My first experience with Thai food was at a restaurant near my apartment in Chicago. I think I ordered the same thing every time. Some type of chicken dish with a Thai chili sauce. And it was always so, so good. I found a version of the chili sauce at some gourmet shop and Mr. Detail and I learned to make our own version via the grill and the bottled sauce. Never quite as good, but still yummy.
Since we lived in Athens we’ve enjoyed going to the Thai Spoon (formerly known as Thai Cafe), although not as frequently since children. They don’t care for Thai cuisine yet. They make a wonderful massaman curry. I get it with tofu, but you can also order chicken or shrimp, I believe. It’s slightly different than what I understand is traditional, as it has no potatoes or peanuts; instead it’s avocado, green pepper, and cashews. So, so good. What has cashews and isn’t good? I just don’t get downtown often enough to enjoy it–or any other of the menu items I’ve tried. (For the record, I have ventured out a bit more than my early days with Thai food.)
At one point last year, I checked out a book on Thai cooking from the library. Copied several very in depth recipes on how to make several kinds of the curry pastes, certainly not forgetting to include the beloved massaman variety, of which I could never find in a jar in the grocery store. Probably about 6 months later I walked into Fooks Foods, a local Asian grocery located on Baxter and Rocksprings and found a can of massaman curry paste–and the best price on tofu in town–as well as lovely Asian eggplant, bok choy and others that remain nameless to me. So later that week I prepared an awesome version of Thai Spoon’s massaman curry for two (with plenty of deja-vu servings.) I made it again tonight and will share it with you. I had to leave out the avocado, since I forgot to pick one up at the store, but it was still tasty. Oh, and my secret? I followed the directions on the can of curry paste with a few embellishments. 😉
First you cook the rice according to directions on the package. Or if you are like me and are extremely deficient in cooking basic rice on the stovetop, you get out your beloved rice cooker and add 4 scoops (to make 4 cups) and water to the 4 level and turn it to cook. I used jasmine rice because I think it’s super yummy. I usually cook only with brown rice, but this is my exception.
Gather all of your ingredients next.
- 2 blocks of tofu (or you can use chicken; I understand thighs are the preferred part, rather than the often-used breast.)
- oil–preferably peanut or canola so it doesn’t burn at high heat
- tamari or soy sauce (I prefer low-sodium.)
- 1 onion
- can of massaman curry paste
- 2 cans of coconut milk
- 1/2 green pepper
- fish sauce
Prepare the tofu by draining the water and pressing for at least 15 minutes. To do this, dump out the water in the tofu container. Place the block on a cutting board and cut it into 4 slices, as even in thickness as possible. Do this for both blocks. Get out some non-fuzzy cotton towels otherwise known as tea towels or flour sack towels. (My favorite ones, shown, are over 15 years old and show nearly no wear and were a wedding shower gift from my French and German teacher from Germany, but I digress.) Use a towel folded into quarters or so for each 2 blocks of tofu (as shown below). Then put a brick or a heavy cast iron skillet on top of the stack of tofu and towels. (You can do this ahead of time and press it in the fridge. The more water that comes out, the yummier the tofu is.)
Next heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high to high heat. (If you didn’t read my previous food blog, you will learn that I rarely measure things or follow recipes exactly. They are only guides.) Meanwhile cut the tofu slices into cubes. Add them to the skillet and stir-fry on high heat until nicely browned.
While it’s cooking slice the onion. And the pepper into bite-sized pieces. Now go back and check on your tofu. As more and more of it becomes golden brown, even more so than in the above photo, splash some soy sauce over it so that each piece turns darker brown. It will begin to brown faster and cook it until much of it is golden and crispy, like this–
Transfer the tofu to another dish and set aside. Now, put the skillet back on the hot burner. Turn it down to between medium and medium-high. Add the sliced onion and a few tablespoons of water and cook it until brown. (You can skip this step if you like raw onion. I much prefer the sweetness of the onion once it has been browned.) Transfer to a dish and set aside.
On to the sauce. Heat some more oil in the skillet, 1-2 tablespoons, and put the curry paste into the skillet and stir-fry it for a minute.
Next add 1 can of coconut milk and gently mix the curry paste with the milk. . .
until it’s mixed in thoroughly.
Simmer it for 5 minutes or so. Add the second can of coconut milk and stir and bring back to a simmer. Pour in 1-3 tablespoons of fish sauce. This will add to the saltiness, so less if you aren’t into salty and more if you are. Then stir in the tofu and onions and the green pepper slices.
Keep it warm over low heat until ready to serve.
When it’s time for dinner, put some rice in each bowl. Pour the sauce over the rice. Sprinkle with some cashews and some small chunks of avocado if you want to use that. And that’s it.