Guest post – Thai Prawn Curry

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Hello from beautiful South Africa! I have finally arrived to join my family here in Johannesburg – and not a moment too soon. My journey involved a bus to New York and a night in my friend’s very plush apartment, the subway to JFK and a 14hr flight from JFK to Johannesburg. I arrived on my birthday, and spent most of it asleep!! But it’s wonderful to be here.

I’m taking full advantage of my mum’s wonderful cooking, and so I’m not in the kitchen as much as normal – I am hoping to share with you some South African recipes later in my trip, but for now, I thought I’d share a wonderful guest post my friend Ben wrote. I met Ben just over five years ago when we both worked at the Royal College of Music in London. Ben’s a sound engineer, and worked in the College’s studio, along with Avgoustos, Stevie and Seb. Stevie and Seb both joined the staff at the College about the same time as I did, so we all ended up doing our induction sessions together – the sessions were held in the studio, and Seb famously made me a cup of tea when I arrived very hungover for one of the sessions, so I am devoted to him for life. The studio boys became my partners in crime during my time working at the College – a time I think of very fondly. We would go for lunch most weeks, usually on a Wednesday, to the nearby Imperial College bar for what became known as Beer Wednesday – clue’s in the name there. They kept me entertained at work with silly emails – including, famously, a photo of their pants.

Ben is also living the expat dream – in Amsterdam with his lovely wife Jenny. We keep in touch via facebook and email, and let each other know what recipes we’ve tried recently! Here is his recipe for Prawn Thai Curry, with a lot of helpful tips from Ben which he’s figured out along the way. I can’t wait to make it!

I’ve know Sarah for some time but I had no idea we both shared a love of cooking to the extent that we do. If I’d known we both had this passion I’m sure we would have ventured out together more on the hunt for exciting bites than we did before we both left the UK.

Like so many aspiring foodies I’m a food obsessive. I decide I want to master a particular dish and I don’t move on until I’ve achieved this goal. Recently that’s been sourdough breads, salt-caramel ice cream and flavoured foams but the one I want to discuss today is the Thai Curry. I spent my honeymoon in Thailand and completely fell in love with the cuisine. Beautifully simple and elegant, Thai food takes great tasting ingredients and combines them in a way that just work harmoniously, balancing sweet, sour, spicy and salty into something explosive.

The last time Sarah and I ate together was at Kaosarn in Brixton, London. Brixton market was not only very close to where we lived but had also been heralded as the new food-mecca in London by the british press. Kaosarn was a new Thai restaurant in the market that was causing a few waves. I don’t think I discussed it with Sarah over dinner but during that time I was on the hunt to find the best Thai curry in London. I was fed up of ‘westernised versions’ that just didn’t taste as good as the real thing I remembered eating.

Kaosarn was indeed something to talk about and I would tell anyone traveling to London who likes Thai food to go there, however… there was something about sitting outside what is effectively a cafe in February, covered in blankets provided by the restaurant, that just didn’t bring that feeling or the smells of Thailand back.

Obviously I wasn’t going to match being in Thailand but but i decided that I’d do away with restaurants on this one and match the taste of a great Thai curry at home. I began doing some research and came across David Thompson as many who have an interest in Thai cooking will have done. His book Thai Food really is the bible on Thai cookery and I have never made anything Thai since without referring to this book. Gone are the ‘cheats’ that I found from websites and famous british chefs. You know the ones, substituting ginger for galangal, limes for kaffir limes, fresh chilli for dried long Thai ones etc etc etc. All these things had never produced the authentic result. The following recipe is adapted from that book but to my own taste along with a quick side I thought I’d share as you cannot have a true Thai meal without there being a few dishes.

