Swamp Eel Triple-Layered Red Curry with Fingerroot, Bitter Ginger, Sand Ginger and Thai Basil Flowers (แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง ; Gaaeng Phet Bplaa Lai Sohng Khreuuang)

Click to listen to the Thai name pronunciation Listen to the Thai name pronunciation
By: Hanuman, Thaan Khun and Chef Thapakorn Lertviriyavit (Gorn)

This page is also available in: Thai

Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง

This 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.

Second, the eel is cooked in a rich coconut-based red curry strengthened with fingerroot, bitter ginger (gra theuu, กระทือ), sand ginger (bpraw haawm, เปราะหอม), coriander seeds and cumin seeds. The curry paste is thoroughly fried with coconut cream until it is cooked, and its flavors rounded down to a more homogenous flavor identity.

And in the third stage, a spicy scented layer – with a pungent, peppery-camphor touch – is produced by using the same fresh rhizomes, along with Thai basil flowers and leaves, fresh peppercorns and fresh young light-green long chilies.

Sand ginger, rhizomes and leaves. (bpraw haawm เปราะหอม)

Sand ginger, rhizomes and leaves.
(bpraw haawm เปราะหอม)

This 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.

Bitter ginger (gra theuu กระทือ).

Bitter ginger
(gra theuu กระทือ).

The Asian Swamp Eel Bplaa Lai (ปลาไหล) or Iian (เอี่ยน)
A Chinese tale describes a legendary minister who thought he was an eel. When the land flooded with water, the people believed that this minister had caused the deluge so he could swim away.

There are a number of methods for catching these slippery, slimy, snakelike swimmers: the eel’s smooth skin also lets it slither over land, so the easiest methods involve using baskets, a trap or a net – or simply just digging in the drying mud and scaring them out.

These days, some might consider eel an unusual meat, or even a savage hardcore upcountry food, but the fact is that eel in culinary tradition is truly ancient. The eel is very much enjoyed by those from all walks of life – farmers in the fields, gentlemen in the cities and royalty in the palace – all love eels cooked in many different ways. Eel, widely available and nutrient-rich, was an important protein source for people living in Southeast Asia’s rice growing communities, where their diet was composed mainly of fish and small water creatures – animals that could be caught in the rice fields, in stagnant waters or shallow wetlands, in marshes, ditches, canals, streams, rivers, reservoirs, ponds and lakes – places where this night feeder gorged itself on the same prey.

Dark-olive or brown in color, and occasionally speckled with bright yellow, black and gold spots, the eel is considered a phallic symbol with erotic connotations; despite being hermaphroditic itself, all young eels are born females, with some evolving into males as they mature.

Slippery as an eel
Today you can buy a cleaned eel at the markets, or use scrub pads to scrape the slippery mucus from its skin. In the old days, however, preparing the eel required rubbing it with various plant leaves or rice husks (glaaep, แกลบ), with the most common being the bai khaawy ruut leaves (Streblus asper, ใบข่อยรูด).

“Slippery as an eel” is an English-language idiom referring to an individual who continuously escapes responsibility or culpability. The Thai idiom,“Hate [lizard] [but] eat its eggs; hate eel [but] [enjoy] eating the curry” implies an individual who benefits from someone they dislike (gliiat dtuaa gin khai gliiat bplaa lai gin naam gaaeng, เกลียดตัวกินไข่ เกลียดปลาไหลกินน้ำแกง).

Early evidence of Thai recipes containing eel
Maawm Sohm Jeen cooks an eel simple clear curry (bplaa lai dtohm bpraeht, ปลาไหลต้มเปรต) in her 1890 (2433 BE, 109RE) cookbook “Tam Raa Gap Khao” (ตำรากับเข้า).

Lady Plean Passakornrawong cooks eel curry (gaaeng phet bplaa lai, แกงปลาไหล) in her 1908 cookbook, “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์)”.

