Discovered in a memorial book for the funeral of SubLt. Soophoht Jeungpraphaa (ร.ต. สุพจน์ จึงประภา) (1925-1966), this beef and potato curry dish unites two distinct curry styles: Massaman curry, known for its sweet and warming complexity of dry spices, punctuated by the vibrancy of bitter orange juice; and gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) spicy curry, dominated by a basil herbal identity. The recipe maintains a sense of traditional elegance despite the startlingly unusual culinary fusion; as these two cooking styles are woven together, their spiced comfort, earthy warmth, citrusy freshness, and cool herbaceous notes meld in a gentle refinement. Drawing upon familiar and novel elements, this curry is both comforting and stimulating.
Massaman curry typically presents as a deep, rich dish. Its unique flavor profile is derived predominantly from a range of dry spices that point to its Persian-inspired roots in Siamese cuisine, along with a curry paste that exudes a sense of freshness. The dried chilis are roasted to deepen their color; the rest of the ingredients, such as the shallots, garlic and dry spices, are roasted too, individually, before being pounded into the paste. Conversely, the gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) curry integrates dry spices more sparingly and is known for flavor qualities that are based on a phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste made of fresh aromatics and a basil herbal identity.
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To purists, the addition of herbs to massaman curry is a transgression that could almost be considered sacrilege. However, I believe that, in this context, the blend of intense dry spices and herbs works for a specific reason. While the earliest Siamese massaman curry recipes omit galangal and kaffir lime zest from the curry paste, this dish deploys a triad of rhizomes – galangal, ginger and sand ginger, each of which imparts its own astringent, somewhat medicinal, and faintly floral notes, altering the dynamics of the paste and potentially serving as a bridge between the warm dry spices and the cooling anise scent of Thai basil.
For the curry paste, I elected to use dried bang-chang long red chilies (พริกบางช้างแห้ง), which I roast to 40% and rehydrate, thus merging the roasted and fresh elements of the two curry styles represented by the dish. Intriguingly, the paste omits garlic and shallots. This omission is often seen in Thai-Chinese vegetarian style (Jay) (เจ) cooking, in which the acrid and strong-smelling characteristics of garlic and shallots are avoided, but since this beef curry is by no means a vegetarian recipe, I believe it might reflect the author’s dietary choices. This Chinese orientation is also implied in the writer’s recommendation to thinly slice the beef and cook it in a small amount of liquids ruaan (รวน), before simmering it tender. Regardless, the dish can also work with larger pieces of beef, as favored by Muslim cooking style. After all, this beef and potato curry features deep-fried potatoes, another technique borrowed from Muslim culinary traditions and one that is commonly employed in massaman curry. The deep-fried potatoes add a pleasing textural contrast of firmly crisped exteriors and creamy interiors. The potatoes are peeled, sliced and soaked in Thai red pickling (limestone) solution (น้ำปูนแดง) for 15 minutes before they are deep-fried in oil, which helps them to retain texture throughout the cooking process.
The curry is seasoned to a clear three flavors profile, using fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind paste. I find that seasoning to salty leading sour-sweet to follow gives a good starting point to the invigorating freshness of freshly squeezed bitter orange juice and the cool, anise-like presence of Thai basil. But you are invited to increase its sweetness to a salty, sweet and sour flavor profile.
To prepare the beef, either stew it or slice it thinly and cook with a small amount of liquids until soft, then simmer the beef in coconut middle cream until it reaches a tender consistency.
To make the curry paste, dried red long chilies are washed and roasted before being dehydrated to full color. The chilies are pounded in a mortar and pestle with sea salt, thinly sliced lemongrass, galangal, ginger, sand ginger, and kaffir lime zest. The paste is further enriched with roasted and ground white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, Siam Cardamom pods, nutmeg seed, mace, cinnamon stick and grilled fermented shrimp paste.
