This isn't my usual style of post about scuba diving, marine life, or underwater photography. I have too many hobbies, and one of the other less talked about is cooking. Since staying in Koh Lanta for three months already I hadn't attempted a hand made Thai curry until now. Back home in Sydney I do these on special occasions, mainly because of the time it takes on all of the elements, and the physical side of hand making the curry paste on top of the rest of the prep and cooking.
Over here I've become a regular at a small restaurant where only locals go. I've built a good relationship with the owners and am working on getting a session in their kitchen to see how they do it. They make the most authentic Thai curries, not like that westernised rubbish you get at most restaurants. I cringe when I get serve up sweet chilly sauce at restaurants. These curries are HOT too, and it killed me last week when I accidentally snorted a curry covered rice up my nose! They are the real deal - eat with caution. There are always a good selection of 'dry' curries, which I prefer over the coconut milk curries. So this has inspired me to finally put the effort into making one. I have never made a dry curry! Only the wet style.
I headed to the markets for some ocean caught prawns. Remembering learned advice from my mate Ned, who is a prawn connoisseur - "Always go for the youngest, freshest prawn. Look for a great body". I picked up some juicy looking ocean caught prawns successfully! If Ned was here he would be jealous and try to cut my grass. For 200 bhat (about AUD 8) I got about half a kg. Note, most of the prawns and fish at Koh Lanta are farmed! You need to ask for the ocean caught produce, and it costs more, but better than eating seafood that's fed with all sorts of junk including antibiotics. Apparently they're fed with processed food made from fish and soy beans, and it takes about two pounds of fish to produce just one pound of prawn — so this doesn't seem sustainable either. Aerial image below of a farm at Koh Lanta:
Here's the finished paste which took about 20 minutes to pound.
Because I don't have my awesome Shun paring knife here, it took me a good 20 minutes to de-pootube and butterfly a dozen prawns! I chose to butterfly them because the flavour from the shells and heads would combine with the curry paste, and it gives the dish an authentic rustic Thai look. I decided to fry the prawns first to get them crispy (but in hindsight, this wasn't the best way to do it. I should have just cooked them with the paste because the paste acts like an oil and the pan still produces a lot of heat, so it would have done the same job without adding an extra step and potentially overcooking the prawns).
I fried up some snake beans, extra lemon grass, finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, onion, and sugar. Added a bit of water to loosen it as the paste was sticking to the pan. While all this cooking was going on I could hear Sarah in the background coughing from all the fumes of the spices. The flavours all come out and it really hits you. That's part of the cooking experience of Thai curries.
I added the cooked prawns to the cooked curry paste and beans etc, and loosened it more with a few splashes of water. And below is the end result.
Here's the recipe I used for the red curry paste.
Give it a try sometime, it's impressive! A fresh hand made curry is far superior to a machine ground curry made in a factory, and all the effort you put into it adds to the satisfaction. Sarah and I were very happy with my first attempt on a dry curry.