Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Jungle Curry with Duck

The first time I made this was when my friend Laura came down to London and stayed at mine - Laura loves spicy Thai food but isn’t keen on coconut so I decided my mission was to peruse David Thompson’s Thai Food to find something suitably delicious.

Jungle curries originate from the north of Thailand where they differ from the “norm” in that they never contain coconut milk. Thailand, despite being quite small, has quite distinct and diverse cooking styles and cuisines in the four main regions. In the Northern regions, because at certain times of the year it can be quite cold, the coconut tree doesn’t grow well and so coconut cream and milk isn’t used much and as I say, never in a jungle curry.

Furiously hot, the jungle curry has very complex flavours because of the use of green peppercorns, krachai, galangal and so on. It is very hot for 2 main reasons - firstly it has a lot of chillies in it but also the heat of the chillies isn’t actually being tempered by soothing coconut milk as happens with green and red curries.

This curry is brilliant and definitely my favourite of the Thai curries but it does take a long time to prep as there is a huge amount of chopping, julienning, pounding etc. I use my grinder to make the pastes as although I’m well aware that purists believe that pounding with a pestle & mortar produces the best paste it takes me about an hour (if I’m lucky) to prep as it is - frankly I am coveting one of these or these.

This curry also makes use of two pastes - a curry paste as well as garlic and chilli. I’ve no idea in all honesty how the taste of the final curry would be affected if just one paste was made by incorporating both but David Thompson clearly knows what he is doing so who am I to argue.

You fry the garlic paste and then the curry paste until it becomes explosively aromatic - you can’t miss this stage as once you hit it you’ll start sneezing like a lunatic. I also fry my duck, skin side down until the skin crisps up (reserving the resultant & copious fat for roasting) before slicing but you can get the rid of the skin if feeling rather more health conscious.

A note on some of the ingredients, most of which can easily be found in Asian grocers or supermarkets... green peppercorns are the fresh berries from the pepper plant, harvested when they are immature. They have a fresher, more herbal flavor and are less pungent than black or white pepper. I have only ever used fresh peppercorns, keeping them attached to the sprig or vine rather than stripping them off, as I go to Chinatown specifically for them if I’m going to make this. I have now acquired a jar of pickled green peppercorn sprigs, so I’ll be interested to see what they’re like some other time.

Snake beans are also called yardlong or Chinese long beans because, well, they are long! Green beans would make a perfectly acceptable substitute though.

Krachai (or grachai) or wild ginger as David Thompson dubs it is a relative of ginger and has a distinctive earthy & peppery flavour though milder than both ginger and galangal. The tubers look like a bunch of wizened, skinny, yellow-brown fingers and it is also sometimes called fingerroot or Chinese keys. Galangal is another member of the ginger family with a subtle citrus yet peppery flavour.

On this occasion I couldn’t find apple aubergines so left them out and added extra snake beans and baby corn instead. A bit of a shame as I do think the apple aubergines add something to the curry. I also omit pea aubergines as of those, I’m not a fan - no matter how hard I try to like them in Thai food they just taste like little balls of nasty bitterness to me.

Finally I couldn’t get my hands on any holy basil anywhere in Chinatown which is really frustrating (I scour the shops there on a regular basis every few months or so hoping that this will be the time I hit the jackpot). Thai Taste do (or at least did) little glass jars of the stuff but I can’t find it stocked anywhere anymore. Actually, I have noticed that Amazon sell it but only in quantities of six which is annoying. Anyway I used a bit of normal basil instead which will probably get me barred from ever returning to Thailand but I thought it was worth a go. Similarly, I can’t find kaffir limes so instead used normal lime zest and coriander stalks instead of root. Luckily I do have a quantity of frozen lime leaves in the freezer (also of curry leaves and lemongrass) though!

The recipe below is ultimately an amalgamation of a couple of different jungle curry recipes of David Thompson’s with my own omissions as above, and a bit of tinkering generally - dedicated to my lovely friend Laura.

Jungle Curry of Duck
Serves 4

320g duck, skinned if preferred, sliced into pieces 1 inch long and ¼ inch thick
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp fish sauce
500ml weak chicken stock
100g snake beans cut into 1in lengths
8 baby corn, cut into small pieces at an angle
10 stalks krachai, scraped &julienned
1½ long green chilies, thinly sliced at an angle
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn
handful of holy basil leaves (or small handful of normal basil), torn
5 sprigs of fresh green peppercorns
For the curry paste
10 dried red chillies, soaked, deseeded & deveined, and chopped
3-4 dried small red chillies, soaked and chopped
2 bird's eye chillies, chopped
½ long green chilli, deseeded and chopped
good pinch of salt (if you use a pestle & mortar as it will help to make a paste)
3 tbsp chopped galangal
1 tbsp chopped ginger
2 stalks lemongrass, top third and tough outer leaves discarded, chopped
20g krachai, chopped
2 tsp chopped coriander root (if you can get it, otherwise stalks)
2 tsp lime zest
50g red shallots, chopped
50g garlic cloves, chopped
1½ tsp Thai shrimp paste

For the garlic and chilli paste
3 garlic cloves, peeled
pinch of salt (if you use a pestle & mortar)
3 stalks krachai
3-5 bird's eye chillies

Make the two separate pastes by either grinding the ingredients together in a food processor or mini chopper or use a pestle and mortar.

Heat the oil over a high heat in a wok or heavy saucepan and, when very hot, add the garlic and chilli paste. Fry until golden and starting to catch. Quickly add 4 tbsp of the curry paste and continue to fry, stirring constantly, until explosively fragrant.

Stir in the fish sauce, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Add the duck and all the vegetables and simmer for 5-10 minutes or so until the duck is cooked and the vegetables are tender but retaining bite.

Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for a few more minutes. Check the seasoning - it should be sharp, hot, salty and pungent - then serve with rice.

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