Prawn Thai Curry
Serves 4

Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food

For the Curry:

  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 200g Prawns
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • a little red chili
  • 1 tbs coriander leaves

For the Curry Paste:

  • 6 dried long chillies, deseeded, soaked and drained
  • large pinch salt
  • 1 tbs galangal (10 slices)
  • 4 tbs lemongrass (1 big stalk)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped garlic (8 cloves)
  • 3 tbs sliced red shallot (6 small shallots)
  • 1 tbs scraped and chopped coriander root
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp gapi

Sticky Rice:

  • 300g sticky rice (soaked overnight)

Stir Fried Samphire:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g samphire
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • a little oyster sauce

Before beginning the recipe it’s worth noting a few things about the ingredients:

  • Galangal looks a bit like ginger but tastes completely different. Essential in the curry paste and can be bought in most supermarkets now.
  • Coriander root is another one of those things that get substituted with coriander leaf. This is one of the ingredients I’ve come to realise is the most important within the paste and cannot be missed out not only because if you use the leaf you’ll only ever get a green curry. I have only found this in Asian supermarkets but it’s worth hunting down along with Kaffir limes and their leaves. (SP note: to any readers in Boston, I have seen coriander (cilantro) with the root attached in Market Basket. They also stock galangal).

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The recipe is only really a guide, nothing is set in stone here so just keep tasting and tasting until the balance between the flavours is what you’re after.

Recipe:
The paste is the most important part of a Thai curry so it’s worth taking the time to get this right. The end result should be pureed as finely as possible and smell mellow and rounded as opposed to each individual ingredient coming through. With a view to cooking this curry for friends I have previously made the paste in advance and kept it in the freezer. DO NOT DO THIS! As I discovered the re-thawing process creates an undesired bitter aspect to the curry and completely changes its flavour for the worse.

Traditionally the paste is made by gradually adding the ingredients to a pestle and mortar starting with the hardest. This is the way I would always do the paste if I have time as compared to a food processor as you get much more of a flavour and smell coming from the paste. If you are going to process the paste add a little water to help it along. Similarly if you have time, make the coconut cream yourself from a fresh coconut as the end result is far superior to the canned, blocked or any other form of coconut cream you can buy.

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Ok, first add the coconut cream to the pan over medium heat and then the paste, stir regularly and fry for 5mins until fragrant. Season with the fish sauce and palm sugar. Add coconut milk and simmer until reduced and separated. Add the prawns and half the lime leaves and continue to simmer until the prawns are just cooked. The curry should be salty, a little hot and smell absolutely amazing! Serve with remaining lime leaves, red chilli and coriander.

Pile the rice into a steamer evenly spread, place over boiling water and cook for about 30 minutes, check the rice and if tender in the middle it is ready to serve.

For the samphire pound the garlic and salt together and add it to a hot wok along with the samphire. Stir fry for 3-4 mins until tender then add the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar and simmer for another minute. Serve with sprinkled white pepper. This also works well with asparagus or sugar snap peas etc.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the final meal, but I was serving friends and they ate it all before I could get the camera out. Bowl up each dish and allow your guests to take bits of everything, there’s something very social about eating like this and it was always the way in which I ate food while in Thailand. I didn’t detail it here but a great sweet that I loved while in Thailand was Coconut Rice & Mango and a perfect
end to this meal. Here is David Thompson’s recipe; http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/thai-sticky-rice-mango.aspx

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Melting Moments

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So, exciting news here in the Orange Kitchen. This week, we are cat-sitting for our friend Ari. This is amazingly exciting – I love cats, and I really miss having my own, but it’s just not practical at the moment. So this has been a real treat for us – Lyle is hilarious, he keeps me in stitches. He’s a great mix of silly and snuggly, and I have loved watching him charge up and down the flat like a mad thing, in pursuit of a bottle-top. Although, note to self – remember to shut the bathroom door when showering, unless you want to be attacked through the shower curtain mid-shower.

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In between Noel coming back from two and a half weeks in Japan & China and very important cat care, I haven’t done a whole lot of cooking lately – and I completely failed to go shopping yesterday because I was playing with the cat. So here’s a quick and easy recipe which I loved making when I was younger.

