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EpicureanPiranha | June 13th, 2010 - 14:26

I discovered and fell in love with Thai cuisine in 1986, the first year I lived in France. I remember the restaurant well, though not it’s name. It was in a small street off the Champs Élysées. The owner was a petite Thai woman of a certain age, a timeless beauty with perfect French and a charming Asian accent. She was also the epitome of refinement, as was her small, elegantly appointed restaurant. And not only was the food exquisitely presented, but also exquisitely prepared! Until then, I’d been a serious addict of Schezuan and Vietnamese cuisines – but Thai food was a revelation and soon became my new Asian love affair! 

My Thai Prawn Curry 3

Fragrant Prawn curry perfumed with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and red Thai chilies

The first two years I lived in Paris I was much too busy to cook often, besides which, there were so many exceptional restaurants to try! I practically lived in restaurants. But I quickly discovered the 13ieme [13th arrondissement], which is the Asian quarter of Paris, where I could find authentic ingredients needed to make this fine cuisine. Since then, I’ve tasted a vast number of wonderful Thai recipes, and discovered how to make some pretty good Thai-influenced dishes myself. 

My Thai prawn curry 1

Some of the ingredients that go into making my Thai curry paste. These include tiny, hot, red Thai chillies, Thai fish sauce, and Thai shrimp paste - read the recipe below to see what else is needed and how to prepare this dish.

Once again, as with any type of cuisine, a key factor to making great Thai food is to use the most authentic and freshest ingredients possible. It really irks me to ask for Thai fish sauce§ with chopped fresh chillies when I’m eating in a so-called Thai restaurant, only to be told that all they have is soy sauce!!! It’s an indication of what’s to come, and is as bad as the greasy icing made with a tasteless vegetable fat that you find on most supermarket cakes.  I’ve actually walked out of two restaurants that told me this just after I’d ordered a meal [I'd been travelling at the time and hadn't known the restaurants or the area…]. Mind you, just because a restaurant actually has these ingredients in-house, it does not guarantee the flavour of their dishes or the freshness of their ingredients… but that’s another story for another time!

My Thai prawn curry

After cooking the curry paste for a few minutes, the prawns are stir-fried in the paste to enable them to absorb the beautiful flavours!

I always shop for Asian produce and supplies at large Asian super-markets, because they have a rapid turnover which helps guarantee the freshness of products, as well as a mind-boggling array of different  Asian pastes, sauces and products. Sometimes, in fact, ♥ I wish I had the opportunity of meeting a few Asian chefs of different origins with whom I could go on a shopping expedition in these places, who would then give me a few lessons on how to use these tempting exotic ingredients ♥ [if any of you happen to be reading this, don't hesitate to call me !]. The other advantage is being able to purchase large quantities of just about anything for little more, and sometimes less, than the price of a small bottle in specialty shop or large grocery store! 

The other day, having replenished some of my Thai sauces and purchased fresh herbs and other ingredients from one of my favourite Asian supermarkets, Kim-Phat, I decided to create a Thai prawn curry. One of these, Thai shrimp paste*, is widely used in Chinese, Thai and other Asian cuisines. Made from tiny dried shrimp, it is semi solid, brownish, very salty, and highly pungent, but when used in small quantities, it imparts a unique and pleasant flavour to many types of dishes [try it in your fish soups!].

Thai Jasmine rice is the perfect compliment to a Thai curry - an ideal conterbalance to the spices, and perfect for soaking up the delicious sauce!

The curry turned out to be quite delicious, so here is the recipe for you to try – hope you enjoy it as much as we did at home! 

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8 small red Thai chillies, 2 – 3 whole, the rest seeded – finely chopped
15 ml (1 Tbs) whole coriander seeds
4 – 5 large cloves garlic – chopped
1 large knob ginger or galangal, 4 cm (1.5 in) long – chopped
1 small onion – chopped
1 stalk lemon grass – outer leaves removed, chopped
Zest of 2 limes
5 ml (1 tsp) Thai shrimp paste*
15 ml (1 Tbs) Thai fish sauce
60 ml (1/4 c) peanut oil
â–²———————————————–â–² Combine above ingredients in a small food processor or blender and process to a paste.

