Considered by some to be the most famous, and the most delicious, dish in Thai cooking, the story of Massaman curry is interwoven with trade, politics and religion in 17th-century Siam. The story is filled with mighty kings, legendary explorers and unsolved mysteries, adding an air of magic and power to this already-heavenly perfumed dish, and thickening the plot of this full bodied, coconut-based curry’s birth.
Aristocratic and Royal Thai Cuisines
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.
Spicy Salad of Grilled Tiger Prawns, Mackerel, Lemongrass and Aromatics with Infused Fermented Fish Innards Dressing (ไตปลาทรงเครื่อง ; dtai bpla sohng khreuuang)
If we could strip away the spices, the seasonings, the vegetables and the herbs from savory dishes we could uncover their naked flavor profile core. There, we would encounter a strong savory-umami, sometimes coupled with other basic elements of smoke and fat. This flavor core is, for us humans, the sought-after taste of protein; our first sip of mother’s milk, and the primal experience of burned game meat on the fire.
Today we would like to highlight a powerhouse for umami creation: the fermentation process. We will focus on fermented fish innards from southern Thailand (dtai bpla ไตปลา), one of about a dozen fermented products used in the country. We will show you how chefs for the capital’s elite, as early as or, before the reign of King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II, 1767-1824), harnessed its wild nature and created a dish similar to what we present today – a salad with infused fermented fish innards dressing.
Jee (Jeen) Juaan Red Curry of Chicken, Banana Chilies, Peanuts and Indian Spices (แกงเผ็ดไก่จี่จ๋วน, แกงจีนจ๊วน, แกงจ๋วน ; gaaeng phet gai jee juaan )
Also known as: gaaeng jeen juaan (แกงจีนจ๊วน), or gaaeng juaan (แกงจ๋วน).
Gaaeng jeen juaan is a coconut-based red curry. With primary ingredients of chicken, light green banana chili peppers and peanuts, it is similar to Massaman curry (matsaman); and scented with the sweet aroma of dry Indian spices such as cumin, mace, nutmeg, clove, star anise and cinnamon. Pineapple adds sweetness and a thin layer of tartness. The sweet and sour flavors are echoed by the addition of fresh sugarcane juice and a squeeze of bitter orange juice (sohm saa). To enhance the aroma and texture of the curry, roasted grated coconut is added to the curry paste.
Each leaf-wrapped parcel is a kaleidoscope of flavors and richness, textures, aromas and sensations. Fresh green-earthy-chlorophyll-herby-tobacco-peppery wild betel leaves enfold bursts of flavor from nutty roasted peanuts and crispy roasted coconut matches, the umami of savory dry shrimp, pungent-sweet diced shallots, small ginger cubes with a warm bite, sour and bitter unpeeled lime cubes, citrusy perfumed diced bitter orange (som za), naughty whole fresh tiny bird’s eye chilies, and small slices of the sharp and sour dtaling bpling (Averrhoa bilimbi, a relative of the carambola/starfuit). All of which is blended with a thick paste of sweet-sour and salty palm sugar and tamarind sauce.
The miang kham takes every taste bud on a fascinating pleasure trip through sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami, piquancy, sharpness and spiciness, with an array of textures that slowly subside as the journey ends, leading to a familiar post orgasmic expression, a smile and the desire for more.
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.