This water-based, spicy chicken curry is made with corn-yellow rendered chicken fat instead of coconut cream. Dark reddish-brown in color, this full-bodied and fatty beak-to-tail curry presents the chicken identity and personality in both a corporeal and tasty manner. Spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, mace and clove are added into the curry paste to temper the gamey-irony flavor of the offal and deodorize the meat, resulting in a luscious dish that is beautifully layered with textures and flavors.
This curry is in the gaaeng phet naam man (แกงเผ็ดน้ำมัน) group of water-based curries that contain a phrik khing (พริกขิง)- based proper curry paste. Similar to the coconut-based gaaeng phet spicy curries, gaaeng phet naam man are seasoned to a spicy-salty and sweet flavor profile and the paste contains dried spices; however, the paste is fried in animal fat rather than coconut cream. By leaving out the coconut cream, the curry dispenses with its smooth, velvety texture and takes an exciting and more savory path: As the fatty acids oxidize during the cooking, new flavor compounds emerge which have a significant impact on enhancing and diversifying the umami-meaty flavor characteristic of the dish. A fresh look at meat flavor. (n.d.). Meat Science, 77(1), 63–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2007.04.016
The appearance and color of the curry are also affected. For example, the white of the coconut influences the curry’s brightness and opacity, as well as its hue and color intensity – coconut cream cools and blurs, dulls and lightens the curry’s color. When fat is used, the color of the curry appears clear, bright and shiny.
When we substitute chicken fat for the coconut cream, perhaps we are referring to the dish’s cultural culinary roots – or simply capitalizing on its intense chicken flavor. The best quality chicken fat is rendered from the abdominal fatty tissues surrounding the animal’s liver and stomach; once rendered, the chicken fat, which is rich in fatty acids and desirable volatile smell compounds, remains liquid at room temperature and is a bright, transparent yellow in color.
Chicken fat also has a particularly effective crisping effect. In terms of chicken fat, old hens have thicker fat tissues and produce excellent fat with a distinctive appeal, as the fragrance has an aged and mature quality. Do note however, that even with fatty birds, the amount of fat is limited; thus, the fat rendered will be just enough to fry the curry paste.
There are three methods for rendering chicken fat and each method produces fat with a different flavor and aroma profile. These range in varying ratios from harsh, poultry-like, fried and oxidized odor notes to more desirable herbal and fruity aromas. Ma, Chyau, & Pan. (n.d.). Fatty acid profile and aroma compounds of lipoxygenase-modified chicken oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 81(10), 921–926. … Continue reading
- The dry method: The fat tissue is first blanched in boiling water to clean its odor. It is then put in a pan and cooked together with slices of ginger and spring onions, rendering the fat directly over heat. The benefit of this method is that the yield is high, and the finished fat has a low water content and a clean aroma. However, one must pay attention during the process and make sure that the temperature is not too high – otherwise the fat may end up with a “fried” smell and taste that impair its savoriness.
- The wet method: The chicken fat tissue is gradually cooked with ginger and spring onions in enough water to cover the solids until all the liquids evaporate. At this stage, the fat renders out easily from the cooked tissue before the residue starts to fry and tint the fat with a brownish hue and a “fried” aroma. The fat produced in this method is excellent for frying; it has a light color akin to salad oil but is devoid of fragrance.
- Steaming: Chinese cuisine utilizes a third method to produce chicken fat. The fatty tissues and the aromatics are covered in water, placed in sealed containers and steamed over high heat until the fat renders out and floats on top of the water. It is then cooled and the floating fat is collected. Due to the high water content, the savoriness of chicken fat produced in this way is not optimal. To compensate, try using vegetable oil instead of water; by steaming the chicken fat in the oil, the oil is instilled with savory-umami notes and a pleasant meaty scent, which overcomes the high water content and low chicken fat yield in traditional rendering methods.
For this dish, I find it practical to render the chicken fat over direct heat, and add slices of fresh ginger and some spring onions for a clean aroma.
Using the whole bird in the kitchen was once a necessity rather than a culinary trend glorified with twee mottos. Most people have never butchered a chicken or plucked its feathers; some people are still put off by the use of offal. In contrast to straightforward muscle meats – which are the majority of meats consumed in Western societies – offal such as liver, heart, intestines, kidneys and spleen are diverse in texture and flavor. Moreover, offal are life supporting organs which, according to East Asian medical doctrine, correspond to various emotions Lee, Y.-S., Ryu, Y., Jung, W.-M., Kim, J., Lee, T., & Chae, Y. (2017). Understanding Mind-Body Interaction from the Perspective of East Asian Medicine. Evidence-Based Complementary and … Continue reading. Incorporating offal instills the dish with the animal’s expressions of joy and sorrow, sadness and fear, giving the dish a pleasing vibrancy that is similar to the taste of life itself.
The curry color
The overall color scheme and mood of the dish are established by the use of maroon-colored offal and yellowish chicken fat; the color of the chilies should fit into this context. While you can use rehydrated large-bodied chilies in a bright red color, I opt for a muted freshness. Thus I use dried chilies and roast them to about 20% char, slightly shifting the color spectrum to the browns while retaining some of the chilies’ inherent redness.
What makes this curry unique and worth examining is its assertive dried spice profile. To study it, we first list all the ingredients that were either added or omitted from the standard phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste composition. This gives us a clearer overview of the paste and an easier way to memorize it.
The following table summarizes the curry paste variances of a basic phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste.
|White peppercorns (S1)|
|Coriander seeds (S2)|
|Cumin seeds (S3)|
|Siam cardamom (S4)|
|Nutmeg seed (S5)|
Gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) often features a varying combination of dry spices; these spices are roasted and ground separately, and kept separate until they are used in the dish. As a rule, avoid premixing the dried spices when you prepare curries. If the dried spices are already mixed into a spice blend, you won’t be able to tune the individual amount as you cook the curry.
Rarely do gaaeng phet-style curries display the dried spice richness seen here: Deploying seven spices, the straight consecutive ranks S1-S7 according to the common spices S-sorting system; it is only seen in truly foreign curries, and is usually combined with sweeter seasoning and a sour element to cut through the richness.
Because this curry uses a known seasoning style and typical curry ingredients such as young green chilies and Thai basil leaves, we will use only minute amounts of spices, mainly to deodorize the chicken and its inner parts, broadening the broth aroma and flavor complexity while keeping the dish within a mood that fits a gaaeng phet-style curry.
Use the universal ratios of 1/2 the amount by volume of the fish sauce in palm sugar, to achieve a flavor profile with a salty leading and a sweet floor. But of course, this is just a game plan – you can adjust them both as you cook and taste.
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For the curry:
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic peeled
- 350 g chicken meat (เนื้อไก่)
- 150 g chicken offal (เครื่องในไก่)
- 1/2 cup young green long chili (phrik noom) (พริกหนุ่ม) thinly sliced
- 5 kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) hand torn
- 1 cup Thai basil (ใบโหระพา)
For the chicken stock:
- 1 chicken carcass (ซี่โครงไก่)
- 2 chicken feet (ตีนไก่)
- 3 coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped and washed
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย)
- 5 cups water (น้ำเปล่า)
For rendering the chicken fat:
- chicken fat tissue (มันไก่)
- 5 slices ginger (ขิง)
- 1 spring onion (ต้นหอม)
- 1/2 cup water (น้ำเปล่า)
For the curry paste:
- 10 dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) use dry, roast to 20% char
- 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)
- 2 coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 2 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) roasted and grounded
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) roasted and grounded
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) roasted and grounded
- 1 teaspoon Siam Cardamom pods (luuk grawaan) (ลูกกระวาน) roasted, peeled and grounded
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg seed (ลูกจันทน์เทศ) roasted and grounded
- 1 teaspoon mace (ดอกจันทน์เทศ) roasted and grounded
- 5 clove (กานพลู) roasted and grounded
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
Cook the stock:
- Fill a stockpot with water.
- When the water is boiling, add the chicken carcass, including the neck and feet.
- Add coriander roots, garlic and white peppercorns.
- Skim off any foam and scum floating on top of the stock.
- Simmer on low heat to make a concentrated stock.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients (excluding the dry spices).
- An overview of the dried spices.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, Siam cardamom, nutmeg, mace and clove. The spices are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish.
- Roast the chilies to no more than 20% char.
- Slice the chilies into small pieces and discard the seeds.
- In a mortar and pestle, pound to a powder the roasted dried chilies with salt. Set aside.
- Pound the curry paste, starting with the lemongrass and galangal.
- Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- Add the roasted dried chili powder and the dried spices. Pound to a smooth paste.
- Finally, 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.
Render the chicken fat:
- In a brass wok, add the chicken fatty tissue. Cover with water and add the sliced ginger and spring onions. Cook over low heat until all the liquids evaporate and the cracklings shrink and turn light golden.
- Remove the aromatics and continue to cook the curry.
Cook the curry:
- Fry Thai garlic with the chicken fat until it becomes fragrant.
- Add the curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness. Use the liquids reserved from washing the mortar to deglaze the pan when necessary, making sure the paste is properly cooking.
- Once the aroma indicates the paste is fully cooked, add the chicken meat and offal and fry them together with the curry paste. The chicken will caramelize slightly, introducing another light smoke layer as we build up the foundation.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add the palm sugar at the ratio indicated.
Adding the herbs:
- Add the young chilies.
- Add hand-torn kaffir lime leaves.
- Turn off the heat before adding the Thai basil. Spread the Thai basil equally on top of the curry and gently push it into the broth, allowing it to wilt down. Do not stir vigorously!
|↑1||A fresh look at meat flavor. (n.d.). Meat Science, 77(1), 63–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2007.04.016|
|↑2||Ma, Chyau, & Pan. (n.d.). Fatty acid profile and aroma compounds of lipoxygenase-modified chicken oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 81(10), 921–926. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11746-004-1002-8|
|↑3||Lee, Y.-S., Ryu, Y., Jung, W.-M., Kim, J., Lee, T., & Chae, Y. (2017). Understanding Mind-Body Interaction from the Perspective of East Asian Medicine. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: ECAM, 2017, 7618419. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/7618419|