Maawm Luaang Neuuang Ninrat (หม่อมหลวงเนื่อง นิลรัตน์), a former chef at the residence of Phra Wimaadaa Thuuhr, replaces eel with catfish and cooks a catfish curry in the style of an eel curry (gaaeng bplaa dook yaang bplaa lai, แกงปลาดุกอย่างปลาไหล

Swamp Eel Triple-Layered Red Curry with Fingerroot, Bitter Ginger, Sand Ginger and Thai Basil Flowers Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Ready In
 
This eel curry includes a greater-than-usual quantity of aromatics used over three stages. This 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.
By:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Thai
Serves: 5

Ingredients

 
  • 3 cups Asian swamp eel, cut into 2 cm thick slices
  • 2-3 cups fresh coconut cream
  • 1/2 - 1 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 - 1 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup bitter ginger (gra theuu กระทือ), thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sand ginger (bpraw haawm เปราะหอม), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fingerroot, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground dry chili
  • 1 teaspoon ground roasted coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 cup light green young chili peppers
  • 2 cups sand ginger leaves, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cups Thai basil leaves
To prepare the eel
  • 1/4 cup kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 stalks lemongrass
  • 2 roots galangal
  • 1/2 cup shallots, peeled
Red Curry Paste
  • 1/2 cup dry long red chilies, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup lemongrass, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons kaffir lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon galangal, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup fingerroot, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bitter ginger (gra theuu กระทือ)
  • 1 tablespoon sand ginger (bpraw haawm เปราะหอม)
  • 1/3 cup Thai garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground roasted coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)
Fresh Aromatic Paste
  • 2 tablespoons bird’s eye chilies
  • 1/2 cup red and green chilies
  • 1 tablespoon fingerroot, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sand ginger (bpraw haawm เปราะหอม)
  • 1 tablespoon bitter ginger (gra theuu กระทือ)
  • 2 tablespoons Thai basil flowers
Topping
  • Coconut cream
  • Hair-thin julienned kaffir lime leaves
  • Sand ginger (bpraw haawm เปราะหอม)
  • Bitter ginger (gra theuu กระทือ)
Method
  1. A visual overview of the red curry paste ingredients.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  2. Pound all the ingredients into a smooth paste.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  3. Add kapi (fermented shrimp paste); mix and set aside.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  4. A visual overview of the fresh curry paste ingredients - clockwise: small bird’s eye chilies, fingerroot, bitter ginger, red and green chili peppers, Thai basil flowers, sand ginger cubes.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  5. In a pestle and mortar, pound the fresh curry paste ingredients into a rough paste. Set aside.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  6. A visual overview of the fresh ingredients used in the curry.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  7. Thinly sliced sand ginger leaves. Set aside.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  8. Clean the eel, and cut it into 2cm-thick segments.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  9. Place the shallots and aromatics in a wok, over medium heat.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  10. Add the eel, and fry until the eel begins to release fluids and its meat is cooked.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  11. Discard the cooking fluids and the aromatics, and set the cooked eel meat aside.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  12. In a cooking pot, heat the coconut cream until it breaks (cracked), and oil appears.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  13. Add the red curry paste.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  14. Fry the curry paste in the cracked coconut, gradually adding more coconut cream.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  15. Add ground roasted cumin seeds and ground roasted coriander seeds.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  16. Add kaffir lime leaves.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  17. Season with palm sugar.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  18. Add fish sauce.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  19. The curry paste is ready when all the coconut cream has been incorporated, and red oil floats on top.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  20. Add coconut milk.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  21. Mix gently, and let the eel meat absorb the curry flavors.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  22. Add fingerroot, bitter ginger and sand ginger.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  23. Add a second batch of kaffir lime leaves.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  24. Add fresh peppercorns.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  25. Mix everything.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  26. Season again with the dry spices (ground dry chilies, ground cumin and ground coriander).
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  27. Add the fresh curry paste.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  28. Add the light green young chilies and Thai basil flowers.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  29. Add Thai basil.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  30. Mix.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง
  31. Serve.
    Swamp eel triple layered red curry with fingerroot, bitter ginger, sand ginger and Thai basil flowers แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง