When Thai Food completely dominated last week’s poll (maybe the largest margin ever), I knew I wanted a good Thai curry. I love spicy food so much and this dish delivered. The curry may look mild, but it packs quite the punch due to some really authentic curry paste and a good handful of Thai bird chili peppers.
One would think that since I live in a large metropolitan area, I’d be able to find almost any ingredient or food I wanted. WRONG. For some reason, Asian markets are few and far between in DC and the ones that do exist are very small and very specialized. It’s really hard to explore new ingredients when it comes to Asian cuisine in DC.
I was venting about this problem recently and Sylvie from Thrifty DC Cook mentioned I should venture out to Virginia to explore H-Mart. I’d never even heard of this place but she promised me that it would be worth the 30 minute drive. So drive I did!
I knew I was in for a treat when one of the first things I saw when I walked into the store was a one pound bag of raw MSG. Umm… awesome! There were rows of authentic sauces that I couldn’t pronounce and strange powders and spices that excited and intimidated me at the same time. I got some good stuff for this dish, but I only brushed the surface of H-Mart.
1) Cook rice according to package.
2) Wash your peas and cube your chicken into 1/2 inch cubes.
3) Add neutral oil to a large pan or wok over high heat. Once it's hot, add curry paste and stir-fry for a minute.
4) Add your coconut milk and turn the heat down to medium. Stir so the paste and coconut milk are well combined.
5) Add your chicken and bird chilis to the curry and simmer for about 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. If you want a more mild heat, leave your chilis whole and remove them before serving. It you want it spicy, then chop the chilis.
6) About a minute before serving, add peas, water chestnuts, and a splash of fish sauce.
7) Serve immediately over rice.
Loot from H-Mart
This recipe is pretty easy actually assuming you can find good ingredients. I finally bought something that I’ve been wanting for a long time: A very large bag of Jasmine rice.
They actually had an entire wall of various rices at H-Mart. How did I pick this specific bag you might wonder? I picked it solely because it shares its name with one of the greatest video games of all time: Double Dragon. The better question is why would you pick a different rice?!
I also came away with these gems, most of which I used for this recipe. I now have enough chili garlic sauce and fish sauce to last me until my children graduate from college.
The one thing I will mention about the curry paste I used. It does have MSG in it. If you have an MSG intolerance, you might want to steer clear. I’m in the camp of MSG being pretty harmless in reasonable quantities. There’s been a number of studies (here’s one) that suggest that the stigma around it isn’t really warranted.
Anyway, I’m not a scientist so I can just tell you that A) this specific brand of curry paste has MSG in it and B) it’s very delicious and C) Betsy and I ate it without experiencing any strange side-effects.
Making the Curry
Prepping the ingredients for this curry is pretty straightforward. Cube up your chicken into smallish cubes and wash your peas. If you have large peas, you should remove the string that runs down the center by snapping off one of the ends and gently pulling it down the side.
Also, don’t forget to get your rice cooking before you start your curry. If you’re using real rice and not instant rice, it’ll take longer to cook the rice than make the curry.
When you’re ready to cook, get out a large pan (a wok is nice, but not necessary) and put it over high heat. Add your neutral oil to the pan and then add all of your curry paste as well.
You basically want to quickly stir-fry the paste with the oil for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. This will help loosen up the curry paste a bit and also the direct heat will release some of the flavors.
Then add your can of coconut milk and continue to stir. When your curry and coconut mixture is well combined, turn the heat down to medium-high and add all your chicken to the curry. Things will start smelling very good.
Bring this mixture to a simmer. You’re basically poaching the chicken in this spicy mixture which will make it very tender and flavorful. It’ll probably take about 8 minutes to cook the chicken all the way through. Be sure to stir it regularly to make sure that nothing is burning on the bottom of the pan.
The curry is kind of spicy on its own, but I wanted to kick it up a notch further. These guys will do the trick just fine.
I used about 8 of these little peppers in my curry. I threw in 6 whole peppers right after my chicken and diced 2 peppers and added those as well. As the peppers cook, they’ll infuse the curry with lots of flavor and spice. The more peppers you dice up, the spicier it will be. Adding them whole keeps their impact down. Just remember to remove them before you eat or you might accidentally chomp into one!
Here’s my curry simmering with my peppers added.
One more Diversion
I also picked up this chopstick set at H-Mart. They were actually pretty high quality for $4.
Back to the meal
Ok sorry. Anyway, after 8-10 minutes of simmering your chicken should be cooked. If you’re in doubt, spoon out a piece and cut into it.
About a minute before you’re ready to serve the curry, add your water chestnuts if you’re using them, all your peas, and your fish sauce. The veggies will add some great texture and color to the dish.
Stir everything together for a minute and you’re ready to eat!
This photo doesn’t really do this meal justice. It was really tasty.
I went a bit outside of my comfort zone for this meal and was definitely rewarded. Someday I’m gonna start mixing up my own curry powders but I doubt that I’d be able to reproduce the flavors any better than this paste.
Even if I did buy that 1 pound bag of MSG…