Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Experimenting with Thai Food

I'm becoming a little bored of all the same flavors and dishes that I've been making recently, so I've been on the lookout to try some new recipes, particularly from ethnic cuisines that I haven't previously attempted.  The other day, I came across Giada making Thai food on Food Network, and it looked quite easy without needing to buy too many ethnic ingredients and condiments that I would never use again, so I decided to give it a shot.  Now, in a separate episode, I also watched Giada cook supposedly Chinese food, which was the most Americanized stereotypical version of Chinese food that I could imagine that you would never find in a real Chinese / Taiwanese household; I mean come on: Orange and Pineapple Beef and Vegetable Chow Mein?  I don't think they even grow oranges and pineapples in China or Taiwan.  In any case, I am no Thai food expert, so I can't vouch for the authenticity of her Thai recipes.  To be on the safe side, I mostly adapted recipes from epicurious.

Last week, I made Thai chicken red curry which was pretty successful (picture and recipe to be posted later), so last night I tried to be even more ambitious and made my own Thai shellfish red curry, which was also quite easy and even more tasty.

To prep, I diced 1/2 a large onion, 1 shallot, 2 red and yellow peppers, 4 roma tomatoes (seeded), 5 cloves of garlic (minced), 1 TB of fresh ginger (minced), 1 cup of cilantro (finely chopped).  I bought a 2.5 lb of mixed shellfish from Costco, including mussels, shrimp, scallops, squid.  It was a nice variety and looked good, even though it was frozen.  I was looking for live mussels that I bought last time, but these were a good substitute and fairly reasonably priced at $12.50 (much cheaper than Whole Foods), plus they clean the seafood for you, peel and devein the shrimp, debeard the mussels and slice the calamari.  I let the shellfish defrost, soaked and scrubbed the mussels in a separate pot and rinsed the rest of the shellfish before cooking.

To cook:
  • Heat up a few TB of olive oil in my Le Creuset 5 quart oval french oven over medium heat
  • Saute the onions and shallots for about 5 minutes until softened
  • Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a minute until fragrant
  • Add the peppers and saute until softened, another 3-4 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes and saute until heated
  • Add 1/3 cup of dry white wine and stir it around for a minute or two
  • Add 1 can of light unsweetened coconut milk, juice from 3 limes and some zest, 2 TB of red curry paste, 2 TB of fish sauce, half of the cilantro, pinch of salt, a tsp of brown sugar, and bring to a simmer for a few minutes
  • Finally, I added the shellfish and stirred until all the shellfish was basically under the broth and simmered until the shellfish was done, about 5 minutes, added a handful of leftover fresh spinach leaves, and then sprinkled the remainder of the cilantro over the pot right before dishing it into large bowls.
I also toasted 1.5 baguettes that I cut in thirds and separated top from bottom, brushed the open faces with olive oil after toasting and rubbed half a clove of garlic on them for some garlic bread to dip in the curry.  I was surprised, the dish was really delicious.  There was a lot of nice heat and spice from the curry paste (almost too spicy) and some warmth from the ginger as well, balanced by the sourness and acidity from the fresh limes and mellow richness from the coconut milk.  I love the combination of spicy, sweet, sour, salty flavors in Thai food, it definitely awakens the palate.  The broth was delicious and packed with flavor and we sopped up every last bit with the bread.  All the fresh vegetables, including the peppers, tomatoes, spinach and cilantro were a really nice balance to the dish, keeping it from being too rich or one-dimensional, and you could faintly taste the subtle onions and garlic in the background.  It was also nice to have a variety of seafood as opposed to say, just mussels.  I overcooked the seafood slightly as I was trying to keep the dish warm before serving (seafood is so fickle), but it all still tasted very good.  It's also a lot healthier than in restaurants since I used light coconut milk, which you can find at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  I'm sure restaurants use regular coconut milk which has over 2x the fat of light coconut milk.  I saw curry paste at both Trader Joes and Whole Foods and fish sauce at Whole Foods, though I used imported sauces from an Indonesian market.  We paired the dish with a 2009 bottle of Crios Torrontes, a nice vibrant and floral white that goes well with spicy Asian food.  Next up: my attempt at Indian food.

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