airplane hangar, as beautiful as the food halls at Harrod's, and as well-stocked as my favorite book store.

It would have an aisle for chocolate, a wing for noodles, an enormous spice rack five feet tall, and a freezer filled with enough sugar-free ice pops (my shameful addiction) to last for months.

And, it would have an entire section just for Asian condiments — especially curry paste.

Unlike Indian curry powder, aromatic Thai curry paste combines dry spices with "wet", or fresh, ingredients like chile peppers, fish sauce, shrimp paste, herbs, garlic, shallots and lemongrass. Mixed with a bit of coconut milk, it's an almost-instant sauce base, making it one of the world's best convenience foods.

Curry paste is classified by color, ranging from deep red to yellow-orange to deep green, and often by the type of food with which it's traditionally used. The best and most enjoyable way to figure out which curry pastes you like is to taste your way through a few meals at a Thai restaurant. There you'll discover:

  • Red curry paste, medium-hot, the most versatile, used with chicken, duck, beef, pork, shrimp and fish, and noodle curries.
  • Green curry paste, the hottest, used in coconut sauces with beef, pork or chicken.
  • Panang curry paste, medium-hot, smooth and mellow, popular in Thailand and Malaysia. Sometimes has crushed peanuts in it, so be sure to read the label. Most often used with beef, but also with seafood.
  • Massaman, the mildest, named after the Muslim people of south Thailand and Malaysia. Very fragrant, with cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, used to make stew-like curries with beef, potatoes or egg noodles.
  • Yellow curry paste, mild-medium, used with beef, chicken, potatoes and onions.
  • Nam prik khing, mild, used in dry curries with long beans, pork, fish or chicken.

All of these curry pastes really sparkle in vegetarian dishes, especially with tofu, which absorbs and radiates the flavor of anything around it.

In my less-than-perfect pantry I keep jars of red and green curry paste, but that's just the tip of the flavorful iceberg. Temple of Thai, one of the best purveyors of authentic Thai food and cookware, sells no less than 18 different curry pastes. That's enough variety to try some new recipes for soup, noodles, chicken, shrimp, salmon or veggies.

Of course you can make your own curry paste fresh as you need it, if you don't happen to have a whole aisle in your own pantry for the storebought stuff.

Green chicken curry with eggplant

Another wonderful and simple recipe from Sandeep Chatterjee's The Spice Trail: One Hundred Hot Dishes from India to Indonesia. Note: if you cannot find coconut cream, let a can of coconut milk sit undisturbed for several hours, to allow the watery liquid to separate from the thicker milk. Pour off the liquid, and use the thick part of the milk in place of cream. Serves 4.

Ingredients

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
4 Tbsp coconut cream
3 Tbsp green curry paste
1/2 cup Thai eggplant or fresh green peas
2 Tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Kosher salt, to taste
2-1/2 cups coconut milk
A few Kaffir lime leaves, torn (or a bit of lime zest)
A few sweet basil leaves

Directions

Cut each chicken thigh into four pieces. Heat the coconut cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until the oil starts to separate from the cream. Add the green curry paste and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken. Cook, stirring, 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is well coated with the paste and is about half cooked. Add the eggplant or peas, fish sauce, sugar and salt. Cook, still stirring, 5-7 minutes. Add the coconut milk, reduce the heat to low, and stir 8-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Adjust seasoning with more salt, if necessary. Add lime and basil leaves. Serve over hot rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Yes a wing just for curries! Thank you for the information on the differences. I love them too.

I have passed by that book store a hundred times and have never gone in. I will be in Needham in May and will absolutely schedule a visit. Thanks!

well, your pantry sounds like it´s as big as all that. But if it really was, then we´d e
never have to go food shopping, and that would be a bore.

These are essential in my pantry! It is good for quick and easy meal when I am not in the mood for making my own paste. I love green chicken curry. I normally use two types of pea eggplants if I can find it at the market. Very delicious!

A fabulous sounding pantry you have there. I must say, though, I may be the only person on the planet undazzled by Thai cuisine. For Asian food, I find well made Chinese food far more complex, varied and interesting. And for jars of curry sauces, there's nothing like an Indian grocery store to me.

