The potato, a tuber indigenous to South America, was introduced to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish Conquistadors and quickly became the world’s nutritional savior, helping to vanquish hunger and fueling the rise of great civilizations, including the British empire. However, despite its majestic past, the potato today is considered something of an everyday ingredient. From the mid-1700s, following the political and scientific hype around the potato in Europe, the British determined that potatoes were key to ensuring a healthy, happy and well-nourished workforce in Colonial India, and thus all laborers should be fed with potatoes. Furthermore, East Indian company officials heavily promoted potato cultivation, realizing that agricultural land planted with potatoes instead of rice could support a larger population and a flourishing economy. They exempted crop taxes on potatoes and paid out incentives to encourage Indian farmers to grow and consume potatoes, hoping it would eventually replace the Indian rice-based diet.
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In Anglo-Indian cuisine, potatoes were used liberally in the curries; alongside the favorite sour chutneys, curries were also accompanied by fried, baked, boiled or mashed potatoes. Although the potato gradually found its way into many iconic Indian dishes, and even into Siamese cuisine, the tuber never replaced the rice of South Asia, despite the intentions of both the British and East Indian company officials.
In the 1935 book Sai Yaowapa (ตำรับสายเยาวภา), Princess Yaovabha Bongsanid (พระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าเยาวภาพงศ์สนิท) reflects the Anglo-Indian style gaaeng garee in her composition of bitter orange-fragrant beef gaaeng garee, which she serves in individual bowls made of fried potatoes, per a recipe recorded by M.L. Terb Gamphu (ม.ล. เติบ กำภู) and M.R. Tuang Sanitwong (ม.ร.ว.เตื้อง สนิทวงศ์).
Princess Yaovabha (1884-1934) lived during the height of the British empire and was therefore fluent in western cooking techniques – of these, ‘stuffing’ was among her favorites. She stuffed whole ducks, fish and pork knuckles, and filled banana blossoms, chilies, apples and pineapples with seasoned rice. She also stuffed cabbage or flowers with meat, and even carved green papaya into graceful serving bowls. The common Victorian-style stuffed potatoes might have been the inspiration for this dish, but ultimately the Princess’ modern sensibility and her personal interpretation of the potato element in the Anglo-Indian gaaeng garee granted a space for serendipitous beauty, highlighting the potato’s natural glory while remaining faithful to European eating habits.
Princess Yaovabha Bongsanid peels, washes and carves out individual containers from the potatoes. These are rolled in egg batter and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. Once cooked, the Princess places each of the fried, golden potato containers on an individual serving plate and fills it with beef curry, cooked with finely diced meat and yellow onions. She garnishes each serving with minced boiled egg whites and whole egg yolks.
The original recipe is cooked with a store-bought preserved curry paste, perhaps imported. As I’m unable to determine the properties of the paste, I decided to adapt an aromatic profile for gaaeng garee suggested by M.R. Tuang Sanitwong in another part of Sai Yaowapa. It is an elaborate curry powder aromatic profile, composed of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, Siam cardamom, cinnamon, clove and fennel seeds. The blend contains no commercial curry powder – thus it faithfully reflects the types of aromas one would find in Princess Yaovabha Bongsanid’s kitchens.
For the paste, I use large-bodied chilies. I roast them to 30% char and then rehydrate together with the turmeric to achieve a vivid reddish-brown color. I also followed the original recipe’s reasonable approach of omitting the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest and coriander root – ingredients that have a ‘Siamese’ feel. Instead, I add roasted ginger and caramelize the garlic and shallots. Last, I use roasted fresh turmeric for color and I increased the amount of the garlic to match the quantity of the ginger, as is common in Indian ginger-garlic paste, and also increased the amount of shallots, because their volume shrinks significantly once roasted.
The table below summarizes the curry paste I use:
|Garlic -> roasted||Lemongrass|
|Shallots -> roasted -> double the amount||Galangal|
|Ginger -> roasted||Kaffir lime zest|
|Fresh turmeric -> roasted||Coriander root|
Summary of the curry paste differences from a regular gaaeng khuaa (แกงคั่ว) paste.
To cook the curry, in a brass wok, I start by frying the yellow onions in some pork lard. Once the onions are transparent, I add coconut cream and simmer it until fat appears, in which I continue to fry the curry paste. I use water or stock to deglaze the pan as necessary, all the while ensuring that the paste is properly cooking. Once the aroma indicates the paste is fully cooked, I add the sliced beef and fry it together with the curry paste. The beef will caramelize slightly, introducing another light smoke layer that further complements the paste’s roasted shallots and garlic. Keeping in mind that the curry will be placed in fried potato cups, I keep the consistency slightly thicker than usual gaaeng garee. I season the dish to a salty-leading, sweet-to-follow flavor profile using fish sauce and palm sugar. Once the beef is cooked, I restore the brightness of the dish with a squeeze of bitter orange juice – this technique was often deployed in aristocratic Siamese cooking to treat curries with high tones of dry spices, such as massaman curry.
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- 300 g beef (เนื้อวัว) diced into small cubes
- 6 large potatoes (มันฝรั่ง)
- 1 cup yellow onion (หอมใหญ่) diced into small cubes
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
For the batter:
- bread crumbs (เกล็ดขนมปัง)
- 1 chicken eggs (ไข่ไก่)
- neutral tasting cooking oil (น้ำมันพืช) for deep-frying
For the curry paste:
- 10 pieces dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) roasted to 30% char and rehydrated
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger (ขิง) roasted
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric (ขมิ้นชัน) roasted
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) roasted
- 3 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง) roasted
- 1/2 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) roasted and ground
- 1 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) (S3) roasted and ground
- 1/2 teaspoon Siam Cardamom pods (luuk grawaan) (ลูกกระวาน) (S4) roasted and ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder (ผงอบเชย) (S8)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds (เทียนข้าวเปลือก) roasted and ground
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- bitter orange juice (som.saa)(น้ำส้มซ่า)
Prepare the potatoes:
- Peel the potatoes. Wash the potatoes and cut a round piece off the top of each potato. Using a fruit scooper, hollow out the potatoes into bowl-like shapes.
- Pat the potatoes dry.
- In a pot, put oil for deep-frying.
- Once the oil is hot, over medium heat, fry the potatoes until 50% done and very light golden in color. Remove from the oil and allow them to cool to room temperature.
- Brush each fried potato with beaten egg and roll it in breadcrumbs.
- Fry the potatoes until they are golden colored and crisp. Set aside.
Prepare the paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- Deseed and rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water. Set aside.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds.
- Cut the ginger into juliennes and roast until it loses its freshness; do not overcook it.
- Cut the turmeric crosswise into thin slices and roast until it loses its bright color; do not overcook it.
- Roast the shallots and garlic unpeeled. Once cooked, peel and slice them thinly.
- Pound the curry paste, starting with the chilies, and gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- Add the ground dried spices and pound to a smooth paste.
- 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:
- Dice the beef into small pieces. Cube the yellow onion into pieces of the same size as the beef. Set them aside.
- In a brass wok, heat pork lard. Start by frying the onions until they become transparent and begin to caramelize.
- Add coconut cream. When the coconut cream thickens and oil appears, 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.
- Add the beef and cook until done.
Diluting the curry:
- Keep the curry relatively thick. If necessary, dilute it with coconut milk or stock.
- Taste before seasoning.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar at the ratio indicated.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
Plate and serve:
- Using a small spoon, fill each fried potato bowl with curry.
- Garnish with minced boiled egg white and place the egg yolk in the center
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