For seasoning, a mixture of fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind paste is used. Bitter orange juice (som.saa) can be added for additional flavor, if desired. To finish the dish, if desired, unsalted roasted shelled peanuts are crushed and added along with thinly sliced fresh red long chilies and Thai basil. The composition is then topped with hair-thin juliennes of kaffir lime leaves, salted thick coconut cream, and thinly sliced bitter orange peel for an extra burst of flavor.
|White peppercorns (S1)
|Coriander seeds (S2)
|Cumin seeds (S3)
|Siam cardamom (S4)
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To cook the beef:
- 600 gr beef shank (เนื้อน่องลาย)
For the curry:
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- coconut milk (หางกะทิ) or stock, as needed
- Thai basil (ใบโหระพา)
- 1 fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1 palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- 1/4 tamarind paste (น้ำมะขามเปียก)
- bitter orange juice (som.saa)(น้ำส้มซ่า)
For the curry paste:
- 7 dried 'bang-chang' red long chili (พริกบางช้างแห้ง) roasted 40%, and rehydrated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoons galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoons ginger (ขิง) thinly sliced
- 3/4 tablespoon sand ginger (เปราะหอม)
- 1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) roasted and ground
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) (S3) roasted and ground
- 1 teaspoon Siam Cardamom pods (luuk grawaan) (ลูกกระวาน) (S4) roasted and ground
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg seed (ลูกจันทน์เทศ) (S5) roasted and ground
- 1 teaspoon mace (ดอกจันทน์เทศ) (S6) roasted and ground
- 1 cinnamon stick (อบเชย) (S8) roasted
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
To prepare the potatoes:
- 350 g potatoes (มันฝรั่ง) cubed or sliced
- Thai red pickling (limestone) solution (น้ำปูนแดง)
- neutral tasting cooking oil (น้ำมันพืช)
- kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- bitter orange peel (som.saa)(ผิวนส้มซ่า) thinly sliced
- fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง) thinly sliced
- salted thick coconut cream (หัวกะทิเข้มข้น) optional
- unsalted roasted shelled peanuts (ถั่วลิสงคั่ว) crushed, optional
Prepare the potatoes:
- Peel the potatoes. Cube or slice them and soak the potato pieces for 10 minutes in a Thai red pickling (limestone) solution (น้ำปูนแดง).
- Wash well, pat dry, and fry in cooking oil or pork lard until the potatoes crisp up and are lightly golden in color. Set aside.
Prepare the beef:
- Slice the beef into relatively large and equal size pieces.
- Fill a large pot with coconut milk. Braise the beef starting from cold coconut milk, over low heat, until the meat is tender; add water if needed. The cooking time will vary depending on the size, cut and quality of the beef.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- An overview of the dry spices.
- Roast the dried bang-chang long red chilies (พริกบางช้างแห้ง) to no more than 40% char, then deseed and rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, Siam cardamom, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. All the spices, except the cinnamon, are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish. The cinnamon will be used whole.
- Pound the curry paste, starting with the chilies and salt, and gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- Remove the curry paste and set it aside.
- Wash the mortar and pestle with about one cup of plain water and reserve the liquids.
Cook the curry:
- In a brass wok, heat the coconut cream until it thickens and oil appears.
- Add the roasted cinnamon stick.
- Add the curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
- Sprinkle more dry spices. Use your sense of smell to determine the amount.
- Stop the frying with plain water. This is important, in order to separate the oil particles created during the paste-frying process from the rest of the broth. At this stage, mix gently to avoid re-emulsification of the oil.
Dilute the curry:
- Dilute the curry with coconut milk, stock or the chicken cooking liquids, to your liking.
- Taste before seasoning.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar and tamarind paste at the ratio indicated.
- Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Adding the herbs:
- Turn off the heat before adding the Thai basil. Spread the Thai basil evenly on top of the curry and gently push it into the broth, allowing it to wilt down. Do not stir vigorously!
- Finish the dish with a fresh squeeze of bitter orange juice.
Perfumed Muslim-style Curry of Fresh Chilies with Beef (แกงเขียวหวานเนื้อทรงเครื่อง; Gaaeng Khiaao Waan Neuua Sohng Khreuuang)
The Indian and Muslim cuisines present distinct approaches to using dried spices in curries, both of which influence Siamese cuisine in different ways. Indian-inspired Siamese curries spotlight chilies for their vibrant color, fragrance, flavor and heat, while spices like cumin and coriander play a supporting role. The spices complement and temper the chilies’ intensity, creating a rounded, multi-layered flavor profile; nonetheless, the chilies remain the star ingredient, gently complemented by the spices.
Conversely, Muslim-influenced curries, such as massaman curry, prioritize spices over chilies. Spices like cardamom, nutmeg and mace take center stage, while the chilies provide subtle background heat rather than being the primary flavor. In these curries, the focus is on the rich, warm and complex aromas created by the blend of spices, which is a defining characteristic of many Muslim dishes.
