5 Secrets to Making A Great Thai Curry at Home

The other day I was, for some reason, going to link to the Thai Red Curry recipe I had posted on this site.  That I was sure I had posted to this site because we make it so often, how could it be possible that I had, actually, never posted it?

Because after much searching and hand-(mouse?)-wringing it became clear that it was not, in fact, on this site.

Which is a shame.

Now, maybe you think you already know how to make a great thai curry.  It’s possible, then, that you were just like I was three years ago.  “I know how to make a thai curry.  It’s so easy!  Saute an onion, add curry paste, a can of coconut milk and vegetables.  Duh!”

But that was before I came across this recipe in an old Vegetarian Times that forever changed the way I made thai curry and made me realize that the curries I’d been making were just ‘pretty good’ and not great.

And if you’re a curry-making newbie, well, have no fear!  This is as easy as making a soup—and nearly as versatile, too.  I usually end up adding some sort of frozen veggie to mine—peas, most often, or sometimes green beans or frozen cauliflower—because I usually have them on hand, and because they cook slowly in the sauce they end up tender and flavorful rather than suffering the usual frozen veggie syndrome—bland, tough, visibly freezer-burnt in places.  I made a ‘peas & carrots’ curry once because those were the only veggies I had in the house, and it was still pretty damn tasty.

Thai curry was the first meal I cooked for My Guy and, even though I’d put tofu in it (and he dislikes tofu because he says it will give him man-boobs), he still went back for seconds.  But maybe he was just being polite.

5 Ways to take your Thai Curry from ‘Good’ to Great

1.  Use a thai curry paste.

I know, I know.  As someone who is too cheap to ever buy pre-mixed spices, preferring instead to make them at home (Lawrys, ranch mix) this is a bit of a surprise.  But for about $3 you get a whole tub of the stuff, enough to make 8-10 batches of curry (And besides, it’s not like I ever have things like galangal or lemongrass in the pantry).  I think that the paste packs more flavor than the powder—just be resigned to having to make space in your fridge for it.  And if you’re not as much of a curry-maker as I am, you can always thin out the paste with a little olive oil, toss it with raw almonds, and roast.

My favorite kind is Massaman curry paste (note that this is a type of curry, not a brand name), followed closely by red curry.  If you’re a vegetarian, read the ingredients list on the back before buying—some of them have fish sauce or shrimp paste in them.

2.  Use coconut milk.

If I can find it in the store I prefer using a can of coconut cream, since the extra thickness makes up for all the water that the veggies give off as they cook, but usually grocery stores don’t stock it.  But since you’re going to be at the asian market anyway to get your curry paste you may as well pick up a few cans of it.

3.  Choose your vegetables wisely.

In this case you’re going to want something somewhat bland, a veggie that is more of a blank canvas.  Something a bit unassertive that plays well with others.  For example: cauliflower, peas, carrots, zucchini, green beans, bell peppers, onions, pumpkins, or potatoes—these all work.  There’s a reason that you never see a broccoli or a cabbage curry, and the reason is that broccoli wants to be the star of the show. [Please disregard the broccoli in the bowl at the top of this post.  Or, at least note that it is way over to the side by itself nowhere near the curry.]

4.  Add soy sauce.

Really!  This is the one that most took me by surprise because, Have you read the ingredients of curry paste?  The first ingredient is salt, and you can tell.  I used to always think my curries were too salty, and I was skeptical that soy sauce was going to be a welcome addition.  Turns out you do need that little bit of umami + whatever else it is that makes soy sauce so magical.  A little goes a long way, though—stick with about 2 Tablespoons of it.

5.  Add brown sugar.

Again, really!  3-4 Tablespoons of it will do amazing things to your curry.  I was dubious at first, but the more I thought about it the more sense it made.  It heightens the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk, but more importantly it brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables.

I know you’re skeptical about this, and that’s why I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was in high school I went over to my friend Daneen’s house for dinner.  Her mom served a pot of butter beans with the meal and they were so amazing that I went back for seconds, and then thirds of them, and then I asked for her recipe.  She was slightly taken aback because there was no recipe.  “It’s just frozen beans,” she said, “cooked in some water with some salt, a little butter, and brown sugar.”

That’s right.  Brown sugar. That was the key ingredient that made the butter beans irresistible, and it’s what’ll make your curry irresistible, too.

I know it’s hard to think of sugar belonging on your dinner plate, but it does—at least a little.  In fact it already is if you’ve ever eaten General Tso’s chicken or any bottled salad dressing.  And look at it this way: these days sea salt has been finding its way into all kinds of desserts, so it’s only natural that sugar gets to trespass into salt’s domain.  Just a little.

1 comment to 5 Secrets to Making A Great Thai Curry at Home

  • Tori, Paul Stephen here over at the StarNews. I may be way off base here, but I’m fairly certain you are blogging from the Wilmington area, correct? Would love to have a chat with you about featuring this post in a new weekly thing we’re doing in every Friday’s paper. Just shoot me an email if you get a chance, and I can explain myself better.