At first glance, this chicken and pineapple curry might seem ordinary or plain. After all, even though spicy curries with sour notes have been relished for ages, they feature repetitive patterns that could be viewed as common and perhaps uninteresting. However, with a calculated yet simple approach, this curry turns corners – quite literally – into a dish with a new flavor melody. It is thus referred to by its author, Mrs. Samaknantapol (Jeep Bunnag) (นางสมรรคนันทพล, จีบ บุนนาค), as laak laai roht, a “curry with manifold flavors (หลากหลายรส)”.
We’ve become so familiar with the structure of the pounded basic curry paste that we rarely question its underlying principle, which is that its ingredients should be pounded fine enough so that the aromatic oils merge and render a new fragrance.
A creative thinker, Jeep Bunnag riffs on this concept and discovers some interesting new tempos in the otherwise aromatically muted flavor stretches of pounded curry pastes. She suggests breaking apart the traditionally single, wholesome curry paste into five segments, pounded separately and then mixed into one; we can describe this as permitting the paste components to voice their individuality. These uncovered layers of aroma result in a laak laai roht curry worth trying.
The paste, if examined as a whole, is based upon the basic phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste without the fermented shrimp paste (kapi), and with the addition of white peppercorns and coriander seeds.
|White peppercorns (S1)||Fermented shrimp paste (kapi)
|Coriander seeds (S2)|
Instead of pounding all the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle, the paste is made by preparing and pounding five individual parts separately, then combining them in a bowl. Because the full aromatic fusion process of a typical curry paste does not take place, the memories of the smells of certain ingredients are preserved – a reminiscence that opens a sensory window into the bones of the curry paste.
Jeep Bunnag divides the paste into five components (layers) as follows:
- Layer 1 – Rehydrated dried red long chilies pounded with sea salt.
- Layer 2 – Coriander roots, Thai garlic, and white peppercorns (S1) – the saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) paste.
- Layer 3 – Shallot paste.
- Layer 4 – Lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime zest pounded together.
- Layer 5 – Coriander seeds (S2), roasted and grounded.
It’s fascinating to see how the traditional Siamese saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) flavor base – coriander roots, garlic and white peppercorn – reemerges as an entity that enjoys a dedicated layer, resting atop a solid, colorful background rendered by rehydrating the chilies and pounding them with salt. The revival of the saam gluuhr paste redefines the flavor profile and outlines the dish’s Siamese traits.
The third layer is reserved for the shallots, which are rich in sugars and moisture. The fourth layer combines the citrusy, herbaceous and astringent elements: the lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime zest, and maintains their coarse notes. Last, coriander seeds, roasted and grounded, are introduced as the final layer of the paste.
One can make the paste based on the universal curry ratios. However, I would not miss an opportunity to adjust the curry paste elements to achieve conceptual or flavor-wise intentions. For example, increasing the amount of shallots creates a sweeter paste that complements the pineapple’s sweet side. Alternatively, tuning up the paste’s harsh, citrusy notes by slightly increasing the amount of lemongrass appeals to the sour facets in the pineapple. You can also experiment by increasing the Siamese saam gluuhr (สามเกลอ) elements and examining how the meaty-fatty qualities of the chicken transform, bridging the similar aromatic characteristics of the pineapple and the chicken.
Pineapple’s natural sweetness is inseparable from its sharp sourness, which makes it an ideal ingredient for curries. Pineapple has an intense, sultry, fresh and tropical scent that can be described as a blend of citrusy, apple-like fruity aromas with notes of coconut and caramel, as well as meaty, oniony qualities.
The remaining steps in making this curry follow the usual procedure. The chicken is first braised soft in coconut milk; and the curry paste is fried, like a typical gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด), with coconut cream and some of the chicken fat accumulated while braising the chicken.
The curry is diluted with coconut milk and the chicken cooking liquids. The pineapple is then sliced into equal, bite-size pieces that are permitted to cook only briefly in the curry, until sourness is detected.
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. Then, when you are satisfied with the seasoning, add no more than half the amount of palm sugar volume in tamarind paste. This results in a sour layer that appears to rise above the sweetness yet allows the saltiness to lead the flavor profile.
But of course, this is just a game plan – you can adjust these seasonings as you cook and taste.
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- 400 gr chicken meat (เนื้อไก่) sliced into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ) หัวกะทิ
- 3 cups coconut milk (หางกะทิ)
- 1 small pineapple sliced into same size pieces as the chicken
For the curry paste:
Paste (layer 1):
- 10 pieces dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) deseeded and rehydrated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล) เกลือทะเล
Paste (layer 2):
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
- 1/3 tablespoon coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and grounded
Paste (layer 3):
- 2 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง)
Paste (layer 4):
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 3/4 tablespoon galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด)
Paste (layer 5):
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) malet phak chee (เมล็ดผักชี), roasted and grounded
- 1 part tablespoons fish sauce น้ำปลา
- 1/2 part palm sugar น้ำตาลมะพร้าว
- tamarind paste น้ำมะขามเปียก (optional)
- 1/2 cup coconut cream หัวกะทิ
Braise the chicken:
- Debone the chicken thighs. Slice the chicken into equal-sized pieces.
- Fill a pot with coconut milk (or 1 part water to 1/4-part coconut cream)
- Add the aromatics: Three slices of galangal, three whole, peeled shallots, and one bruised and sliced lemongrass stalk.
- Braise the chicken, starting from boiling coconut milk until it is tender.
- Turn off the heat when the chicken is cooked; collect some of the fat that floats to the top. We’ll use the fat, along with coconut cream, to fry the paste. Set aside.
Prepare the pineapple:
- Slice one small pineapple into the same size pieces as the chicken. Set aside.
Prepare the curry paste five components:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients, divided into five groups
- De-seed and rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns and followed by the coriander seeds. The spices are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the paste.
- Using a mortar and pestle, pound each of the five ingredient groups separately into fine pastes.
- Transfer the five pounded components into a mixing bowl and, using a spoon, mix them to blend the final curry paste. Do not use a mortar and pestle. Set the finished paste aside.
- Wash the pestle and mortar 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 and pestle. This is an 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 cooked chicken and mix gently.
Diluting the curry:
- Dilute the curry to your liking with the chicken cooking liquids, coconut milk or chicken stock.
- Add the sliced pineapple and allow the pineapple to cook briefly, until you can taste its sourness.
- Season to a salty leading with a sweet or sour-sweet floor flavor profile – and 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.
- Optional: If needed, use tamarind paste to adjust or emphasize the natural sourness of the pineapple.
Plate and serve:
- Put the curry into a serving bowl and drizzle thick coconut cream over it. Serve!