Various Thai dishes

I recently was fortunate enough to acquire an Ultra Pride wet grinder, a contraption from Southern India that I’ve been lusting after for some time. It promised to take some of the labor out of making Thai curry pastes, an unforeseen use that was discovered on this egullet thread. Up till now I’ve been pounding the pastes by hand, one ingredient at a time, up and down not round and round, in a large granite Thai mortar and pestle. The resulting paste is smooth and creamy, a texture that is impossible to achieve in a food processor or a blender with their metal blades. The wet grinder rolls massive stone “blades” over each ingredient, mimicking the action of a pestle, really pulverizing them (and not heating them and slightly “cooking” them in the process).

You see the result above – the paste for a dry red curry of chicken, sitting on top of the blade mechanism. The paste contains seeded, soaked dried red chiles, salt, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, coriander root, red shallot, garlic and roasted shrimp paste. Here’s the finished dish:

I adapted the recipe from David Thompson, who makes it with lobster. I deep-fried slices of chicken thigh for about 30 seconds, so still slightly pink in the middle, removed the chicken, and saved 5 tablespoons of the oil. I then fried the curry paste in the oil for quite a long time until fragrant, and seasoned with fish sauce and white sugar. I then added baby bok choy and stirfried in the oily paste briefly until not quite done, and removed it. Re-added the chicken and simmered, moistening with some chicken stock, then re-added the bok choy and cooked until done (perhaps another 30 seconds max). I checked the flavor and balanced the seasoning – the curry should be quite dry and oily, and taste salty, hot, rich and slightly sweet in that order. I garnished with shredded kaffir lime leaves and cilantro leaves.

This is stir-fried minced beef with chiles and holy basil, another David Thompson preparation. The chiles are a mix of long, medium-hot green or red chiles for dark & earthy flavor, and the short, fiery, floral Thai bird chiles. It is cooked in a wok over extremely high heat (watch the garlic in the chile paste reconstitute itself in seconds and don’t burn it!), and seasoned with both light and dark soy sauce. The holy basil leaves must actually be stirred into the dish over heat and not simply laid on top as a garnish, since the intense lemony-minty flavor of holy basil only truly emerges when it is cooked.

Make sure you are buying true holy basil, with its small green leaves, not Thai basil with its large, purple-veined leaves and stems. They are quite different and serve different purposes. This does not stop many stores from selling Thai basil as holy basil, including the great Manhattan grocery Kalustyan’s (otherwise a terrific place to find Thai ingredients, including some that are hard to locate in Chinatown).

This is Thompson’s jungle curry – his recipe calls for duck and snake beans; in this instance I used chicken and apple eggplants. The recipe calls for two pastes, one of jungle curry paste (fresh green bird chiles, salt, medium chile, galangal, lemongrass, wild ginger, red shallot, garlic and roasted shrimp paste) and one of garlic, wild ginger, salt and more fresh green bird chiles. It is fiery hot but bursting with herbal flavor from holy basil and green peppercorns. Some of his ingredients I’ve not been able to find, including (on this occasion) wild ginger or grachai, and pea eggplants. I’ve substituted young ginger and mature ginger for the grachai and had great success.