When I was nine, my parents moved from the UK to live in Germany, and I went to boarding school. My school was near where my mum’s parents lived, and I spent many weekends with them, at first on my own and later with my sister who joined me at school when she was old enough. Our weekends were the most wonderful times – we would watch classic Saturday night TV: Blind Date and Gladiators, and we used to do a lot of baking with grandma, making treats to take back to school. She had a very old copy of The Cranks Recipe Book, which had a recipe for Melting Moments – a very simple, but delicious biscuit.

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I’m not really a baker – I find the precision needed frustrating. One of the things I love about cooking is experimenting and adapting recipes and ideas – as I’ve become a more experienced cook, I’ve started to have the confidence to trust my own judgement and know when to add things, what I can substitute, what I can manage without. The exception, for me, is baking. This coupled with the fact that I don’t really have a sweet tooth means I don’t tend to bake that much.

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There are exceptions – and this recipe is one of them! I hope you enjoy – they really take just, erm, moments to prepare (sorry…), which is great if you have a cat which is happy to entertain itself with a ping-pong ball while you’re not doing anything, but needs to play with you and only you when you’re busy! And they’re very moreish. The only change I’ve made to the original recipe is that I’ve always used white flour rather than wholemeal, as that’s what I tend to have in the house, and I used caster sugar instead of raw brown sugar.

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Melting Moments
Slightly adapted from The Cranks Recipe Book

Makes 12-14 biscuits

  • 150/5oz butter or margarine – if using butter, take out of the fridge a bit in advance to soften a little.
  • 75g/30z sugar (I used caster sugar
  • 15ml / 1tbsp beaten egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (I used extract)
  • 100g/4oz self-raising flour
  • 25g/10 oz porridge oats
  • Extra oats to coat (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Grease a baking sheet. Begin by creaming together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla essence. Add the flour and oats and bring the batter together – I used a combination of a wooden spoon and my hands!

Form the mix into walnut-sized balls, and arrange well apart on the baking sheet. Flatten slightly, and sprinkle with oats, if using.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely – they will be very soft when they come out of the oven but will harden as they cool.

Date night – Oxtail ragu

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Though I find it almost impossible to believe, this weekend just past marks four months since I arrived in Boston. Tempting though it is to break out all kinds of clichés – how time flies, etc – what I am most struck by is how right it feels to be here. Of course, it hasn’t all been easy – I’m now approaching my fifth month of unemployment, and even though it was my choice and if I had to make it again I would do exactly the same thing, it’s not always easy. That, and the fact that we have awoken today to yet more snow…  This, after a few days of milder weather – yesterday, for the first time in months, I went out in my normal English winter coat, rather than my extremely unflattering but very warm skiing jacket, convinced that spring might just be on the way. Who am I kidding?

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My move to Boston has been monumental in several ways. I touched on work above – and this has been a massive change. For the past five years, one of the things which has defined me is my career – both in as much as having a salary has allowed me to do the things I love outside work, and in that I absolutely love what I do, and am very proud of my work. Moving from working full time to not working at all is a huge shift, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.

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The move has also been a big change for me and Noel – our home in Boston is our first home together. I’ve learned a lot about our relationship and some alarming things about myself – for instance, it turns out I am incredibly picky about toothpaste, and the fact that Noel is unable to remember to put the cap back on turns me into a shrieking banshee of a woman. (Seriously, though, dried toothpaste is so gross). But there are positives as well. One of the things we have been trying to do since we got here is take each other on dates each month – the deal is that whoever is organising the date has to plan everything; it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but it has to be just the two of us (ie, not with Noel’s students…). For our first date, Noel took me to the Museum of Fine Art to see the Mario Testino exhibits, which was wonderful. My first date was equally cultural – a night drinking free beer at the Harpoon Brewery. Ahem.

