Our upstairs neighbours were kind enough to drive me down to an Asian market near the Argyle stop here in Chicago, and after seeing row upon row of foreign canned goods transporting me back into my mother’s kitchen, I was compelled to grab a few cans of coconut milk and curry paste. We’re not normally makers of much Thai food, though David has always been enamored with it, so we were eager to try our hand at some Thai curries. I have always been a bigger fan of the taste of panang curry, but D prefers green. Both then for us! D had made green curry once before while in town and had thus acquired a few of the more unusual ingredients, including a jar of makrut leaves (my mother had a plant in her greenhouse from which she could easily procure the leaves; we did not have such a luxury). It was quite a sight, using all the burners, D and I elbow-to-elbow, jostling for position, as we (mostly) patiently watched our respective curries come into fruition.
1 lb chicken thigh meat, sliced
2 cans coconut milk
3 serano peppers, sliced
4 tbsp green curry paste
1 can bamboo shoots
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 cup basil, chopped
4 tsp shredded makrut leaves, jarred
Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan and saute chicken until just cooked. For the coconut milk, separate the cream from the milk and reserve cream. Pour milk into a pot and simmer, stirring continuously to prevent curdling. Transfer chicken into milk and simmer for 10 minutes.
Heat cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until warm. Remove from heat. Pour 3/4 cup into a saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Stir in curry paste. Very gradually, stir in the rest of the cream. Add the chicken, then the milk (in small portions) to the cream mixture. Add sugar, bamboo shoots, and fish sauce. Increase heat and add in makrut leaves, basil and peppers. Bring to a full boil and serve.
The same ingredients as in the green curry above. Except put in panang curry paste instead of green, reduce the coconut milk to one can and omit the bamboo shoots. I also chose to omit the serano peppers (as I can’t take the heat). I prefer white meat, so I used a chicken breast. The procedure is the same as with the green curry.
A few notes on preparation: Presentation is always essential in Thai cooking. So my mother has always impressed upon us the correct method of drawing out the colour in the curry. It arises from not pouring in all the coconut milk at once and waiting for cream to reduce and the oil to separate. The oil most strongly acquires the colour of the curry paste, giving the curry its lovely vibrant sheen.
Thai ingredients are not always the easiest to find, so here are a few possible substitutions: cane sugar is commonly used, but brown sugar can also work. In lieu of bamboo shoots, I’ve been told that sliced eggplant will do the trick. I’m never able to find Thai basil, so we usually end up substituting regular basil. Finally, makrut leaves, taken from kaffir lime plants, may be particularly challenging to find fresh. D amazingly managed to find a jar of shredded makrut leaves, which seem to work just fine.
We were both pleased with our curry accomplishments. D noted that his wasn’t super spicy, and would likely add more curry paste/serrano peppers. He commented that it will likely increase in spiciness as the peppers steep in the curry for the next several days. He noted that it doesn’t taste exactly the same as my mother’s (hers are much better, of course), but we speculate that may be due in part to differences in paste, not using cane sugar or Thai basil, and other such disparities. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed my panang, a lovely pairing of sweetness and spice. It will taste even better re-heated tomorrow!