Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thai-Style Chicken Curry

Authentic Thai curry recipes - those that don't rely on a ready-made curry paste - usually seem to have a list of ingredients as long as your arm. This is understandable, as a good Thai curry is a multi-layered, subtle complex of flavours, but it is not very convenient. Don't mistake me: I love to wander around town hunting out exciting ingredients. But there isn't always the time, or the energy. And besides this, many of the ingredients for a curry are fresh, and cannot be bought in small enough quantities to make just one or two portions at once, which is how I cook. I suppose I could start trying to stash them in the freezer, but past experience tells me that that is the ingredients-equivalent of Purgatory in my kitchen: if they are there, they're already dead, and will ultimately be making their way to their final destination - the bin. Consequently, I generally only make Thai curries using store-bought spice pastes. However, I was in a corner store on North End Road in Fulham last week, and after quizzing my fellow customers about what a breadfruit was and what one should do with it, I felt obliged to buy something. So I picked up a brace of fresh lemongrass stalks and some garlic to go with the 800g of ginger I had bought for £1 (bargain!) at the market in the street outside. Combining all of these with some coconut milk and a few other flavourings I think of as more-or-less South-east Asian, I came up with a very passable Thai-style curry. It might not be very authentic, but it is easy to make and delicious. Which is good enough for me.

For two portions:
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 fresh lemongrass stalk
  • 2 inch ginger root
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 medium onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • Handful of small broccoli florets
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 3 tablespoons -ish chopped fresh coriander

  • Very, very finely chop the lemongrass - you want it to be almost like sand. Repeat with the ginger and the garlic, chopping until the pieces are almost a paste, and then the onion. The idea is that it should blend almost unnoticeably with the coconut milk later. If you have one, by all means puree the lot in a food processor or blender with the oil.

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped or pureed lemongrass, ginger, garlic and onion, the chilli flakes, paprika and cumin. Fry very gently, being careful that it doesn't start to brown or burn. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add them to pan. Give it all a good stir to get the chicken coated in the flavourings. Fry for about 5 mins, by which time the chicken should be almost cooked through. Add the coconut milk and nam pla. Let it simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the pepper and broccoli. Once the broccoli is cooked, squeeze in the lime juice, throw in the chopped coriander and check the seasoning. Add more nam pla if you think it needs more salt. Cook for the briefest minute to meld everything, then serve over noodles or rice, with some more coriander sprinkled over and a wedge of lime on each bowl if you are feeling fancy.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008

    Rice Pudding (à la my Gran)

    Today I am off work, feeling rather queer - mainly dizzy, but also sporadically nauseous. It is pouring with rain, as it seems to have been for days - on Sunday I woke up to a fantastic thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms - the more lightening the better - and every time there is one here I rather miss living in a house where one can appreciate the drumming on the roof whilst watching and listening from the warmth of the sofa. Though come to think of it, I have been known to go outside in the middle of the night to stand in the rain too. Anyway, it is very obvious that we are firmly on our way into the darker seasons and so, to make the best of an otherwise depressing fact of life in this country, I made a pudding which complements it. Rice pudding is exactly the sort of thing that you want to eat when it is bleak and miserable outside. It also requires the oven be on for several hours, so fits well with a housebound and cold day. The recipe I use is my Gran's - she would make it when I visited her and my grandfather without my siblings, who incomprehensibly didn't like it - and is made with milk only. It is therefore relatively austere, compared with alternatives I have seen in modern recipe books: if you like a very creamy rice pudding I suggest you replace some of the milk with cream and add a teaspoon of vanilla essence. I also put in only a little sugar, because we always ate it with golden syrup drizzled over the top to form the first initial of the eater. This last part is very important - it doesn't taste the same at all if you don't do the letters.

    To serve four to six, depending on their love for rice pudding:
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 5 tablespoons (60g) pudding rice
  • 1 pint of full fat milk (or a milk and cream mixture)
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • good grating fresh nutmeg
  • Golden syrup, or jam, to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 140°C. Grease an ovenproof dish - I use a round pyrex casserole with a diameter of about 8 inches. Put the rice, sugar, milk and remaining butter in the dish and give it a bit of a stir. When it has stopped swirling, put the bay leaf in the centre and then grate over the nutmeg to form a thin even layer. Carefully (you don't want to disurb the nutmeg topping) transfer to a low position in the oven and bake for 2 - 3 hours, until the pudding reaches your preferred point on the scale from runny rice-belumpen soup to solid, sliceable mass. Irrespective of this, the pudding should never boil so that the skin lifts up - check periodically and turn the oven down if it is happening -it should be a smooth, speckled brown.

    Serve hot from the oven with golden syrup, in letters as described, or dollops of jam. Then go for a wind-blown walk to work it off.