“What the hell is fish sauce?” he wondered as he read a recipe for Thai green curry with chicken. Fouad had only arrived from Lebanon a year before and all these strange ingredients in his shopping list seemed too foreign and dubious. His suspicions with food in Australia began when the chicken shop in Kingswood asked him if he wanted chicken salt with his chips. “What the hell is chicken salt?” was the beginning of a sequence of self-directed questions that mostly referred to unknown food stuffs, and the general structure of these questions became “What the hell is [fill in blank]?”. But on that day, the blank not only got filled with fish sauce, but with galangal, shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil. None of these ingredients had ever been heard of or encountered in their raw form, and the first time Fouad had ever experienced them was three months prior when his new Australian girlfriend (now eight month pregnant wife with very cute belly) ordered a Thai takeaway. That included a green curry with chicken, curry puffs and chicken skewers with satay sauce, a condiment that Fouad thought was the bees knees and one that could possibly make him a fortune if he bottled it and sold it to his fellow citizens back in Lebanon.
And so, in an effort to impress his girlfriend, Fouad set out to the Woolworths at Penrith (pronounced Penrif), and sought the ingredients for a Thai Green Curry. Not surprisingly, half were not found, and as Fouad cracked open that bottle of fish sauce and took a good sniff, the pungent odor emitted from within turned his stomach. Quickly, a decision was made to halve the amount recommended by the recipe. Needless to say, the result was a disaster, a cheap copy, a doppelganger unworthy of association with the original. And so, in an effort to understand what went wrong, Fouad decided to educate himself in the art of Thai green curry.
The story above is, yes, you guessed it, Book 1 of “The Adventures of Fouad and Thai Green Curry”. Luckily, eight years since then, I have been able to somewhat understand the various roles of the ingredients that go into a Thai green curry and now, I can safely say that I make a damn fine green curry. Fish sauce is no longer a stomach churning mystery, but rather an aromatic liquid used to add salt and complexity to a dish. Kaffir lime leaves have become one of my favourite ingredients and I use them fresh from my little tree growing on the balcony. They are awesome. My recipe for a Thai green curry is inspired by David Thompson’s bible, Thai Food. I can’t explain how important this book is. If you don’t have it and you like Thai food, you must go out and buy it, right now. Well, maybe after you finish reading this post.
The characteristics of a green curry are quite specific. First, it is a thin curry, which means you add thin coconut milk or chicken stock to the coconut cream. Second, it is green, which means green chillies are used. Third, the sauce need to be cracked, or seperated. That happens when the coconut cream is heated until most of the water evaporates and the coconut cream splits into oil and milk solids. Last, this is a hot and salty curry, not a sweet one, so sugar should not be used, though it is not uncommon to see it used. Confused? Don’t be. Avoid sugar.
Mr Thompson suggests that firm, slightly bitter vegetables work best with this curry. These include bamboo shoots, banana blossom or apple and pea eggplants. The issue I have with these types of recipes is that they ask for small amounts of ingredients that you wouldn’t usually keep at home. That said, they are nowadays easily available in Australia and making the curry from scratch is such a great experience. Give it a go and let me know what you think.