The hairy-fruited eggplant, known as ‘maeuk’ in Thai, is similar to the tomato in its unique confluence of sweetness, fruitiness, and savoriness. This ingredient is used in a wide range of Siamese dishes, including curries, salads, relishes, and seasoned rice dishes. This recipe, from the central region of Thailand, is a traditional duck khuaa sohm curry (แกงคั่วส้มเป็ด) that commonly uses garden ingredients to achieve sourness, including the madan (garcinia schomburgkiana) (มะดัน), the sour bilimbi fruit (averrhoa bilimbi) (ตะลิงปลิง), and the hairy-fruited eggplant.
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The hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk) (มะอึก) is in season from November-December, starting off green and ripening to an orangey-golden-yellow color. The fruit is spherical, measuring approximately 1 inch (2-2.5 cm) in size, with a densely hairy surface. Long used by the Siamese in food and medicine, the hairy-fruited eggplant, according to traditional Thai medicine, is effective in treating respiratory issues such as coughing and phlegm, as well as symptoms like bile conditions. All parts of the plant, including the leaves, roots and seeds, possess medicinal properties. For example, the leaves can be used as a poultice to relieve itching and rashes; the seeds to relieve toothaches, by burning and inhaling the smoke; and the root of the plant has several benefits, including pain relief and fever reduction.
This curry, a staple of central Thai cuisine, is typically made with fresh or roasted duck simmered in coconut milk and hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk). A similar recipe using salacca and mauek was documented in 1890 by Lady Plean Passakornrawong in the journal Bpradtithin Bat Laae Joht Maai Haeht. To refine the dish and reduce the “seediness” of the eggplant, I make a concentrated hairy-fruited eggplant stock using a well-layered basic chicken stock, and use this to dilute the curry after frying the paste. This intensifies the tart and fruity notes of the eggplants without overwhelming the curry with seeds.
For the chilies, I choose large body chilies with relatively bright red colors, such as rehydrated dried bang-chang long red chilies (พริกบางช้างแห้ง), to complement the yellow orangey color of the eggplant, resulting in a reddish-orange hued curry. To prepare the dish, I start by prepping the duck breasts. I begin by frying them, skin-side down, until the skin turns golden brown and crispy. Then, I braise them in coconut middle cream (กลางกะทิ), to which I add two or three hairy-fruited eggplants for taste. At the same time, I simmer on low heat the rest of the hairy-fruited eggplants with chicken stock until it concentrates and acquires a deep savoriness and pleasing acidity.
The remaining steps of the cooking process are the same as for a typical gaaeng khuaa (แกงคั่ว) and are described in the recipe.
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To braise the duck:
- 400 g duck breast (อกเป็ด)
- 1/2 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) crushed
- 1 tablespoon pork lard (น้ำมันหมู)
- 2 pieces hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk) (มะอึก) halved
- 4 cups coconut middle cream (กลางกะทิ)
For the hairy-fruited eggplant infused chicken stock:
- 3 cups chicken stock (น้ำสต๊อกไก่) reduce to 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup hairy-fruited eggplant (maeuk) (มะอึก) halved
- pinch sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- pinch granulated sugar (น้ำตาลทราย)
For the curry paste:
- 10 pieces dried 'bang-chang' red long chili (พริกบางช้างแห้ง) rehydrated
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoons galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด)
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) roasted and ground.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) (S3) roasted and ground.
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา) น้ำปลา
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว) น้ำตาลมะพร้าว
- tamarind paste (น้ำมะขามเปียก) if needed
Cook the hairy-fruited eggplant-infused chicken stock:
- Fill a cooking pot with chicken stock.
- Cut the hairy-fruited eggplants into quarters and add them to the stock.
- Simmer on low heat until you are satisfied with the sourness of the broth pulled out from the eggplants.
- Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of granulated sugar to intensify the tart element.
Prepare the duck:
- Using a sharp knife, score the skin of the duck breast.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add pork lard and garlic. Once hot, add the duck breast, skin-side down, and fry until the skin is golden brown.
- Remove the duck breast from the skillet and discard the fat.
- Place the duck breast back into the skillet.
- Add the middle coconut cream and two sliced hairy-fruited eggplants to the skillet.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Cover the skillet with a lid; simmer over low heat until the duck is cooked through.
- Once the duck is cooked, remove it from the skillet and slice it to your preferred thickness. Set aside.
- Discard the braising liquids.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the coriander seeds and cumin seeds. The spices are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish.
- De-seed the chilies and rehydrate them in hot water.
- Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma. Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. After pounding the chilies, add the lemongrass and galangal.
- Add the kaffir lime zest.
- Add the shallots and garlic.
- Add the dried spices, and pound to a smooth paste. Start with the coriander seeds.
- Add the roasted and ground cumin seeds.
- Add the fermented shrimp paste (kapi) and continue pounding until a rounded aroma is achieved.
- 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. Scoop out a small portion to drizzle on top of the finished curry.
- Add the curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
- Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar. 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 duck meat.
- Cook the curry until the duck is fully heated through.
Diluting the curry:
- Dilute the curry with the hairy-fruited eggplant-infused chicken stock, adding as much as needed to get the desired sourness and the preferred curry consistency.
- Season to a salty leading with a sweet floor flavor profile – and do 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, making sure to adjust the quantity based on the sweetness of the grapes.
- The sourness of the hairy-fruited eggplant should suffice, but you can always add tamarind paste to adjust the sourness.
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