Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Ultimate Guide to Thai Curries, and I-dare-you Jungle Curry

As I mentioned in my previous post, we went for a Thai cookery lesson in Chiang Mai. I learnt how to do the Thai favourites like pad thai (although I'm not really happy with the results. I'll share when I perfect it.) , tom yum soup, the thai desserts like mango/young coconut with sticky rice, the stir-fries, and of course, thai curries. Although we only learnt to make one each, I learnt that thai curries aren't really that different from one another. It works kind of like a mix and match. You start out with the same base, and based on the type of chillies or spices (or addition of coconut milk, later), end up with all the different Thai curry pastes. Brilliant.

I told you I'm a nerd when it comes to food, so I did a mind map/chart once I got home.

Legend: Red- red curry, Green- green curry, Yellow- yellow curry, Blue- phanang curry, Purple- Jungle curry, Orange- Masaman curry

And now that we can make all the Thai curries we want, why settle for the standard green or red? I went for Jungle Curry, the spiciest curry of them all. I love spicy, but you should see my face when the teacher told me to put in 20 thai chilli padis (birds' eye chillies), which was in addition to handfuls of dried red chillies and chilli paste. Apparently, the Thais would use 60.

Thai Jungle Curry (Kaeng Pa)
serves 2
For curry paste (makes about 2 tbsp)
20 fresh Thai birds' eye chillies (red or green), chopped
5 dried red big chillies (not that spicy), boiled first then chopped
5 dried red chillies (spicy kind), chopped
3-4 shallots, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic (just smash and leave skin on if using the small Asian kinds, but peel if using the big western kinds.)
1 tbsp chopped galangal
1 lemongrass, pale bottom part only, chopped
1/2 tbsp fermented shrimp paste (kind of like belachan)
1 tsp chopped kaffir lime peel
1 coriander root (or substitute with twice the amount of coriander stems)
1 tsp fresh turmeric (or substitute with dried)
1 Thai ginseng (I don't know how you can substitute this, so just leave it out if you've got no choice)

For making curry
1 stalk of kaffir lime leaves (it comes in doubles), sliced very thinly
2 tbsp fish sauce
2-2 tsp sugar (unrefined cane sugar)
1 stalk fresh green peppercorns
300g chicken, sliced (originally wild boar. use whatever meat you like, or you can even make it vegetarian)
2 handfuls of vegetables (we had a mixture of Thai eggplants, pea eggplants, carrots and long beans, but use whatever you like)
handful of Thai holy basil leaves
1 big red chilli (non spicy. it's just for extra colour), deseeded and chopped
2 tbsp oil (unrefined palm or coconut oil)

Proud of my chopping and pounding skills

1. Pound (or blend) all the ingredients for the curry paste. We pounded.

The teacher said a Thai man will look at how well a woman pounds her curry paste to decide if she's wife material. I think I'll give a Thai husband a miss.

2. Add the oil to a wok or pot, and add the curry paste. Fry over low heat till you can smell the aroma (or in the case of the jungle curry, the smell of all that chilli hits your nostrils and you start choking).
3. Add some water to stop burning, then the chicken, keep stirring till cooked.
4. Increase the heat, and add the vegetables, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and sugar bring to a boil and then let it simmer until everything is cooked. You may want to add water/reduce the curry till you reach your desired consistency.

5. Finish off with the basil leaves and red chilli.

Like all Thai cuisine, this is a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty, although I would say this tips towards the spicy just that tiny bit more. Even though I was sweating buckets, I really loved the complexity of flavours and this was definitely very more-ish. Note though: This is one strong curry. You need to have this with rice (and lots of tissue paper at the side.)


  1. Fantastic looking curry. I especially love Thai curry. Not sure where I can find Thai ginseng though.

  2. I just felt a sharp twang on the tip of my tongue, responding to the spicy stimulation of your curry!
    I love greenpeppercorns in Thai curries. I just wish I can find them easier here.
    The sweat and tears are signs of joy. Strange beautiful one ;)

  3. Shu Han, what a lovely colourful curry.
    Funny about the Thai husband lol

  4. This is gorgeous! I want to try it so badly but I know I won't be able to find all the ingredients...I wonder if I can make a dumbed-down version---definitely minus the wild boar ;) Your photographs are stunning. I can't wait to explore your site.

