The wages of cooking by the seat of your pants... when you hit a winner, you do wonder just what you did.
This time it was fish curry.
A trip the other day for Alec to pick up sushi supplies got it all started, as I passed by the Galanga (Thai ginger or "lesser ginger"). Galanga is one of those mysterious ingredients like bitter melon, palm sugar, palm oil, lemon grass, tamarind... something that is so present in the very authentic cook books, and yet in my youth, was nearly impossible to find in even this most Asian-infiltrated west coast city. Many of them fell under the heading of, "if you cannot find, just replace with..." And so I did. But I always wondered. And if anyone else is wondering, of the ones I have tracked down;
Tamarind Is Worth The Trouble. (It keeps as a pantry staple... this is good)
The rest... ehhh. I discovered with the Galanga, it does add a decidedly subtle flavor, and I appreciated it enough that I will buy it again (unlike palm oil... unless I decide to make soap again... OK cut the tangent!), but won't make a special trip for it. Ginger will do. Palm sugar and brown sugar are interchangeable. And until I start growing lemon grass I official quit caring, since lemon or lime zest plus lemon verbena (which I AM growing) fill in very well.
So there was the Galanga... and at the Farmer's Market, It Is Pepper Time!
So I bought up a big handful of peppers: A mix of 5 serranos, 3 padrons and 3 fresnos. The green curry recipe called for 20 green bird's eye chilis. A masochists, nor a computer geek of a certain stripe, I AM NOT. So I came down the Scoville Scale a few notches, and went for a little more fruit, and a lot less, "AAAaaaaaahhhhhh!" Oh, yeah, and I cut off the tops, and sliced out about 1/2 of the main pith in the top, though left plenty of this heat containing portion down the sides of the pepper.
*Then added some oniony stuff - a shallot & some left over Japanese Scallions.
*The Galanga went in peeled and chunked, about 3 good thumb sizes.
*and about 4 garlic cloves.
*about 2 tsp each of coriander, cumin and 1 tsp of tumeric.
*For that uniquely funky Thai factor, 1 large tsp of shrimp paste went in as well. (another thing to NEVER taste on its own, only when well combined with other things.)
*And either the tender root end of a piece of lemongrass OR the rind of 2 lemons/limes (it can be pared off, or use a carrot peeler, no need to daintily grate it off with a microplane or such) and a nice handful of lemon verbena.
*I also scored cilantro with the roots on at the Market, and cilantro root was called for. Another ingredient I won't go after special. I tasted it... it is mildly "cilantro-" But I feel the stems pack a bigger punch for simmering/grinding. (added some stems to the paste too)
And I turned it all into mush in my food processor. I was made VERY glad I did not seek out the hotter peppers. Even grinding these only moderately hot beauties made me turn on my kitchen blower.
So far I had used a green curry recipe for guidance... Here I went totally off the rails.
I still used the thick portion of my can of coconut milk to soften the 2 Tbs of my new curry paste, cook it down a little.
I sliced a shallot thin and used a little more oil to soften it, and the chunked up cutest, tiniest little baby egg plants I had ever seen. (Squeaky eggplant skin in a curry is not a turn on. Unless they have very thin skin, cook 'em down.)
Then added the rest of the coconut milk, and started tasting. It needed salt like nobody's business. About 2 Tbs fish sauce got things going in the right direction. But it still needed more acid. So rice vinegar to the rescue. I added 2 capfuls, I think the cap is about a tsp?
Some chicken broth went in since it always does, and this was richer than butter & cream mushroom at this point. Adjusted for salt with soy sauce, it tasted almost acid-y enough, was waiting to the very end to add lime juice (so as not to cook away the sour. I could have used Tamarind water, but had none).
I let this cook until the flavors blended, and the eggplant was lovely. I then added thin strips of a summer squash that was staring at me from the fridge - a CSA bag leftover, I had yet to give a good home to. In the thin strips went.
And this time I WOULD NOT overcook the fish.
I had a nice Ling Cod fillet, from Sunday's Market as well. I boned it, chunked it, and as soon as the squash was cooked but still a little crunchy, I put in the fish chunks. As soon as they were mostly cooked through, I turned off the heat and made sure the table was set, and started setting up the bowls with rice and cilantro.
By the time I added the juice of 2 limes and spooned it over the rice and cilantro it was some of the best curry I had ever made. And the above is as close as I can remember.
I suppose I shall have to stumble around in a similar way to do that again.