Gaaeng rawang (แกงระแวง) is a curry bearing an unusual name and contradictory accounts regarding its appearance, lineage and origins. When I cook this dish, it is a rich and thick coconut-based curry made with a paste of fresh chilies, aromatics, spices and generous amounts of fresh turmeric, which adds warmth and gives the green chili color a slightly earthier, muted tone that resonates beautifully with the duck meat.
The duck meat is prepared separately and slow-braised in coconut cream before being cooked in the curry. This slow-braising process allows the coconut cream and duck’s fattiness to melt together, resulting in moist and flavorful meat with a hint of sweetness. The curry itself is seasoned to a salty and slightly sweet flavor profile.
The curry paste, made with fresh chilies and turmeric, introduces undesired, grassy qualities into the dish referred to in Thai as “green rank” or “men khiaao (เหม็นเขียว).”
Lemongrass is effective in complementing and offering a refreshing counterpoint to the taste, as well as softening the bitter notes of turmeric. This approach is commonly used in other dishes such as curry of yellow chilies with whole quail, fresh turmeric and lemon basil (แกงเผ็ดนกกระทาพริกเหลืองสด), in which lemongrass helps to preserve the fruitiness of the chilies.
For individuals who might be extra sensitive to these grassy notes, you can soak the fresh green chilies in salted water for ten minutes and then wash them repeatedly to eliminate the green rankness before using them in the paste. As well, the paste must be properly fried in coconut cream until it loses its rawness and takes on a distinct deep army-green sheen.
Furthermore, gaaeng rawaaeng (แกงระแวง), in contrast to other spicy gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) curries that feature a Thai basil herbal identity and often include kaffir lime leaves for their floral citrus aroma, omits them both; instead, it incorporates the zesty lemony fragrance of lemongrass.
The word rawaaeng (ระแวง) is often associated with feelings of fear, doubt or suspicion; yet, the name of the dish might lack any connection to those emotions and represent no literal meaning. Since evidence suggests that gaaeng rawaaeng (แกงระแวง) has existed since the 1930s, it might very well reflect a poetic expression of the word rawaaeng. Perhaps it metaphorically symbolizes the unexpected qualities or surprises that this dish delivers upon tasting; maybe it conveys the uncertainty or skepticism one might feel when encountering the dish’s unique combination of ingredients or its cooking style, both of which produce an unconventional flavor or appearance. If that is indeed the case, wouldn’t it suggest a relatively new emergence?
Supporting this idea is the fact that the Siamese culinary literature provides no evidence to confirm that gaaeng rawaaeng (แกงระแวง) has been around since the Ayutthaya period. Nor is there any evidence to back up claims that the dish was influenced by Indonesian cuisine and entered Thailand through the southern part of the country during the reign of King Rama V. The dish is missing from all the classic Siamese cookbooks and appears around the 1930s. Therefore, one can’t help but wonder if the rawaaeng – the surprise – lies not only in the dish’s mysterious origin but in our misgivings of the cultural inconsistencies we find in the culinary writings, a reflection of the complexity that we taste when navigating the world of Thai cuisine.
The 2014 volume Grandparents Recipes: 100 Years Old Recipes (จานอร่อยจากปู่ย่า สูตรโบราณ 100 ปี), penned by Sumon Wongwongsri, is a collection of recipes from fifteen aristocratic families from Bangkok. In the book, gaaeng rawaaeng (แกงระแวง) is described as a thick green curry of stewed beef, featuring a dominant turmeric presence added to a “standard” green curry blossomed with lemongrass, along with a suggestion to have less oil separation than in a standard green curry
In her 1933 book Samrub Raawp Bpee (สำรับรอบปี หลานแม่ครัวหัวป่าก์ ), Jeeb Bunnag describes a recipe for a dish she refers to as rawaaeng khaao bping (ระแวงข้าวปิ้ง ); the dish features a gaaeng rawaaeng lemongrass-infused green curry, fried with rice and baked in banana parcels, and served with shredded crispy beef. The Kitchen Guide by Thanom Palaboot is a four-volume collection of recipes published in 1941 by Ms. Palaboot, a home economics teacher during the 1930s at Suankularb Wittayalai School (โรงเรียนสวนกุหลาบวิทยาลัย), where she instructed the children of nobility and the members of the royal household. Ms. Palaboot provides a version of gaaeng rawaaeng (แกงระแวง) as a typical spicy curry made with a paste perfumed by cumin seeds and mace. This unusual pairing of dry spices gives the dish a warm, unfamiliar but distinctive scent that evokes an emotional response well-suited to its name.
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To cook the duck meat:
- 400 g duck meat (เนื้อเป็ด)
- coconut middle cream (กลางกะทิ)
- 3 stalks lemongrass (ตะไคร้) bruised and sliced into large pieces
For the curry:
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (หางกะทิ) as needed or
- chicken stock (น้ำสต๊อกไก่)
- 3 stalks lemongrass (ตะไคร้) bruised and sliced into large pieces
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
For the curry paste:
- 7-8 pieces fresh green long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าเขียว) sliced and soaked in salted water for ten minutes and washed thoroughly.
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh red and green Thai bird’s eye chilies (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแดง และ เขียว) optional
- 1 teaspoon ground dried chili (พริกป่น) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง), washed
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric (ขมิ้นชัน) thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 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
- 4 Siam Cardamom pods (luuk grawaan) (ลูกกระวาน) (S4)
- lemongrass (ตะไคร้) bruised and thinly sliced
- thickened coconut cream (หัวกะทิเข้มข้น)
Braise the duck:
- To a pot, add the duck and fill to cover with middle cream (กลางกะทิ) or an equal amount of water and coconut cream.
- Add the lemongrass.
- Over low heat, braise the duck until it is tender, and the liquid is reduced to a thick and oily sauce.
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients (excluding the dry spices).
- Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and nutmeg. The spices are ground separately and *kept separate until they are used in the dish.
- Slice the green chilies into large segments and soak them for ten minutes in a salt brine made with one tablespoon of sea salt to one cup of water. Wash several times.
- Pound the curry paste, starting with the washed chilies and salt.
- Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma. 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 ground white peppercorns (S1).
- Add the roasted and ground coriander seeds.
- Add the roasted and ground cumin seeds.
- Add the roasted and ground Siam Cardamom pods.
- 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.
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 a small amount of the duck fat that was skimmed during the braising process.
- 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.
- Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar and pestle.
- An important note: At this stage, mix gently to avoid the re-emulsification of the oil; we do this in order to separate the oil particles created during the paste-frying process from the rest of the broth.
- Add the braised duck and mix gently.
- Add the lemongrass and and mix gently..
Diluting the curry:
- Keep the curry relatively thick. If necessary, dilute it with coconut milk or stock.
- 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.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.