~ Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry ~
Thai curry meals are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). Thai curry dishes are also a staple in Thailand. They range from soupy to stewlike and are ladled over steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles. In many homes they are made from ingredients growing around the house and are eaten on a daily basis. They typically contain less protein than Westerners like me often add, and, they're are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.
The starting point for every Thai curry is Thai curry paste, and, in Thai cuisine there are three, which are identified by color: green, red and yellow. Each one is a pulverized blend of fresh ingredients and herbs, which balances the classic Thai flavors: hot, sour, sweet and salty. To learn more, just click on the Related Article link below to read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries: Green, Red & Yellow ~. It explains in detail how the three differ. Once you understand how each one of these curries is typically used, you can mix and match proteins, fruits and/or vegetables with a curry paste to suit you and your family's taste.
Curry pastes are traditionally made from scratch in the Thai home kitchen using a kruk (a mortar and pestle) to pulverize the ingredients -- to release the essential oils and fully develop the flavors. While purists disagree, in my kitchen a food processor is a viable substitute for this ancient tool. While I make Thai curry pastes the traditional way on occasion, for quick weeknight meals, I take a different approach:
Nowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.
Today's stewlike red pork curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic Thai-style too. Read on:
Thai-style is family-style. All food is placed on the table at the same time, each dish in its own serving vessel. Everyone, all at once, sits down and the food is passed. It's impolite to take too much of any one item at any one time, but, please go back for more of any leftovers. You won't find any knives at a Thai table. Because the food (proteins and vegetables) is all sliced, chopped or pulverized into small bite-sized bits and pieces, they provide only a plate and/or a bowl, a fork, a spoon and a glass to drink from, at each place setting.
Thai red pork curry -- my kids took to this dish immediately!
Thailand is no different than any other culture. For every dish cooked, there are many versions of it, and, they vary from region to region, family to family and cook to cook. After all, that is what cooking is all about -- pleasing those you feed. My three boys took to the red pork curry recipe that Kanya taught me how to make almost immediately. That said, our middle son Eliot, who particularly loved Thai peanut sauce and all dishes made and served with Thai peanut sauce, made the suggestion that I stir some peanut butter into this curry -- it was and is wonderful!
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained
6 tablespoons sesame oil + 1-2 tablespoons for wok-roasting the peanuts
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon powdered turmeric
2 4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note: Red curry paste is your heat gauge. Feel free to drop back to 1 can, or 1 1/2 cans to suit your taste. I always use two cans.)
2 cups medium-diced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted)
1 15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained
2 13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Note: Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)
3-4 tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note: Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)
4 tablespoon palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted)
6-8 tablespoons crunchy-style peanut butter
1 1/4 cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts (directions below), from 1 1/2 cups blanched, unsalted peanuts
8 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (Note: I keep fresh kaffir lime leaves stored in my freezer at all times. I drop them whole and frozen into whatever I'm cooking.)
1 cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
12 cups steamed jasmine rice (Note: This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)
~ Step 1. Place the meat cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts. Using a series of 20-22 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the meat and rough chop the water chestnuts. Remove from work bowl and set aside.
~ Step 2. To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl it to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes. Cool and chop peanuts.
Note: I like to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this Thai dish for my family. Why? It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted.
~Steps 3 & 4. In skillet, heat the sesame oil over 250 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop). Add the curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric. Using a nonstick spatula, work the curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the pork/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, onion and straw mushrooms. Using a large spoon, stir until all ingredients are evenly coated in the curry and spices.
~Steps 5 & 6. Sauté, stirring constantly, until pork is cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm sugar, peanut butter and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, about 1-2 minutes. Add kaffir lime leaves. Adjust heat to simmer steadily at 225 degrees (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
~ Step 7. Turn heat off and cover skillet while steaming the rice and mincing cilantro garnish.
Ladle red pork curry atop a bed of steamed Jasmine rice...
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; wok; 16" electric skillet or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large nonstick spatula; large nonstick spoon
Cook's Note: Thai food is user-friendly and its bold, fresh, flavors adapt well to the American family. For another kid-tested, mother approved favorite, click into Categories 2, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ E-Z Ginger Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)