Grapes have long been associated with prosperity, fertility and abundance across various cultures and historical periods due to the fruit’s large clusters and bountiful growth. In ancient China, grapes were considered a symbol of wealth and nobility, and often deployed as a status symbol among the elite. In Greek mythology, Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, was often depicted holding a bunch of grapes, further emphasizing the connection between grapes and abundance. This association is also likely rooted in the fact that grapes were a valuable crop in antiquity – used to produce wine and other fermented products, and an important source of food and nutrition. In Indian Ayurvedic texts, grapes are referred to as vineaksha and utilized in treating a variety of ailments, including fever and indigestion.
From the Siamese perspective, the incorporation of fruits in culinary preparations was viewed as a luxurious indulgence, as many fruits commonly available today were once difficult to obtain. Thus the pairing of an extravagant ingredient – such as fruit – with an equally opulent and exclusive delicacy like roasted duck resulted in a dish fit for royalty.
This dish is inspired by the 1941 recipe by Thanom Palaboot, a home economics teacher at Suankularb Wittayalai School (โรงเรียนสวนกุหลาบวิทยาลัย), an all-boys secondary school in Bangkok, founded in 1882 with the sole purpose of providing an education for the children of the elite. Ms. Thanom pairs the intense savory flavor of roasted duck meat with the sweet and slightly tart flavors of black grapes.
I prefer to use home-smoked duck breasts for my roasted duck dishes rather than store-roasted birds, which are often painted golden-orange using food coloring; also, if not well-prepared, the meat can have undesirable aromas. With home-smoking, I have more control over the process and can ensure that the meat is flavorful, moist and free of any unwanted aromas.
Hot smoking is a method of cooking and flavoring food using smoke and heat. I use jasmine rice grains as the base for the smoke, along with a small amount of unrefined cane sugar, which gives the smoke coloring properties, helps enhance the hue on the duck’s skin, and draws smoke bands on the meat’s surface.
As smoke and heat penetrate the duck breast during the hot-smoking process, the moisture on its surface evaporates. This initiates the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, which leads to the formation of complex flavor compounds. The smoke band that forms on the surface of the meat is a result of this process.
After the duck meat has been cooked to perfection, I allow it to rest before slicing it into bite-size pieces. The final stage in preparing the meat is the traditional technique of ‘ruaan nam man’ (รวนน้ำมัน)’, in which I dry roast the meat with garlic-flavored pork lard. This technique tames down the gamey identity of the meat, resulting in a deliciously complex and flavorful dish.
The curry is thick and rich, with intense colors and light cinnamon and nutmeg undertones. It is a typical gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) curry in style, which is characterized by a curry cooked with a phrik khing (พริกขิง) curry paste that includes dry spices. It also features a single basil identity – the distinct flavor of Thai basil – and a typical spicy-salty-sweet seasoning. The cooking methods for this dish are the same as for any other spicy curry. Here are a few notes to keep in mind during the preparation.
When selecting chilies for this dish, I prefer to use large-bodied varieties, such as dried red long chilies or dried bang-chang long red chilies that have an intense, vibrant red color. I always rehydrate the chilies, which have varying amounts of char from roasting before rehydration. This allows me to pair the roasted duck meat with both bright red and deep-brown tones of curry broth, both of which I find appropriate. You are encouraged to experiment with different levels of roasting. For instance, you can introduce only 5-10% char for bright red colors or continue roasting the chilies up to 30% for more brownish tones.
I prefer to use pre-roasted whole cinnamon in this dish and add it to the coconut cream while the curry paste is frying. This helps to intensify the sweetness of the meat and adds a distinct but subtle cinnamon flavor – one that is difficult to achieve with ground cinnamon. As the curry paste is frying, and throughout the entire curry cooking process, I add small batches of all the other dry spices in the dish. This creates a well-layered dry spices aromatic profile that is warm and earthy. It is worth noting this dry spice combination as it works well with fruits other than black grapes, such as salacca.
|Coriander seeds||Coriander root|
|Cinnamon (or use whole)|
When the curry paste is fully cooked, instead of ending the frying process with plain water, as is typical for other gaaeng phet dishes, I like to add a small amount of crushed grapes. This gives the dish an extra layer of shiny glaze as the sugars in the grape juice caramelize.
The remaining steps of the cooking process are the same as for a typical gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) and are described in the recipe.
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- 400 g roasted duck (เป็ดย่าง)
- 1 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (หางกะทิ)
- 5 pieces kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 1 1/2 cups black grapes (องุ่นดำ) sliced into halves, or salacca (สละ หรือ ระกำ)
- 3 tablespoons fresh grape juice (น้ำองุ่น)
- 1 cup Thai basil (ใบโหระพา)
For the curry paste:
- 10 pieces dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) roasted to 5-30% char and rehydrated
- 1 tablespoon 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
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg seed (ลูกจันทน์เทศ) (S5) roasted and ground
- 1 piece cinnamon stick (อบเชย) (S8) roasted (use whole when frying the curry)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
Prepare the duck:
- Begin by roasting the duck breasts in a hot smoker with a smoke mix of jasmine rice and unrefined cane sugar.
- When the duck acquires a pleasant color and is still tender to the touch (meaning that it is underdone) remove it from the smoker and let it rest.
- Slice the duck to your preferred thickness and reserve the liquids.
- Next, in a pan, add pork lard and garlic; heat until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the sliced duck meat and the reserved liquids; dry roast the meat with the pork lard, a process called ruaan (รวน), until the meat is fully cooked.
- Set the duck aside.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg and cinnamon stick. The spices, except for the cinnamon, which is used whole, are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish.
- De-seed and roast the dry chilies to anywhere between 5-30% char; rehydrate the chilies in hot water.
- Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma. Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. After pounding the chilies, add the lemongrass and galangal.
- Add the kaffir lime zest.
- Add the shallots and garlic.
- Add the dried spices, and pound to a smooth paste. Start with the coriander seeds.
- Add the roasted and ground cumin seeds.
- Add the roasted and ground nutmeg seed.
- Add the fermented shrimp paste (kapi) and keep 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.
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 cinnamon stick and fry it, to lightly infuse the cream with its aroma.
- Once fragrant, add the curry paste.
- Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
- As you fry, continue to add the dry spices multiple times. Use your sense of smell to determine the amount.
- Add the crushed grapes, including their juice, and fry until the sugar caramelizes and the curry gets a nice shine.
- Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar and pestle. 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 duck meat and the rest of the grapes; mix gently.
- Cook the curry until the duck is fully heated through and the grapes have imparted the desired tart-sweetness profile.
Diluting the curry:
- Dilute the curry with coconut milk or chicken stock to your liking.
- Season to a salty leading with a sweet floor flavor profile – and do 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; make sure to adjust the quantity based on the sweetness of the grapes.
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!