Gaaeng Ranjuaan: A sensuous yearning for a remarkably old-fashioned recipe.
Gaaeng Ranjuaan is spicy, sour, sweet and salty beef curry seasoned with no more than fermented shrimp paste chili sauce. It should be served steaming hot, and must possess three distinct flavors, similar to fish Tom Yam soup.
These modest ingredients and an intensely-flavored curry emerge from a story about love, things lost in translation and…leftovers.
Gaaeng Ranjuaan was created by the kitchen masters of Royal households from the uneaten food returned to the kitchen from grand events. Sagely combining pieces of meat and leftover nam prhrik kapi chili sauce, the chefs concocted a new dish – forever yearned by all who tasted it.
Fermented shrimp paste (kapi) rests at the base of the Thai culinary tradition. It is widely used in curry pastes, stir-fried recipes and, of course, in chili dipping sauces.
The most well-known of all these sauces is probably nam prhrik kapi chili sauce, a comfort food for any Thai person, whatever their social status. This hot, sour, sweet and salty chili sauce is commonly served with raw or cooked vegetables, and head-bent steamed and fried mackerel.
Many distinguished Thai chefs reintroduced gaaeng ranjuaan to restaurant menus after it was mentioned by culinary authority ML Neuuang Ninrat (1913-2010) (หม่อมหลวงเนื่อง นิลรัตน์), in a memoir describing her life in the royal courts of King Rama V and VI.
As well, Internet forums began to fill up with misleading information about the origin and preparation methods for gaaeng ranjuaan following its appearance in a popular TV series about five noble heirs desperately seeking love. In one episode, the leading actress prepared gaaeng ranjuaan curry to win the heart of the rich bachelor.
And the real story is…
In her book “Life in the Palace (ชีวิตในวัง ) ”,1 ML Ninrat describes how her grandmother, Princess Sabaai Nillarat (มจ.หญิงสะบาย นิลรัตน์), created this dish.
One day, the kitchen had prepared food for former court staff; at the end of the dinner, there remained quite a large amount of a dish consisting of beef stir fried with basil. No one dared to throw it away and waste it.
Princess Sabaai, who was the head chef for the royal cuisine of King Rama V, asked Jeg Ngee, her Chinese assistance, to separate the meat from the chilies and basil. The Princess then mixed it into a broth and added leftover nam prhrik kapi. She also added thinly-sliced lemongrass and a handful of whole shallot and garlic to the pot.
Everyone enjoyed this curry dish, and Princess Sabaai Nillarat called it “gaaeng ranjuaan” – in Thai, “ranjuaan” is “to yearn for”.
The original recipe uses whole shallots and excludes galangal. When the curry is boiling, remove the pot from the stove and add basil leaves. If it is not spicy enough, add more crushed chilies.
The original recipe calls for beef, but it can be prepared with any type of meat – as you wish…
1 ^ Ninrat, M.L. (หม่อมหลวงเนื่อง นิลรัตน์) (1998). ชีวิตในวัง (Life in the Palace), fifth edition Book 2, chapter 21, page 73. Bangkok, Thailand. ISBN: 9786167153520
To prepare basic beef stew
- 800 grams Beef shank
- 4 stalks Lemongrass
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- Water to cover approximately 4-6 cups
To prepare Fermented Shrimp Paste Chili Sauce.
- 5 tablespoons Fermented Shrimp Paste Kapi
- 5 tablespoons Garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh bird's eye chilies
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Grounded dried shrimp
- 3 tablespoons Palm sugar
- 2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
- 4 tablespoons Lime juice
To prepare the Curry.
- 1 cup Shallots peeled unsliced.
- 2 tablespoons Thai garlic
- 1/2 cup Lemongrass, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup Fermented Shrimp Paste Chili Sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh bird's eye chilies bruised
- 3/4 tablespoon Lime juice
- 1 cup Sweet Thai Basil Horapa
Making beef stew
- Cut the beef into large pieces.
- Stew the beef in water to together with a pinch of salt and bruised lemon grass stalks.
- Stew for about two hours, or until the beef is tender.
- Peel garlic and shallots, and set aside.
Making Fermented Shrimp Paste Chili Sauce
- Wrap kapi in banana leaves and grill over charcoal until fragrant.
- Remove the kapi from the banana leaves and set aside.
- In a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic.
- Add kapi.
- Pound the garlic and the kapi together, this stage is called in Thai “killing the Kapi” and helps to mellow down the kapi smell.
- Add bird’s eye chillies.
- Add pounded dry shrimp powder.
- Add Plam Sugar.
- Mix everything together.
- Add lime juice.
- Set the fermented shrimp paste chili sauce aside.
Assembling the dish
- Add whole shallots and garlic to the beef stew.
- Add finely sliced lemon grass.
- Add as much as you like from the fermented shrimp paste.
- Add bruised bird’s eye chili peppers.
- Add sweet basil leaves.
- Serve hot.