I discovered this unusual curry recipe hidden in a 1970 memorial book for Ms. Bootree Gralaksa. Born in Bangkok in 1898, Ms. Bootree spent her entire life, from childhood on, in a wooden house on Maha Chak Road (Pra Nakorn). One could say that she was born to be a great cook; just fourteen years old when her mother died, Ms. Bootree became the sole caregiver for her four siblings, a duty that she performed with a love and attention that endowed her with remarkable cooking skills. Her memorial book showcases now-forgotten dishes that were popular in the Bangkok of the early 1900s, such as Beautiful Curry (แกงหงษา ; Gaaeng Hohng Saa), and also includes some of her one-of-a-kind culinary creations – such as this dish, which she dubbed “Chiang Mai-Style Spicy Curry”.
In this audacious curry, Ms. Bootree incorporates culinary traits from three distinctive curry styles – gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด), gaaeng garee (แกงกะหรี่) and massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น) – into a unified and surprisingly harmonious dish.
For us, the dish offers a rare opportunity to examine how separate strands of culinary codes morph and fold into new dishes, dynamics that may have shaped the evolution of other “Chiang Mai-style” dishes which, likewise, feature mixed culinary identities. One example is the famous Chiang Mai-style curried noodle dish khao soi (ข้าวซอย) – a dish with mysterious origins.
The phrik khing (พริกขิง) curry paste is typical of gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) spicy curry and contains both the aromatic and dry spices typically used in spicy curries. However, this aromatic profile is further built upon, deploying curry powder, nutmeg and mace to resemble a gaaeng garee curry with a shifted aromatic profile that is reminiscent of massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), with its typical throat cooling sensation. The vegetables and herbs used are those found in a typical gaaeng phet curry and consist of apple eggplants, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil.
The seasoning profile, however, is not salty-sweet as would be expected from a gaaeng phet. Rather, the dish is seasoned using equal amounts of tamarind paste, fish sauce and palm sugar to achieve a flavor profile that is as bold sour-salty and sweet as a massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), and beautifully complements the dry spice aromatic profile. Even though gaaeng garee and massaman curries contain no herbs, their cooling and spicy anise-like Thai basil herbal identity set off the warm curry powder properties and complement the cooling sensation of the nutmeg and mace.
|white peppercorns||Kaffir lime zest|
|Coriander seeds||Fermented shrimp paste (kapi)|
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To braise the chicken:
- 400 g chicken thigh (สะโพกไก่) or chicken drumstick (น่องไก่)
- 3 cups coconut milk (หางกะทิ)
For the curry:
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- 5 apple eggplants (มะเขือเปราะ)
- 7 kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 1 cup Thai basil (ใบโหระพา)
For the curry paste:
- 10 dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) roast 10% and rehydrate
- 1 teaspoon 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
- 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg seed (ลูกจันทน์เทศ) (S5) roasted and ground
- 3/4 teaspoon mace (ดอกจันทน์เทศ) (S6) roasted and ground
- 1 1/4 teaspoon curry powder (ผงกะหรี่)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- 1 part tamarind paste (น้ำมะขามเปียก)
Braise the chicken
- Debone the chicken thighs. Slice the chicken into relatively large and equal-sized pieces .
- Fill a pot with coconut milk (or 1 part water or stock to 1/4 part coconut cream).
- Add the aromatics – three slices of galangal, three of shallots, and one bruised and sliced lemongrass stalk – and bring the coconut milk to a boil.
- Once the coconut milk reaches a boil, add the chicken and braise over low heat until the chicken is tender.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- Roast the dry chilies to no more than 10% char, then deseed and rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg and mace. The spices are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish.
- Pound the curry paste, starting with the chilies and salt, and gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- 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. 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 braised chicken along with some of its cooking liquids.
Dilute the curry:
- Dilute the curry with coconut milk, stock or the chicken cooking liquids to your liking.
- Taste before seasoning.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar and tamarind paste at the ratio indicated.
- Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Adding the herbs:
- Turn off the heat before adding the Thai basil. Spread the Thai basil evenly on top of the curry and gently push it into the broth, allowing it to wilt down. Do not stir vigorously!
Plate and serve:
- Put the curry into a serving bowl; drizzle thick coconut cream over it and serve!