Preparing a crab curry is an exercise in culinary diplomacy, wherein the challenge lies in negotiating the distinct flavors of land and sea into a cohesive understanding and capturing the perfect balance. This golden gastronomic horizon is where the delicate whispers of the ocean meet earth’s bold declarations – and at its core is a straightforward question: How do we craft a curry that testifies, via crab, to the ocean’s bounty, yet remains grounded in the earth’s aromatic flora, with roots like galangal and turmeric?
In addition, it is challenging to create a curry that is luxuriously creamy, yet light and not too greasy; where the crab’s delicate natural sweetness surfaces as a pleasant sea breeze, levitating above the pitfalls of being too fishy or overly sweetened. Another hurdle is achieving the precise color – produced by red chilies, golden turmeric and peppercorns – that reflects the culinary traditions of southern seashore fishing communities. I like mine set to about a 70:30 ratio of yellow to red and, if using black peppercorns, with a deep brown undertone.
In coastal communities and in Siamese cuisine, smoke-dried fish (ปลาย่างรมควัน) is a staple that preserves well and is easy to prepare. Freshwater fish such as snakehead fish (ปลาช่อน), iridescent shark catfish (ปลาสวาย), and various species of gourami (ปลาฉลาด), as well as sheatfishes (ปลาเนื้ออ่อน) or pla soi – a small freshwater fish in the Cyprinidae family (ปลาสร้อย) – are cleaned and marinated in a mixture of salt and sugar, and then smoked over a fire fueled by charcoal and rice straw. The hot-smoke process continues until the fish are thoroughly dried, a process that infuses the fish with phenolic compounds, which are natural preservatives and potent antioxidants that prevent the rancidity of fish lipids. The fish’s savoriness, coupled with the smoky flavor, acts as a culinary mediator between the oceanic flavors of the seafood and the earthy and spicy elements of the curry paste. It must be noted that the taste of the smoked fish should never overpower the palate and should remain in the distant layers of the dish.
Spring onions, added for their distinct herbal qualities, complete the dish. The mild, sweet and slightly pungent aroma of the spring onion complements the heat from the peppercorns and the spiciness of the chilies, adding a final layer of complexity to the dish and gracefully rounding out the interplay between heat and sweetness.
|Fresh turmeric (ขมิ้นชัน)|
|smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน)|
|black peppercorns (พริกไทยดำ)|
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- 400 gr steamed crab meat (เนื้อปูนึ่ง)
- 1 cup spring onion (ต้นหอม) sliced into segments
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- coconut milk (หางกะทิ) as needed
- chicken stock (น้ำสต๊อกไก่) as needed
For the curry paste:
- 1 tablespoon dried Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแห้ง) used dry
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้)
- 1 tablespoon galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด)
- 1 teaspoon coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง)
- 1/3 tablespoon fresh turmeric (ขมิ้นชัน) about 10 thin slices
- 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 1/2 tablespoons smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (พริกไทยดำ) roasted and ground
- 1 1/2 parts fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว) optional
Prepare the crab:
- Clean and steam the crab.
- Extract only the meat.
Prepare the curry paste:
- Start by pounding the dried chilies.
- Gradually add the other ingredients, moving from the driest to the wettest.
- Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
Cooking the curry:
- In a brass wok, heat coconut cream until it thickens.
- Add the prepared curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
- Add plain water to stop the frying before too much oil separates; in contrast to spicy curry, it is important to minimize oil separation at this stage.
- Add chicken stock to achieve your desired consistency.
- Start by adding fish sauce for saltiness.
- Once satisfied with the saltiness, add palm sugar as indicated.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Add coconut cream and the prepared crab meat.
- Warm the meat through.
- Add spring onions, sliced into 1.5-inch (4 cm) lengths.