Citizens! Happy New Year to all of TFD Nation, with the hopes that 2022 will NOT be “2020, too” and that we can all look forward to a day this year when the pandemic is AT LAST fully behind us all, as a distant, fading nightmare flees before the dawn! In the hopes of experiencing a lively and flavorful year, I have decided to share a most spicy dish indeed from the veritable Asian abode of chile-infused heat – the cuisine of Thailand! This chicken curry with eggplant is a wildly-popular dish in its homeland, and will now join the nearly 20 other Thai recipes gracing the pages of TFD!
Green curry (Thai: แกงเขียวหวาน, RTGS: kaeng khiao wan, literally “sweet-green curry”) is a central Thai variety of curry. The name “green” curry derives from the color of the dish, which comes from green chilies. The “sweet” in the Thai name (wan means ‘sweet’) refers to the particular color green itself and not to the taste of the curry. As this is a Thai curry based on coconut milk and fresh green chilies, the color comes out creamy mild green or, as this color is called in Thai, “sweet green”. This video created by Vice about Thai green curry is extraordinary, well worth watching!
Its ingredients are not exactly fixed. The curry is not necessarily sweeter than other Thai curries but, although the spiciness varies, it tends to be more pungent than the milder red curries. Green curry evolved during the reign of King Rama VI or Rama VII, between the years 1908-1926. Apart from a main protein, traditionally fish, fish balls, or meat, the other ingredients for the dish consist of coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce. Thai eggplant (aubergine), pea aubergine, basil leaves or other green or whitish vegetables and even fruit are often included.
The consistency of its sauce varies with the amount of coconut milk used. Green curry paste is traditionally made by pounding in a mortar green chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro roots (coriander), and cumin seeds, white peppercorns, shrimp paste and salt.
The paste is fried in split coconut cream until the oil is expressed to release the aromas in the paste. Once the curry paste is cooked, more coconut milk and the remaining ingredients are added along with a pinch of palm sugar and fish sauce. Finally, as garnishes, Thai basil, fresh kaffir lime leaves, sliced phrik chi faa (common name means “sky-pointing chilies” which refers to large, more mild chilies such as Cayenne pepper) are often used. For a more robust green curry, such as with seafood, julienned krachai (fingerroot/wild ginger/Chinese keys), white turmeric, and holy basil can be used as garnishes. Green curry is typically eaten with rice as part of a wider range of dishes in a meal.
As further noted in a most erudite article I found on nationalgeographic.com and am excerpting here:
For a dish that’s been thoroughly mangled, green curry has a surprisingly short history. Hanuman Aspler is a Thai food history expert and the founder of Thaifoodmaster, a website and cookery school in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, which attracts both amateurs and professional chefs from all over the world — including Sebby Holmes’ sous chef. He points out that the first Thai cookbooks were written in the early 1890s and mention other curries, but not this one, so it’s likely to have first emerged in the following decades.
“It’s true that there isn’t much information about green curry,” Hanuman says. “The first time we come across it is in a 1926 book by an author with the pen name L Phaehtraarat.” Some Thai curries have a far longer story — massaman curry, for example, is thought to be over 300 years old. Hanuman’s speculative theory is that “Indian culinary codes influenced the aristocracy to try making curry with green chillies,” and points out that because it’s so similar to what we call red curry, it does have older origins.
Chillies first appeared in Thailand in the late 1600s, arriving from South America — via Europe and Africa — with Portuguese traders. The use of white pepper, dried ground cumin and ground coriander in both red and green curries (as well as many other Thai dishes) hints at an Indian influence, too.
Other neighbouring countries also contributed to Thai cuisine; China, for instance, is thought to have introduced the noodles used in pad Thai, while coconut only began appearing in savoury dishes after contact with Persian, Indian and Malay cooks. For centuries, this indigenous ingredient was used only in desserts, while curries were made with water.
As for why green curry emerged when it did, Hanuman suggests it’s down to more than simple chance. The late 1920s and early 1930s were a time of political and social upheaval, when Thailand moved from absolute monarchy to democracy. “It was a time to think outside the box,” he says. “And green does suggest regeneration and new growth.”
Beyond its homeland, Thai cuisine has boomed in recent decades. The UK’s first Thai restaurant, Bangkok on Bute Street, opened in Kensington, London, in 1967; today, the nation is home to approximately 2,000 Thai-owned restaurants. In June 2019, Pot Noodle launched a green curry variant — a sure sign Thai food is now a staple on these shores. Yet, how did it become so popular?
The answer perhaps lies in a very clever piece of soft power: since the 1990s, at least, Thailand’s government has been supporting overseas Thai restaurant businesses by training chefs and restaurant owners, and helping to open up foreign markets for products such as fish sauce. The model has been so successful that other countries, including South Korea, Peru and Malaysia, have adopted it, with similar success. If that means more — and better — green curry for the rest of us, that’s surely no bad thing.
Today, this dish is one of the most beloved Thai dishes in its homeland, and justifiably so – this dish is a true gastronomic taste explosion of spice, heat, umami, vegetal and so much more as it evolves into a symphony of palatal tonalities and nuanced notes of pure flavor! As one should logically expect from the Autarch of Authenticity, the Sultan of Spice – YOUR TFD! – this is as ruthlessly authentic a recipe as you’ll find outside of a Thai cooking school.
First off – the question of whole chicken vs. parts – a Thai grandmother would ONLY use a whole chicken, broken down into 12 distinct cuts, Asian-style. Should you decide to go this route, I salute your challenging spirit! Be advised that even many restaurants in Thailand have evolved the dish to use breast or thigh meat alone (TFD enjoys both versions, though I have a slight preference for breast or thigh alone). Please – only use an organic, free-range bird for this dish, regardless of whether it’s whole or parts – the flavor difference is real!
The original Thai recipe for the green curry paste called for using 100% Thai ‘rat dropping’ chilies – the tiny green peppers that are truly Chernobyl-like in their atomic heat level! To a Thai, this is a ‘medium’ curry – to anyone else, it’s molten lava laced with U-238 and undergoing spontaneous nuclear fusion. Since I prefer my palate non-incinerated, I have taken the white-boy liberty of using a roughly 2:1 ratio of jalapeño to Thai chili to keep the spice level high, but bearable. If you can tolerate ‘Thai-level spicy’ (known in Thai as ‘pet’), then by all means go with the full 100% Thai chilies (you’re a sturdier person than I)!
Thai shrimp paste provides a very important umami component and the needed ‘funk’ so important to a true Thai curry – you can buy an excellent brand here on Amazon. Makrut (formerly known as Kaffir) lime leaves are a very important part of this dish – you can buy top-quality fresh leaves from here.
I do enjoy the zingy tang of preserved green peppercorns in brine in this recipe, though it is by no means traditional. If you feel as I do, add them to the dish as I specify, or omit altogether – this is my preferred brand. Red Boat 40 Degrees is – by far – my favorite fish sauce brand and you can easily acquire some from here on Amazon. Palm sugar of extremely high quality may be purchased from here, while the best organic unsweetened coconut cream is this brand – while this brand of coconut milk is my go-to!
Citizens – this dish is beautiful to the eye, gorgeous to the palate, and transcendent in its masterful use of flavors across the entire spectrum of gastronomy – I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as I do! There can be not a scintilla of doubt in your mind that where TFD leads, TFD Nation MUST follow in My glorious footsteps to culinary nirvana for us all – NO ONE gets left behind!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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