Last spring, my husband and I traveled to Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where he graciously agreed to take a cooking class with me. (Cooking is an entertaining obsession to me, while only a mildly enjoyable chore to him, but they needed two people or the class would have been cancelled.) After our instructor, an unflappable Thai woman who introduced herself as Sugar, walked us through the local market to buy supplies, we returned to the Rainbow Guesthouse for our lesson. This guesthouse overlooks the River Kwai, and the outdoor kitchen squats near the edge of the windswept veranda — a breezy, idyllic setting for learning to make Thai Red Curry.
We had not been in the kitchen three minutes before our instructor passed out bright pink aprons for both of us to wear. Not exactly the pinnacle of manly cooking I had promised, but luckily my husband has a secure inner sense of manliness. That day, we learned three important things about Thai food: it takes less than 10 minutes of stove time to cook almost any dish, the key is in your thin-slicing prep work, and fresh ingredients make a big difference.
Thai Red Chicken Curry
- 1¼ cups coconut milk
- 1/3 cup plus two tablespoons vegetable or chicken broth (the authentic recipe uses water, but homemade broth adds a wonderful complexity to the flavor)
- 1½ tablespoons Thai red curry paste (see international aisle at the supermarket)
- Optional: one or two fresh red chilies, cut lengthwise and seeds removed
- Optional: garlic and ginger. (Curry paste includes garlic and ginger, but if yours lacks zip, add fresh garlic and ginger to taste.)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce (very salty — use with caution)
- ½ teaspoon sugar (I like palm sugar, but any kind is fine.)
- 1 chicken breast, sliced lengthwise, and then into ½ inch slivers
- (If you prefer to use tofu instead of chicken, slice tofu into 1-2 inch sticks and fry on all sides in a tablespoon of canola oil before starting the recipe. Set aside.)
- 2 cups veggies of choice: 1 medium carrot, ½ medium white onion, asparagus, green beans, bamboo shoots, slice bell pepper, pineapple, or cauliflower. All chopped like carrot below. (If you live in the Denver area, try Fooducopia’s Corner Store for home-delivered organic produce!)
- Garnish: more fresh chilies (seeds removed), green tops of a bunch of scallions, 1/4 cup Thai basil or fresh cilantro, all roughly chopped, and a fresh lime, cut into quarters.
1. Chop and prep all ingredients before you start cooking — the cooking goes fast! Make sure you chop everything quite thin, or it won’t cook through. They have these great crinkly knives in Thailand, but a regular chef’s knife is fine too. These days, I even line up and open my chili paste, fish sauce, and sugar before I start, with the appropriate measuring spoons next to them, to prepare for “quick draw” cooking.
2. Place an empty wok (preferred) or medium saucepan over high flame to heat up. Don’t use a skillet — you want some depth or the liquid will cook off too quickly.
3. Meanwhile, pour 2/3 cup of the coconut milk into in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, add the broth, and stir to combine. Set aside.
4. Once your pan is hot, pour the remaining 2/3 cup of coconut milk (the one without broth) into the wok and boil it over high heat.
5. After 1-2 minutes, when it is bubbly and foamy (fresh coconut milk will bubble and froth quite a bit, canned a bit less), add the curry paste and stir vigorously. For additional heat, add fresh red chilies here.
6. After another minute, when it bubbles again, add the fish sauce and sugar, then turn heat down to medium. If using chicken, add it here.
7. When the chicken begins to turn white (but is not yet cooked through), add the vegetables, and the reserved coconut milk/broth mixture, and turn the heat back up to high. Boil vigorously and stir, cooking for three minutes. The milk with bubble and expand again.
8. Turn heat down to low. If using tofu, add here. Taste the dish — too hot? Add more sugar, or a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Not hot enough? Add more diced fresh chili. Needs a little something? Add a tiny dash of fish sauce, or a few grinds of sea salt. Once it is adjusted to taste, turn off the heat.
9. Add your garnish items and stir. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the dish if desired, and serve immediately with rice. Enjoy!