I have always aspired to a well-stocked pantry, but mine pails in comparison to yours, Lydia. Funny thing though, I think of you when I buy new jars of this and that.

I would love to have the perfect pantry and filled with wonderful things-like your curries! i can see how handy that would be... Cheers...

I would set up my little tent in your pantry and eat through your ice pops while browsing the aisles. Yet another brilliant product. I need to have both red and green as there are times when I need to get a curry "fix!" Tis recipe sound great too Lydia.

curry paste is a great thing to have on hand for sure! i don't know if i've ever seen the Massaman paste- it sounds great

Thank you, now I know which one to try first! (My wife has a reaction to very spicy food, so knowing which is mildest is a very good thing!)

I use Indian curry powder often, most often with chicken and pork, and I've been wanting to try some of the Asian varieties...

Mmmm, I'm drooling just thinking about it

What a wonderful and informative post, Lydia! I actually just bought my first-ever can of thai curry paste...but next time, I'm going to look for the "Temple of Thai" brand.

Callipygia, of course I'm talking about my fantasy perfect pantry -- there would probably be an entire wing for licorice and grapes and Fresca....

Ronnie, New England Mobile Book Fair is the home of Jessica's Biscuit, the cookbook specialty vendor -- they have a huge inventory -- you will get lost there and love it.

Ximena, if my pantry were really that large, I'd lose everything, I'm afraid!

Anh, I wish we had the great variety of produce here that you have. We do get Japanese eggplant and, in the summer, white ones, but usually just one type. I'm learning more about curry pastes and loving them.

Terry, nothing compares with good Chinese food -- I am addicted, I admit. But I find Thai food to be much lighter, generally, and I do love the complexity of flavors.

Mimi, thank you. I love that you think of The Perfect Pantry when you add things to your own pantry. I'm looking forward to learning about new treats you bring back from France.

Jann, don't tell anyone, but sometimes I confess that I'm embarrassed at how much stuff is in my pantry....but then I'm always adding more!!

Meeta, I will always make room for you, so pack your tent and come on over!

Connie, the massaman is available at larger Asian markets like 88 Supermarket.

Jerry, I'm glad this list is helpful. Some of the Thai curries are very, very hot, but most are just very, very flavorful. I find the Thai curry pastes and Indian curries very different.

Nupur, Temple of Thai has been a reliable online source. I find this Amoy brand in my Asian grocery store.

Lydia, coconut curries are at the top of my list of foods when I crave big, exotic flavors.
Thanks for the recipe.

I don't think I've ever seen coconut cream - can you buy it in a can just like regular coconut milk?

Karen, I have seen coconut cream occasionally in the Asian grocery, but most often I just use the separated coconut milk from the can. Seems to work quite well.

This was a really informative post! There are so many types of curries out there I never really knew the difference. I love thai red curry, now I definitely need to go out and buy a jar.

Thanks for the Temple of Thai tip. As well stocked as some of the metro supermarkets are, I haven't been able to find the sticky rices. Your curry rundown is invaluable, too.

It's true. Big always sounds good but isn't always better. If it were so big would everything still be fresh and how many items would get lost behind others.
Curry sounds so good.

Amy, thanks! Red is my favorite, but I think you'll have fun experimenting with some of the other Thai curries.

Susan, I'm amazed at how good some of the online sources can be for finding ingredients that used to be impossible to get.

Tanna, even my not-so-big pantry hides things on the back of the shelves. I fantasize about having the airplane hangar, but really, I don't think I could handle it!

I have a question regarding storing opened curry paste. I bought a great red curry paste that came in a can rather than a jar. I used a couple tablespoons and put the remaining paste in a plastic container in the fridge. How long will the opened paste keep store this way?

Daisy, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Your curry pasta should keep for several weeks in the fridge.

Oh, I so agree with you about curry pastes. There is such a wealth of them out there, and they are (of course!) my own personal secret for jazzing up almost any dish, even tofu. Great stuff.

Cheers!

AV, tofu is just like a sponge that soaks up everything around it -- which makes it perfect with curry paste! I love the really hot versions, but they are all so complex and flavorful.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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