Help me make a yellow curry that'll knock my kids' socks off.
October 5, 2011 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me make a yellow curry that'll knock my kids' socks off.

ParenthoodFilter: Two kids, ages 3 and 4. The younger is a fairly good eater but not very fond of vegetables. The older has become quite picky recently, rejecting even his favorite foods and sometimes hardly being interested in mealtime at all.

But when we get Thai food from the place across the street -- it's another story altogether. Neither of them can get enough of the tofu and vegetables in yellow curry. They'll even, knowingly, eat vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower) that they won't tolerate even touching their plate in any other context. And it IS a great curry sauce -- rich, well-balanced, just a touch spicy.

Needless to say, we can't do takeout every night, or even every week. And I'd like to try to add other vegetables into the mix, and/or mildly improve the healthiness of the dish. So I've been trying to reproduce the recipe at home... without any luck. I've tried various curry powders and pastes, toasting the spices and adding in coconut milk as the recipes describe... and they sometimes end up OK but the flavor profile is much less interesting and the kids don't care for it. Most of the time they're really one note and even I can barely muster the enthusiasm to eat them. Even bottled curry sauces that I've tried aren't much better.

So -- what is the magic that the restaurant works that produces such an amazing curry? And is it at all within my reach in my home kitchen?
posted by sesquipedalia to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
So -- what is the magic that the restaurant works that produces such an amazing curry?

MSG. Unless the place specifically says "no MSG," it's in there making the flavor richer and more complex.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most bottled products labelled 'thai curry sauce' are worthless, bland rubbish.

I've had really good results with Mae Ploy brand curry pastes. They're not expensive and come in a sealed bag inside a big tub. The flavours are so strong that once you've opened the bag and squeezed the paste into the tub, you'll want to keep the tub sealed inside a bag to reduce the smell.

I add a little thai fish sauce to my curries, along with a pinch of palm sugar. At the end of cooking I add thai basil leaves. Do all of those things, and there's no way you'll be short of flavour.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:36 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Curry sauces get rich and delicious by blending the onion, garlic, lemongrass, galangal (or ginger) and similar into a paste. It brings out more flavour and gives the sauce a nice consistency.

Seconding fish sauce and palm sugar. Also lime.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:59 AM on October 5, 2011

Have you asked the restaurant if you can buy just the sauce. I don't see why they would not sell you a quart of the sauce, that you could use anyway you want.

I mean, if you goal is to get the kids to eat their veggies, why re-invent the wheel? Buy the secret sauce right from the source. Just be honest with them, I love your sauce, I want to use it in my home cooking - can I regularly buy just the sauce from you?

They will almost certainly agree, especially if you are a semi-regular customer.
posted by Flood at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

2nd Mae Ploy. Many Thai restaurants use it themselves.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2011

Ghee, coconut milk, and palm sugar.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 AM on October 5, 2011

Make your own curry paste! It keeps for a while in the fridge, and you can dial in the flavor balance and heat. As long as you can find the more specialized ingredients (Thai chilis and lemongrass foremost), it's definitely within reach in a home kitchen—everything goes in the food processor.

Also, try pumpkin or butternut squash this time of year.
posted by ecmendenhall at 7:03 AM on October 5, 2011

I forgot to say that I've had success with something between this and this recipe for the paste.
posted by ecmendenhall at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2011

This recent thread has some good stuff in it.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:08 AM on October 5, 2011

Short of making your own curry paste, I have always preferred Maesri Curry paste.

The other thing to remember is that curries can be incredibly high in fat. Coconut cream can make anything taste great. Plus, the salt level from the fish sauce can also be quite high.

As with most foods, the fat and salt in restaurant foods is generally higher than you would make at home. Kids love fat and salt. My kid would eat fish sauce straight, given the chance.
posted by Seamus at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2011

I was tried to make curry for a while too and "something" was always missing...I finally figured out it was fish sauce (as has been stated above) and chili garlic sauce (I think it's made by the Sriacha people but it's not the same as the regular Sriacha). And yes, definitely use the paste, no the pre-made sauce (yuck). Again, I also like lime in mine.
posted by lovableiago at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2011

Maesri Curry paste is what's sold in the Vietnamese markets in Chicago. I even know someone who said they used it in their restaurant cooking. The directions are very easy to follow.