1 med-sized aubergine – cut in 2 cm (3/4 in) cubes
15 ml peanut oil
â–²———————————————–â–² Add oil to a large wok or frying pan; place over very high heat; when oil starts to smoke, add aubergine; stir occasionally to brown; remove to a warm plate and reserve.

Thai Jasmine rice – rinsed under cold water three times before cooking
500 g (18 oz) size 21 -25 [very large] raw shelled prawns with tails
400 ml (13 1/2 fl oz) coconut milk
15 – 30 ml (1 – 2 Tbs) palm sugar, grated [or use light brown (golden) sugar; adjust quantity to taste]
30 ml (2 Tbs) Thai fish sauce
A few branches fresh coriander, stalks finely chopped & leaves coarsely chopped, OR 6 stalks of Thai basil, leaves removed and reserved.
A few stalks of coriander or fresh basil to decorate.

  • Prepare your rice – as soon as it’s cooked [10 minutes] turn off heat, fluff with a fork, and replace cover. [note: rice will keep warm quite a while if cooked in a quality, heavy pan].
  • Place your wok over high heat and when very hot, add the Thai curry paste. It will sizzle – stir fry it for about 2 minutes to bring out the flavours, using a flat-edged bamboo or wooden spatula [or equivalent].
  • Add the prawns to the paste and stir-fry over high heat until they start to turn slightly pink.

Stir-frying the raw prawns in the Thai spice paste enables the flavours to be absorbed.

  • Add the coconut milk, Thai fish sauce, palm sugar, stir-fried aubergine, and fresh coriander if using [if using Thai basil, add it all to the dish once you've turned off the heat, keeping some leaves to decorate!]; stir well and bring to a boil, then immediately lower heat and simmer a few minutes until prawns are cooked – don’t overcook!
  • Serve over rice and decorate with reserved herbs [coriander or basil].

Notes:

  • § Thai Fish sauce is widely used in East Asian cooking, and when called for in a recipe, is essential to the authenticity of the dish. A mixture of pure anchovy extract, water, sugar and salt, it’s also known as“Nuoc Mam” , and has a very unique flavour for which there is no substitute.

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  1. Claude says:

    Bonjour Marie,

    C’était vraiment savoureux!…

    À quand la prochaine?

    Claude xxx

  2. Clahude says:

    Salut Marie,

    Est-ce que toutes ces recettes peuvent se préparer et se déguster à deux?

    ~ Claude. x

  3. robinlobb says:

    The steam rising from the wok engages the viewer/reader in a way that a simple shiny picture never will. Breathtaking. (Food Porn). I think I need to be alone for a few minutes to attend to my sensual needs now.

    • Hello you mad person [Robin, that is!]

      I did mention that my food was for those with “a voracious appetite for refined sensuous enjoyment” :->

      I’m glad you like the photos! But I do hope you’ll try your Cordon Bleu skills on this – I really think you’d love the flavours and textures!

      Ciao,

      ~ Epi

  4. dubonnet says:

    a heavenly dish!! I’ve never used the shrimp paste…must get some! I am sure this dish wouldn’t be the same without it!

    • You’re so right, Sharon! It’s like Thai fish sauce – using salt or soy sauce as a substitute will add saltiness to a dish, but none of the complexity of flavours. And if you use soy sauce, it starts to taste like a sort of Chinese or Malaysian dish, yet not quite! In this dish, if only salt was used – ie: no fish sauce or shrimp paste – then it would be rather dull compared to the delicious flavours in my recipe!

      So for anyone reading this, if you can’t find any Thai shrimp paste, then make sure to use Thai fish sauce to correct the flavor [don't add salt!]. You could always substitute a little anchovy paste for the Thai shrimp paste, although the result will be different of course!

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