This chuu chee features avocado-green banana chilies and the pinkish mixture of pork, shrimp and crab meats. The chilies are sliced open and stuffed with a mixture of the meats, which is seasoned with the basic saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) paste – the Siamese trio of coriander roots, Thai garlic and white peppercorns. The stuffed chilies are then steamed before being cooked in a thick, reddish, coconut cream-based curry. The liquids collected in the tray during the steaming process are packed with the light sweet fruitiness of the banana chilies; these liquids are reserved and added to the broth, producing a bright and light-bodied dish.
While stuffed vegetables are a familiar element in traditional cuisines worldwide, we can argue that – because these particular stuffed chiles are steamed before being cooked in the curry – the Siamese appearance of this dish belies the Chinese culinary codes that underlay it. Similarly, steamed stuffed chilies are common in the Siamese repertoire, found cooked in curries, fried in crispy batter, or rolled in egg nests. Some of these dishes even use similar filling compositions as those of Chinese dumplings, indicating that stuffed vegetables and dumplings, in the context of Chinese cuisine, share comparable evolutionary paths. Accordingly, since Hakka Chinese cuisine (แคะ หรือ ฮากกา; khae or haakgaa) is regarded as the birthplace of “all good things stuffed”, it is safe to say that steamed stuffed banana chilies are a dish inspired by Chinese cuisine.
Stuffed banana chilies are popular in Thai cuisine. They are served as part of the aristocratic samrub summer meal called khaao chaae (ข้าวแช่), a meal centered around rice mixed with cold jasmine-infused water, and served with steamed and then fried stuffed banana chilies that are rolled in a crispy egg nest, in addition to more than twenty additional accompaniments. However, stuffed chilies are not exclusive to the aristocracy; they can reflect the joy and beauty of rural life in dishes such as uaa bak phet (อั่วบักเผ็ด), a Northeastern (Issan)-style dish of grilled, stuffed banana chilies with pork and fermented fish (pla ra). Furthermore, saaw law laa daaw (ซอเลาะลาดอ) is a favorite stuffed banana chilies dish popular among the Thai-Muslim communities in Thailand’s southern provinces. In this dish, the chilies are filled with mackerel fish meat and grated coconut flesh, and cooked in a rich, whitish-colored, coconut-based broth.
The act of stuffing can be seen as a violent process, one that involves both penetration and invasion, a forceful placement of an alien entity into the cavity of another. However, in this dramatic pairing, the imposed relationship between the filling and its receptacle are resolved, via cooking, into a sense of intimacy. During the cooking process, the receptacle – the stuffed element – serves as a protective and nourishing womb that instills new flavors into the filling, enhances the aroma, and gently preserves the moisture in the filling. When cooked, the dish – much like a soft hug – evokes a sense of comfort and security.
For this recipe, I use a mixture of pork and crab meat. also potential stuffing choices are filling of pork only, or a mixture of pork, shrimp and crab meat, also potential stuffing choices filling of clown featherback fish (ปลากราย; bplaa graai), which, due to its desirable firm and soft textural bite, is the preferred fish for deep-fried curried fish cakes (ทอดมันปลา), as well as haaw mohk (ห่อหมก) and fish balls.
For the curry paste, I use a standard phrik khing paste with the addition of white peppercorns. Since I envision the dish with a vivid red color and mild spiciness, I select chilies with these qualities. Bang chang chilies have good body volume, a beautiful red color, a pleasant aroma, and only mild spiciness. These characteristics, which made bang chang chilies preferred in higher Siamese cuisine cooking of the late 19th century, offer a tender pairing with the fruitiness and lightness of the banana chili sweetness.
Garnish remains minimal, as suggested by late 19th-century chuu chee recipes, and consists of kaffir lime leaves sliced into hair-thin juliennes. Employing more colorful accents, such as crimson strips of fresh red pepper or white drizzles of thickened coconut cream, is optional. In addition, roasted coriander seeds can be added to the phrik khing paste, defying the convention that dry spices are not used in chuu chee.
|White peppercorns (S1)|
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- 7 fresh banana chili (phrik yuak) (พริกหยวก)
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
For the filling:
- 100 g shrimp meat (เนื้อกุ้ง) or
- 100 g steamed crab meat (เนื้อปูนึ่ง)
- 150 g pork belly (เนื้อหมูสามชั้น) minced
- shrimp tomalley (มันกุ้ง)
- 2 pieces coriander roots (รากผักชี)
- 7 cloves Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 12 grains white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1)
- sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 tablespoon coriander leaves (ใบผักชี) finely chopped
For the curry paste:
- 7 pieces dried 'bang-chang' red long chili (พริกบางช้างแห้ง)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด)
- 1/4 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
- 1/4 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 1/4 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and grounded
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
Prepare the filling:
- In a pestle and mortar, pound the saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) – coriander roots, Thai garlic, and white peppercorns.
- Mince the pork belly. The red pork meat should be minced quite fine, with fat-rich pieces chopped more coarsely so the filling will remain moist and not too condensed.
- Smash the shrimp on a cutting board with a sharp blow from the flat side of a heavy knife.
- Add the shrimp tomalley.
- Mince the shrimp with the tomalley to a rough consistency.
- Measure equal quantities of the minced pork, minced shrimp, and steamed crab meat.
- Add the pounded saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ).
- Transfer the meats and saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) into a mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients gently.
- Season with salt.
- Add coriander leaves.
Stuff the chilies:
- Make a T-shaped lengthwise cut and a top bar cut that runs under the chili’s calyx, halfway around the chili’s circumference.
- Through the opening, wash away the seeds and the pith Fill each chili with the fish mixture. Although the mixture should fit snugly inside the chili, do not overfill – the filling will expand during the steaming.
- Place the chilies on a plate and steam over high heat until the filling is cooked, and the chilies soften. Use a toothpick to check: stick the toothpick into the chilies; they’re done if the toothpick comes out clean and the chilies are soft.
- After steaming, reserve the cooking liquids accumulated on the plate. Set the cooked stuffed chilies aside.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- De-seed and rehydrate the dried chilies.
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the chilies with salt into a fine paste.
- Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- Remove the chuu chee curry paste and set it aside. Wash the mortar and pestle with about one cup of plain water and reserve the liquids.
Cook the chuu chee:
- In a brass wok, heat the coconut cream until it thickens and oil appears. Add the chuu chee curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
- Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar and pestle. Adjust the consistency of the paste, keeping it sizzling but ensuring that it isn’t burning.
- Important: at this stage, to separate the oil particles created during the paste-frying process from the rest of the mixture, mix gently to avoid re-emulsification of the oil.
Diluting the chuu chee:
- Dilute the curry with the residual liquids accumulated during the steaming process.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar at the ratio indicated.
Adding the stuffed chilies:
- Add the stuffed chilies to the wok and gently roll them in the broth until they are fully covered. Do not stir vigorously!