Buy some fish sauce and nam pla as well. Use the fish sauce as you would salt, and the nam pla as you would sugar.

There's also a book named "Curry secret" that has recipes designed to taste like restaurant curries. The author is an indian chef. The secret is basically to keep a frozen onion based sauce that speeds up the whole process.
posted by xammerboy at 12:53 PM on October 5, 2011

I think people need to be careful not to view curries as a single species. 'Curry' is just word we use for convenience to refer to a range of different spicy dishes from various parts of Asia.

I wouldn't use ghee in a Thai curry; neither would I use an onion- or tomato-and-onion based sauce. Those are typically Indian. Thai curries have a different ingredient set entirely - well, apart from the chilies. Well, there is a sort of crossover, the 'Massaman' curry, which uses both Thai and Indian spices, but that's not really relevant here.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:10 PM on October 5, 2011

nthing May Ploy. that stuff is awesome.
posted by thatgirld at 1:58 PM on October 5, 2011

My favorite brand of Thai curry paste is Mae Sri, also. (I've tried a bunch of others and didn't like them, but Mae Sri is usually better than curry pastes I make at home.) UNSWEETENED coconut milk and fish sauce (nam pla) are two other essentials; coconut milk varies widely among brands but most fish sauce I've tried is pretty good. I recommend Chaokoh or Chef's Choice coconut milk, but beware of crappy knockoffs with deceptively similar labels. I use Tiparos fish sauce.

My generic formula for Thai curry, 4 servings:

1 can coconut milk (refrigerate the day before, if you remember)
1 - 2 Tbs curry paste (I like red, but it's fun to play with different flavors)
2 T oil, if you forgot to refrigerate the coconut milk
1 lb tofu, boneless chicken, pork, or other protein, cut into bite-size chunks
1 lb vegetables - your choice, frozen is fine.
1 - 2 Tbs fish sauce

1. If using frozen vegetables, dump into a colander in the sink and let them start thawing. If using fresh, parboil, steam, or microwave until about half done. Set aside.

2. Scrape the solidified coconut fat off the top of the refrigerated coconut milk into a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Or use oil, if there's no solid fat on top.

3. Heat pan over medium heat (coconut fat will have some water interspersed, so beware of spattering and stir it constantly until the water has evaporated.) Saute the curry paste until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

4. Stir-fry the tofu or meat about 3 - 5 minutes until it's half-cooked.

5. Add the coconut milk and stir well.

6. Add veggies, bring to gentle boil and simmer uncovered about 10 minutes, until everything is cooked. (Maybe a little longer if they're still frozen.)

7. Add fish sauce, stir well, and serve.

I like lots of rice to soak up the sauce, but I'm an obligate carbovore.

This is easier than it looks and the whole thing takes me about 20 minutes start to finish, using boneless chicken and frozen vegetables. You can vary the ratio of protein to vegetables, but aim for about 2 lb of total solid ingredients. The brands of curry paste and coconut milk are the real keys to success, here.
posted by Quietgal at 4:13 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

le morte de bea arthur is correct that 'curry' is a very generic term. Inclusion of onion in my example above was nibbling at my attention as I was trying to get to sleep last night (to spare me worrying about anything too important). Shallots would be a more suitable example. You can also pound them to a quasi-mash with a bit mortar and pestle, but chopped just doesn't cut it.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:07 PM on October 5, 2011

The poster was asking specifically about Thai Yellow Curry, so a discussion about Indian and other curries is not really relevant.

Picking up either Mae Ploy or Mae Sri pastes is the best bet, unless you're an anal chef like me and like making your own curry pastes, spending time pounding the ingredients. Trust me, you're better off buying a good quality paste.

The generic Thai curry recipe posted by Quietgal above is just fine. The only change I would make is to add palm sugar after frying the paste. Allows the sugar to caramelise and blend better with the paste, enriching the overall flavour. I also add a bit more coconut milk before adding the main ingredients, so that I don't accidentally risk burning the paste.

That's pretty much all there is to it, mate. Enjoy.
posted by madman at 5:35 AM on October 6, 2011

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