So, for the past few weeks I have been enjoying Christmas food. It has all been unimpeachably delectable. It has also been devoid of the particular savour of Thai cuisine: those bold flavours further heightened by searing spice and fresh herbs, that plateful of jasmine rice, spoon in right hand and fork in left… I missed it very suddenly, the ghost of scents and taste drifting in and out of my head, my will diminishing along with any sense of dignity as I browsed Thai recipes, salivating.
Thinking I’d make a basil stir-fry I took myself down to the local Thai supermarket, but they were all out of that herb. Panaeng was next on my list. The more I think about my very first chicken panaeng curry, the more embarrassed I am–such thickly sliced leaves, hardly any oil, and it turned out that vacuum-packed Aroy-D curry paste was not the best for this–I tried it with Mae Ploy curry paste from a tub and coughed in surprise at how spicy it was!
I have done much better since then and am now experimenting with the combinations of things you can bung into a curry. While at the Thai shop, I picked up a pack of pea aubergines as I was eager to try them after hearing they would create an interesting, fresh, crunchy and mildly bitter contrast in this rich coconut-based curry. If you’re in North London, head over to Taste of Siam – they’re selling them fresh for £1 per 50g packet. I haven’t yet tried the brined ones and I doubt I will as long as I can get hold of them fresh, but if they’re any good then let me know. Until then…
PANAENG CURRY WITH PORK AND PEA AUBERGINES
Adapted from Krua Baan Pim (Pim’s Home Kitchen)
Note: This is, to my tongue, a mildly to moderately hot curry depending on how much curry paste you use. I use the full amount and to me this has an enjoyable, mellow heat.
Serves 6 – 8. Keeps for 3 – 4 days refrigerated; can be frozen for several weeks.
1 x 400ml can good coconut milk, unshaken (I only use Chaokoh brand)
75g – 150g ready-made panaeng curry paste (I like Mae Ploy)
About 800g lean pork, cut into thin slices; I’ve used tenderloin previously, here I’ve used pork loin steaks with most of the fat removed cut into thin strips.
Water, as needed
Fish sauce or salt to taste
Palm or coconut sugar to taste (any kind of brown sugar is also fine)
150g fresh pea aubergines
2 – 4 fresh bird’s eye or jalapeno chillies, depending on your heat tolerance, de-seeded and cut into thin strips
10 fresh or defrosted kaffir lime leaves, cut into very thin strips
Handful of fresh sweet basil leaves, Thai or Italian
Open your can of coconut milk and spoon out all of the thick, creamy coconut head from the top of the can into a large saucepan (this will be around 100ml – 200ml). Heat the coconut head over a medium-low heat until smooth and bubbly, then add all of the panaeng curry paste, stirring and scraping to blend everything into a creamy mixture. Cook, patiently stirring, for about 5 minutes until the paste is very fragrant, darkened in colour, and there is red oil seeping out of the paste and mottling the bottom of the pan. If the paste starts getting dry and crispy at the edges before the oil separates, mix in a further few spoonfuls of coconut milk and carry on frying.
Increase the heat to medium-high and all of the pork to the pan, stirring to coat each piece with the paste, cooking until most of the pork is just firm. Pour over the rest of the coconut milk, topping up with water to mostly cover the meat. Lower the heat and let the curry simmer, covered, until the pork is completely cooked and tender (about 10 minutes).
Adjust the consistency of the curry. There should be a moderately thick, just-pourable, spoon-coating sauce; either boil to reduce or add more water until it feels right to you. Taste the sauce: it should be strong, rounded and savoury with a mild sweetness at the edges. Balance any harsh saltiness by adding spoonfuls of sugar. Add fish sauce or salt if the flavours seems flat.
Add the pea aubergines, chillies, and kaffir lime leaves. Stir until just combined, then shut off the heat. Serve with rice.