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For February, I decided to base our date around a film I’ve been trying to get Noel to watch for years – La vita e bella (Life is Beautiful). It’s one of my favourite films, but every time I’ve suggested watching it, Noel hasn’t been keen. I’ve heard all the excuses: from the ridiculous – ‘It’s in Italian, I’m too tired to read the subtitles’ – to the downright mean (and untrue…) – ‘your film choices are always rubbish’. But, seeing as I was organising the date, I got to choose…!

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To go with this (perhaps to sweeten the pill a little?!), I cooked one of Noel’s favourites – oxtail ragu. That’s right, nothing says ‘I love you’ like oxtail. I’ve already waxed lyrical about slow cooking, and this is another great example. The recipe is essentially a basic ragu bolognese recipe, but substitutes oxtail for minced beef, and is cooked very slowly. The results are great – the meat is incredibly tender and flavourful – and as with so many slow-cooked dishes, it tastes as though it is much more complicated than it is. If you can’t get oxtail, or are not keen on it, you can substitute with beef shortribs, beef shin, or stewing steak. If you’re using meat without a bone in, you can reduce the cooking time to more like three hours. You can cook this either on the stove top throughout, or in a low oven.

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Oxtail is a relatively new discovery for me – but a very happy one. I confess, I was only really aware of it because my grandma used to have these bowls when I was a child, and frankly I found the whole  idea a bit off-putting. A few years ago, though, my dad had an oxtail stew for dinner when we were in South Africa, and I was blown away by how tender and delicious it was. I resolved to try cooking with it, and this recipe is the result. The key with oxtail is very long, slow cooking – this is true of many cheaper cuts of meat, but all the more so with oxtail which is full of gelatinous connective tissue, which breaks down to make the finished dish rich and unctuous, but which is unappetising if not fully rendered. It is also a fatty cut, so I would encourage you to make this in advance, if you can, and allow it to cool so that the rendered fat solidifies and you can very easily remove it from the top of the dish. (If you cannot make it in advance, you can spoon the hot fat off, but it is easier and quicker if the fat has hardened).

Before this, we had scallops wrapped in prosciutto with a lemon-parsley-time dressing, and we finished with tiramisu. We had cheesy ‘Italian’ music playing (think ‘That’s Amore’…), and drank lots of nice wine. And I’m happy to report that Noel is a convert to the film…!

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Oxtailragu 
Serves 4-6

  • Approx. 3.5lbs oxtail
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup diced pancetta / 3 rashers bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, very finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, very finely chopped
  • 1 onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 6 mushrooms, chopped into 1cm dice
  • 3tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 14oz/400g chopped/crushed tomatoes*
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 100ml wine (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 400-600g spaghetti
  • Freshly grated parmesan, to serve.

If you plan to cook the dish in the oven, pre-heat to 150C / 300F. Heat 1/2tbsp of olive oil in a large casserole over a high heat until the oil is hot and glistening. Trim any excess fat from the oxtail, season with salt and pepper, and brown the meat in batches until it is a rich, dark brown on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat a little, and add the pancetta/bacon, and cook until browned. Reduce the heat to low, and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Add the garlic and mushrooms, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, and stir in the tomato puree – cook for a minute or two, and then add the tomatoes, thyme and wine, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, and either move to the oven, or leave on the stove on a very low heat. Cook for 4-5 hours.

If you are preparing the dish in advance, once it has cooked for the required time, you can remove from the oven and allow to cool, and then place in the fridge until needed. When you come to reheat it, remove the solidified fat from on top of the dish, and then remove the oxtail bones. If you are making it and serving it at the same time, once it has finished cooking, spoon the excess fat from the top of the dish and discard. Remove the oxtail bones and allow to cool until cold enough to handle.

You may find that some of the meat has fallen off the bones during cooking – this is fine. Remove any meat still attached to the bones, and shred into small pieces – it should be falling apart by this stage. Return the meat to the pan and discard the bones. Reheat the dish, and cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

* Note on tomatoes – in the UK, I usually use tinned chopped tomatoes. However, over here,  tend to find the juice they are in thin and watery, and have had better results with crushed tomatoes.