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Jul 31, 2008 03:34 AM

Help me learn the concept of home-made curry please...

I haven't been too successful making curry from scratch, and it's a bit sad considering I have some great spices at home. I tried to make pork butt curry. Feeling smug, I ditched the traditional ways and just threw in my pork butt, spices, and coconut milk in a pot to braise for a couple hours. Using French technique to make curry, how genius is that!?! But what I ended up with a yucky mess. My milky sauce (used coconut milk) became a clear-ish stock, with all the proteins having coagulated and clarified my curry sauce. I had to revert to my typical store-bought curry paste to salvage my dish. So sad... So let's learn the basics of curry!

1) You have to make a curry paste first, right? Typical onions garlic ginger, roasted spices, some water for consistency, and then blend.

2) If using tough cuts of meat like short ribs or pork butt, it'd be best to slow cook it 1st and then add it to the sauce right? Because curry isn't meant to be simmered for hours and hours to cook the short ribs. The proteins in the curry will coagulate and cause the sauce to separate

Any other good Curry hints/tidbits?

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  1. I'm no expert, but you generally need to fry the spices first, to remove the "raw" taste and give a depth of flavour, before adding any other ingredients. There's no reason why you can't slow-cook tough joints of meat in a curry sauce, afaik - not sure about short ribs, but some lamb curries have a long cooking time.

    I'd recommend investing in a book. Maddur Jaffrey does some good ones, and her recipes are straightforward but authentic.

    1. It sounds like you were attempting to make a Thai curry. In that case, purchasing the paste is not cheating unless you have galangal, bird's eye chilies and shrimp paste lying around. If you buy a good brand, one that Thai cooks would use, you'll be fine. At its most simple, you need only chop the meat into small pieces, boil the coconut milk, add the curry paste, cook the meat, add vegetables and serve.

      If, however, you are making an Indian style curry, preparations differ depending on the curry .Typically you will fry onions and ginger-garlic paste until golden. Then in a section you will fry the spices and combine. Then you add your browned meat (in the case of larger or tougher meats), water (coconut milk in some recipes), and cook until tender, adding more liquid as needed. Over the cooking time, the onions will break down and thicken the cooking liquid, so occasionally stir and scrape the bottom of the pot. Simple as that.

      1. Yes, to make a good Thai curry, you start with paste and add it to simmering coconut milk and chicken stock.

        The paste isn't really all that difficult, but you should use both a mortar and pestle to grind the freshly toasted spices (toasting is pretty important to the flavor) and then use a food processor to actually make the paste. It also helps to have an extra little coffee grinder to grind your cumin and coriander seeds before you combine it with the softer ingredients like shallots, garlic, kemongrass, galangal/ginger (when it's called for) in the mortar and pestle. Basically, what you're doing with the mortar and pestle is breaking down the shallots, garlic and galangal into a "prepaste" by crushing it and mashing it with the dry spices.

        It usually only takes about 20 minutes total (and a little elbow grease with the mortar and pestle). You can probably find some good paste recipes on the net. I use the recipes from the great book, "True Thai" by Victor Sodsook. The only possibly hard to find ingredients are shrimp paste and galangal. Look in your local international market for the former - the latter can be hard to find and, if so, you can substitute freshly grated ginger without too much harm (galangal is basically Thai ginger and it's also called "Kha"). You can also substitute Japanese chiles for Thai Bird's Eye chiles.

        The paste will keep in the 'fridge for a week or two as long as it's in an airtight container (some say that you can keep it for a month, but I've never found that to be the case) and you can freeze it for about 4 months..

        When you assemble the coconut broth, you'll also need some fish sauce for seasoning. You'll need lemongrass to get the true flavor of Thai curry.

        Pork butt really needs hours to tenderize. When I smoke it, a 6 lb piece takes around 12 hours. You really need a long slow cook at around 250 degrees to break down all of the connective tissues and fat. Think of Memphis BBQ. When you pull it, it almost melts. Any quicker cooking and you run the risk of it being tough. If you want a shorter time, use boneless country style ribs. You can actually slow cook them in about 4 hours or less.

        I don't think pork is all that common in a Thai curry. However, if I were to do one, I'd probably use pork tenderloin and just slice it into stir fry size pieces and stir fry them quickly, leaving them a little undercooked (probably no more than about a minute in a hot wok). Then I'd add it to the curry broth and finish cooking it that way.

