2.21.10 Curry in a Hurry

Cans 790 xxx
photo by george billard
These are the cans of Maesri Thai curry paste that I have written about before. They save you so much time and you'll sacrifice scarcely anything in terms of flavor or quality. They are free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, and their 15 varieties very faithfully replicate both traditional and more unusual curries, from green to red. (The masaman curry paste, for instance, contains garlic, sugar, soybean oil, dried red chiles, tamarind juice, shallots, salt, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, galangal, cloves, kaffir lime and citric acid.) My friend Andrée recently appealed to me for some advice on the menu for a dinner party she was hostessing for 10 friends, and a delicious masaman curry was my first thought. With sticky rice and a sweet-tart cucumber salad, this dish makes a simple but slightly exotic meal that few can resist. For dessert, I suggested an easy and supremely refreshing combination of fresh pineapple with grated ginger, chopped mint and lime juice.
As the name indicates, masaman curry is of Muslim origin and most commonly made with beef, but this version contains chicken. I doctor it up a bit, adding fish sauce for the requisite Thai funk and a little brown sugar to enhance the sweetness. If you can get your hands on some wild lime leaves (I prefer not to use the derogatory word kaffir), by all means add a few. They impart a wonderful citric note. The cucumber salad—sometimes referred to as a relish—is a typical accompaniment, and the rice is essential for sopping up the rich coconut-based sauce. (My former mother-in-law, a svelte woman of controlled appetites, has been known to stand at the stove after having consumed a full dinner, spooning up any leftover sauce like a starving orphan.)MASAMAN CURRY serves 10I’ve really just modified the instructions on the can a bit; they say that one can of curry feeds 4-5 people, but this may be too spicy for some. Start with 1 ½ cans and you can always stir in more later if you want. 2 tablespoons neutral oil (peanut, grapeseed or canola)2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced2 cans masaman curry paste6 cups coconut milk (unsweetened canned)2 cups chicken stock2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, or a combination1 pound potatoes (I like Yukon gold), peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes2 tablespoons fish sauce2 tablespoons brown sugar2 wild lime leaves, optional (also known as kaffir lime)saltIn a large Le Creuset or soup pot over medium-high heat, stir fry onions in oil until translucent. Add 1 ½ cans of curry paste and 4 cups coconut milk, and stir until well combined and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, remaining 2 cups coconut milk and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime leaves if using and lower heat. Simmer until everything is tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust, adding more curry (you will need to cook this in), more fish sauce, sugar and/or salt as needed.THAI CUCUMBER SALADserves 10 ½ cup fresh lime juice3 tablespoons fish sauce3 tablespoons sugar2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño (about 1 large)2 garlic cloves, finely minced3 English cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced thin½ cup chopped cilantro1 cup coarsely chopped roasted unsalted peanutssalt to tasteWhisk together lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, jalapeño and garlic in a small bowl and set aside. Combine cucumber and cilantro in another bowl. A half hour before serving, toss with dressing. At the last minute, stir in peanuts and season to taste with salt.TO SERVE: Mound some sticky rice on a plate and place the curry on top with plenty of sauce and the cucumber salad on the side. It can all be served on one plate as it’s really best when the cucumber dressing runs into the curry and rice!