Massaman beef curry

Massaman beef curry

It's a shame they've already awarded this year's Nobel prizes, because I've made a breakthrough. The difficult part now will be to figure out which Nobel prize to go for. It will heal all physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, so medicine/physiology is a possibility. Or perhaps it should be under chemistry, as a unifying model of fructose, capsaicin, sodium chloride, and tartaric acid. There's always peace prize, too — lord knows this it will bring people together. Can you win two prizes in one year?

Do they give a Nobel prize for hyperbole? How about modesty?

Of course, the inevitable Nobel millions should really go to Christine Manfield. Her terrific massaman curry paste recipe used here is just one of many pastes, spice mixes, sauces, and stocks from her cookbook Spices, which happens to be completely awesome. This is a woman who cares deeply about spices — let her three distinct garam masala blends be a testament to that.

It's no surprise that the curry paste recipe required very little modification. The only change I did make was the addition of galangal, and even then it seems like such an obvious omission that I'm wondering whether I copied down the original recipe incorrectly. As for the curry itself, I like to simmer the beef in coconut milk and spices until it's tender, then discard the spices and combine it with the curry paste, coconut cream, and vegetables. This infuses the beef with flavour and ensures that everything is cooked to exactly the right texture. The curry paste part of the recipe (after the jump) makes heaps — enough to cook at least three generous batches of curry. Once you try it you'll understand that this is a feature, not a bug.

Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)

Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)

Have I mentioned how good Food Safari is? Every week Food Safari profiles a different national cuisine by going right to the source: the home cooks and local chefs who have been cooking it all of their lives. There's no manufactured slickness, it's just honest food by Australians from different backgrounds and it completely rocks. What makes it even better is the fact that 80% of the videos are available online. You could easily lose an evening on that website, and I recommend you do.

When I saw them make this red duck curry on the show, it didn't jump out at me as something I have to try. I love both duck and pineapple but rarely buy them, and lychees are hardly a kitchen staple. Then I went to the Star of Siam on Gouger St (it's a hell of a street) and ordered a serving of this curry that blew me away. It was the perfect Thai balance: the gravy was hot and salty, the fruits sweet and sour, and the duck juicy and tender. Once the restaurant's serving bowl was licked clean, I immediately ran out of the restaurant and dashed home to make this for myself.

Red curry paste

The curry recipe is a great one but I wasn't completely satisfied with the curry paste, it seemed to be missing something. I'm not sure what, but I'll find out and get back to you.

Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)


  • 300g roast duck meat
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 3 tbsp red curry paste
  • 300ml coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp lychee juice1
  • 1.5 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 canned lychees
  • 8 small pieces of fresh pineapple2
  • 100g apple eggplants
  • 100g pea eggplants3
  • 1 long red chili, sliced finely
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 large handful of thai basil leaves

1. Cook the curry paste in peanut oil over a high heat for about 1 minute. Stir through about half of the coconut cream and cook, stirring, until oil begins to bead on the surface.
2. Add the lychee juice, fish sauce, lime juice, duck, lychees, pineapple, remaining coconut cream, and 1/4 a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplants and chili and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the eggplants still have a little bite.
3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the kaffir lime and basil leaves. Serve with steamed rice.

(1) Don't pull your hair out trying to find a bottle of lychee juice — it simply refers to the syrup that canned lychees come in.
(2) Fresh pineapple is important as it brings some necessary sourness that canned just doesn't have.
(3) If you can't find these (or apple eggplants, either), by all means substitute with some regular eggplant or zucchini.

Singapore noodles

Singapore noodles

One of the things I enjoy most about eating at restaurants is thinking, "How did they do this and how can I do this?" The French Laundry Cookbook has taught me that even the most complex food can ultimately be reduced to a recipe, and the more I cook the easier it is to recognise patterns in the way food is made and ingredients are combined.

Inspired by a great meal the other night at East Taste, I set out to make Singapore noodles at home. When trying to reverse engineer a dish, a descriptive menu and some dominant flavours are the best starting point. But unfortunately, the name "Singapore noodles" is unhelpful, and the taste is just, well, Singapore noodles. What mixture of spices and sauces do they use to get that unmistakable flavor?

Reading recipe after recipe revealed a common ingredient: plain old British "curried egg sandwiches" curry powder. It's that simple. I didn't have any curry powder in the house, so I made some up by adjusting this recipe ever so slightly — if it tastes rubbish with store-bought curry powder, try making it with homemade curry powder before you throw the recipe out the window. Singapore noodles vary from restaurant to restaurant (and aren't even from Singapore, by the way), and my version here is closer to the dry, savory style I prefer. Try adding some dark soy and a tiny amount of hoisin sauce if you prefer a sweeter style.

Singapore noodles

Ingredients (makes 2 main course servings1):

  • 180g vermicelli rice noodles
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 a red capsicum (red pepper), sliced thinly
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced thinly
  • 70g raw prawn meat
  • 90g char siu pork, sliced
  • 1.5 tsp curry powder (recipe after the jump)
  • 7 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • 1 handful of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 small handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)

1. Soak the dried rice noodles in very warm water for about 20 minutes until pliable but still unpalatably tough2. Make sure you've got your mise en place, uh, en place. Briefly whisk the eggs together with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Heat a wok with 1 teaspoon of oil to a medium-high heat, then add the egg mixture and cook like you would an omelette, removing it to a bowl when still a little runny.
2. Turn the heat up as high as it will go, add 2 tbsp of peanut oil and heat until smoking. Add the onion and capsicum and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and prawns and stir fry for 30 seconds or until the prawns are just cooked on the outside3.
3. Add the noodles, curry powder, about half of the soy sauce, and cook tossing regularly. Test the noodles, adding 1-2 tbsp of water at a time if they're still not cooked through and are drying out.
4. When the noodles are cooked, remove from the heat and toss through the sesame oil, spring onions, bean sprouts, fresh coriander, and omelette, roughly breaking up the omelette. Test for seasoning and add as much of the remaining soy sauce as necessary. Serve right away.

(1) I wouldn't suggest making more than about 3 servings at a time unless you have an exceptionally fierce heat. If you don't, you'll have trouble maintaining the high heat in your wok necessary to get the smoky flavour of a good wok dish.
(2) Err on the side of undersoaking your noodles: you can always add more water to the wok and cook them for longer, but once they're mush there's no turning back.
(3) They will be underdone in the middle at this stage, but this is necessary to prevent overcooking them.

Showcasing green chilies: Thai green chicken curry

Green chicken curry

Did you know that chilies start out green before they go red? Like tomatoes? What's that, you did know? Because you're not an idiot? Oh. I didn't. In fact I so didn't know that, that I asked the lady at the garden shop for some red chilies because I felt I had enough green chilies. She laughed, kindly explained to me how chilies work, then patted me on the head and gave me something shiny to play with. It was all shiny and stuff, I enjoyed it immensely!

Despite overcoming that knowledge gap, I still don't have any red chilies. I go through so many green ones cooking Indian food that it's only the rare chili hidden away amongst foliage that gets a chance to turn red. Apparently green chilies, being the unripe fruit, have a less developed flavour and sweetness but more intense heat compared with the reds (is this true? Please correct me if I'm wrong). They aren't pure heat though, and do contribute their distinct flavour to a dish. In none other is this more obvious than green chicken curry, using a freshly-made Thai green curry paste.

Green chili

So what are you doing? Make some!