        Just my two cents...hope this helps...

        Oh yeah, the only water you want to use to cut the paste when it's in the food processor is the water you used to soak the dried chiles.

        And finally, remember that there are quite a few different types of curry paste other than just red or green. some are very mild and some are quite spicy.

        1. "Feeling smug, I ditched the traditional ways...."

          well, phan, i have to ask an obvious question: if you know the traditional ways, and they work, why aren't you using them now?

          3 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            My (Thai) wife and I lived in Bangkok for 12 years and I can say that I never, ever saw a Thai cook use a blender or a food processor to make their curry. The curry paste is made solely in a granite mortar and pestle. And, as others have noted above, the dry spices (corriander seed, cinnamon, cumin seed, pepper corns whatever,) are first quickly dry fried in a cast iron pan.

            P.S. One of the maids we had in T'land made a superb duck curry so one day
            I planted myself on a stool in the kitchen and made notes as she prepared it. I could give you that recipe if you'd like it.

              1. re: shir

                Roast Duck Curry (authentic Thai recipe)

                1 Tbspn coriander seed
                1/4 tsp black peppercorns
                1 tsp fennel seeds
                1 1/2 Tbspn chopped lemon grass
                3/4 Tbspn galangal (khaa) (dried or fresh) chopped
                skin of 1 kaffir lime, chopped
                6 Thai "bird peppers" (hot!)
                6 larger dried red peppers (mild)
                1 1/2 Tbspn shallots, chopped
                2 cloves garlic, chopped
                1 tsp shrimp paste (kapi)

                Dry fry the coriander, peppercorns and fennel seeds for 2-3 minutes and then crush with a mortar and pestle. Put the dried peppers in water, break into halves, discard the seeds, drain and pound in the mortar. Add the lemon grass, galangal, lime and shrimp paste and pound to a paste. Last, add the shallots and garlic and pound until a uniform paste is obtained. Set aside.

                1 14-oz can coconut milk
                1 Tbspn fish sauce (nam plaa)
                1 tsp sugar
                cooked meat of 1/2 duck in small pieces
                6 cherry tomatoes, halved
                4 kaffir lime leaves (bai magrut), shredded
                2 large fresh hot peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise into thirds

                Pour 5 Tbspns of the coconut milk into a hot wok and stir for 30 seconds, then add the curry paste and mix in well. Stir in the fish sauce and then the sugar. Add the remaining coconut milk and bring to a boil and watch for when the oil starts to separate out of the milk (8-10 mins). When this happens add the duck meat and reduce heat to a simmer. Then add the tomatoes and lime leaf shreds. Cook about a minute and lastly add the hot peppers. Cook 1 additional minute and then serve.

          2. You are talking Thai? One thing you might consider trying is not to shake the can of coconut milk, spoon off the thick stuff and heat it. Then put the curry paste (red, green, panang, etc.) in it for a bit. Then go on with the deal, say adding your meat of choice, seasoning with palm sugar, adding fish sauce, etc. Add the rest of the coconut milk. I've never done it with anything but a quick-cooking protein. Nothing tough. Maybe add some torn lime leaves or slivered fresh chiles. Check at the end for salt and add more fish sauce if needed. Be sure to toss in some veggies at the appropriate time relative to the meat. That Thai basil that is like licorice is always yummy, but don't cook it. Toss it in at the end.

            I just use whatever I have on hand when I make this stuff. There is probably a more complicated way to do this, but the simple way is delicious.

            Maybe simmer the tough beef in stock first, until tender and then add to main pot?

            3 Replies
            1. re: saltwater

              I tend to agree with saltwater on this one - the bhuning of curry paste is a pretty essential key. You cook the paste in oil until the oil separates back out, THEN add coconut milk. Adding paste to boiling coconut milk is not how I'd do it, or how I would recommend it to anyone. I will rarely, if ever, let coconut milk come to a full boil.

              1. re: gordeaux

                Even with Thai curry paste? I fry the paste as a matter of habit, having learned to always toast my spices before adding anything else, but the instructions on the side of my can of paste don't have any advice on the matter.

                1. re: JungMann

                  Actually, ESPECIALLY with canned curry paste. Cooking this tends to remove the canned type flavor. (IMO)