  5. Oh. My. Goodness. My husband really loves spicy foods, but this might be too much even for him. I hadn't heard of the bird's eye chili before, so I looked it up. It rates insanely high on the heat scale! I can't even imagine 20 of them in a dish. Way to go learning new cooking though. I'm impressed.

  6. This looks like a very delicious curry, Shu Han! I love everything you put in it!

  7. I am so happy to find your blog via your comment on mine!!! I LOVE curries and have been experimenting and reading up on how to "master" them! Your blog looks like a great resource for me too! This dish looks and sounds WONDERFUL!!!

  8. thank you!

    @ Michael: I know, thai ginseng is a bit obscure huh. I'd just leave it out I guess. The online recipes I've seen hardly use it. It might be a Thai cook's secret ingredient haha.

    @Anna: Really, I think I would be quite scared of a Thai mother-in-law/husband..

    @ Sue: I'm sure you can make a much simplified version. haha i often do that. check out the nonya achar. WIll post a shortcut version if it works out, i'm planning on doing green curry soon. heh.

    @Care's Kitchen: I wish I can master all the different curries like that though! Imagine if there's a mindmap for all the Indian/Malay/Singaporean curries out there..Brilliance.

  9. That looks lovely! I don't think I can handle the thai jungle curry though. Even my partner who loves a bit of spicy food was shocked to hear you used 20 bird's eye chillies!

  10. I made a post a bit ago about making red and green thai curries! I didn't know you could make other ones like "Jungle" - awesome! Next time I make curry I am going to follow your recipe. The only problems I see are finding the kaffir lime peel (I have only ever seen the leaves) and the Thai ginseng.

  11. Hi :) I finally got to looking at your comment and peeking on your blog, sorry for the delay. Thank you for your comment! I looove the looks of this recipe, I tried to make a red curry paste recently that failed so I might try this since it looks delicious and has been tested by you :) have you tried to make a red curry from your class from your fabulous mindmap? xx

  12. sara: it was ok actually, well ok at first. then at the end of the meal I've already finished my glass of water. hahaha.

    gigi: you could probably skip the thai ginseng! just get the peel from the kaffir lime itself! if desperate, maybe normal lime zest?

    zoepitchi: I haven't, but others in the class have and they turned out delicious! if you want to know the amounts, lmk, i'll go search for the handout they gave!

  13. making this tonight! I've put my curry paste ingredients together last night. Managed to find thai ginseng (krachai), and fresh green peppercorns. I hope I'm still alive after eating it ;)

    1. good luck. haha. so how did it go???

  14. Wow, that is one chilli-laden nuclear explosion of a curry. How long did it take to regain the use of your voice? ;) I am well impressed that you pounded the paste as well. I gave up doing that long ago and just cheat with a blender. The pastes isn't as fine, but it takes about a minute to transform. So so much easier.

    One of the wonderful things about Thai cooking is the clarity of flavour despite all the strong flavours going on. The balance is precarious, but it works so well. This is a cuisine I could give up most others for.

    1. It was explosive. I was very quiet during (and after) the meal.
      That's what I love about Thai food too, in fact most southeast asian food, that balance and strength of flavours. It's no clean delicate Japanese cooking/ Michelin cooking but gutsy, without overpowering. x

  15. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanks best fishing line

  16. Just made this dish tonight. The first time I had Jungle Curry was at Jitlada in LA. It has been on the Food Network a number of times and is currently rated as one of the top 5 Thai restaurants in North America. I would agree. I managed to source all of the ingredients and it was so close to the Jitlada version, it was uncanny. Absolutely STELLAR. Loved it. Thanks for the recipe!! Sean

    1. Hi Sean! You made my day with that comment! Credits to the Thai chef :)

    2. If you're interested I can send you my Trinidad Goat (or Lamb) curry recipe - very popular with friends and family. My dad grew up in T & T and after a number of trips (and trial runs) I think it's totally authentic.



    3. That would be amazing! Drop me a note at hi@shuhanlee.com xx

  17. it called jungle curry bcuz we Thai people in old time cook this when travel from place to place that take a long time , coconut milk is easy to spoil then not for them, so they use curry paste with normal water around these and veg/meat that easily find in forest/jungle like eggplant/mushroom

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