Moreover, Siamese cuisine favors using rehydrated dried chilies in curries for their depth; this depth is highly appreciated, along with the complexity, and comparatively milder heat of the rehydrated dried chilies. As well, the harsh grassy notes of fresh chilies are not favored; they’re referred to in Thai as “green rank” or “men khiaao (เหม็นเขียว)”. Muslim curries often use fresh green chilies, tempering their vibrant, grassy taste with dry spices and thus shifting the flavor from bright and fresh to more subdued and earthy tones, resulting in a dish that is perceived to be layered, despite the burst of fresh chilies.
Beef Phanaeng Curry and Ancient Grilled Phanaeng Chicken Curry (พะแนงเนื้อ และ ไก่ผะแนง จากตำราอาหารที่เก่าสุดในสยาม)
Breaking news: The oldest Thai cookbook, as well as history’s first-ever recorded recipe for Phanaeng curry, are revealed for the first time on Thaifoodmaster.com – A 126-year-old cookbook written by one of Siam’s most revered singers, Maawm Sohm Jeen (Raa Chaa Noopraphan) (หม่อมซ่มจีน, ราชานุประพันธุ์), has been rediscovered, offering a unique glimpse into the culinary repertoire of 19th-century Siam. In this chapter we examine the different forms of phanaeng curry from the 1800s to the present day, as we reconstruct the 19th-century version and craft step-by-step a traditional beef phanaeng curry.
Swamp Eel Triple-Layered Red Curry with Fingerroot, Bitter Ginger, Sand Ginger and Thai Basil Flowers (แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง ; Gaaeng Phet Bplaa Lai Sohng Khreuuang)
This eel curry includes a greater-than-usual quantity of aromatics used over three stages. First, the eel is cleaned and sliced into segments; then it is fried with a generous amount of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. These help to counter its muddy and somewhat iron-like odor, which disappears along with the liquids and the aromatics.
This eel curry recipe is adapted from the vintage book: “Gap Khaao O:H Chaa Roht” by Ging Ga Nohk) (กับข้าวโอชารส โดย กิ่งกนก – กาญจนาภา พ.ศ. 2485). This rare book was written in 1942 during WWII, a period of global turmoil in which Thailand was invaded by the Japanese. That same year marked a decade from the ending of absolute monarchy rule in 1932, and one generation away from the peak of the Siamese culinary renaissance that flourished in the court of King Rama V (1868-1910): a nostalgic era for its children who are still with us to remember and reflect on those times.
Curry of yellow chilies with whole quail, fresh turmeric and lemon basil (แกงเผ็ดนกกระทาพริกเหลืองสด; gaaeng phet nohk grathaa phrik leuuang soht)
Salty leading and sour-sweet to follow, this coconut-based gaaeng phet spicy curry might be made of chilies, but it is fruitier than it is spicy, and lighter than it is dense. Originally cooked with the meat of game birds, it retains a surprisingly light body that opens space for the birds to fly. The curry is tinted golden orange from a paste imbued with fresh yellow chilies and turmeric; it is perfumed with lemongrass and lemon basil leaves.
c1941 Roasted Duck Curry with Grapes (Gaaeng Ho) (แกงเป็ดเหาะใส่องุ่น อย่างคุณถนอม ปาลบุตร พ.ศ. 2484; gaaeng bpet haw sai angoon)
Grapes have long been associated with prosperity, fertility and abundance across various cultures and historical periods due to the fruit’s large clusters and bountiful growth. In ancient China, grapes were considered a symbol of wealth and nobility, and often deployed as a status symbol among the elite. In Greek mythology, Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, was often depicted holding a bunch of grapes, further emphasizing the connection between grapes and abundance. This association is also likely rooted in the fact that grapes were a valuable crop in antiquity – used to produce wine and other fermented products, and an important source of food and nutrition. In Indian Ayurvedic texts, grapes are referred to as vineaksha and utilized in treating a variety of ailments, including fever and indigestion.
From the Siamese perspective, the incorporation of fruits in culinary preparations was viewed as a luxurious indulgence, as many fruits commonly available today were once difficult to obtain. Thus the pairing of an extravagant ingredient – such as fruit – with an equally opulent and exclusive delicacy like roasted duck resulted in a dish fit for royalty.