Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recipe: Kaeng Hung Leh/ Burmese- Thai Pork Curry

I've been on a curries kick lately! This dish was inspired by a meal we had at Pok Pok in Portland, I was so impressed by the mellow, yet deep and savoury taste of the pork curry we had there. I looked up the Pok Pok Cookbook (seriously, what did we do before the internet) by star chef Andy Ricker and found this recipe for Kaeng Hung Leh. This is a Northern Thai curry, from where Thailand and Burma meet and hence, it has the influences of both. Unlike a Malaysian curry, it does not have candlenut (in Pok Pok, I remember the curries being distinctly thinner than those we are used to), nor tomato or coconut milk. Instead it has a lot more 'assam' flavours, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste and tumeric.

This dish is famous and popular in Chiang Mai, where it is eaten with sticky rice and jackfruit salad. I can't wait to visit and try different version of this complex dish. We are quite lucky to have most of the ingredients easily at hand and even pre-prepared. I cannot imagine the resourceful cooks who take on making this in the US, where you have to go to a specialty grocer, buy ingredients online, or fry shallots by hand.

(1) Curry Paste

1 ounce thinly sliced lemongrass (tender parts only), from about 4 stalks
1 teaspoon (0.25 ounces/6 grams) kosher salt
1 (0.5-ounce/14-gram) piece peeled fresh or frozen galangal, thinly sliced against the grain
0.25 ounces/7 grams stemmed dried Mexican puya chilies (about 4), soaked in hot tap water until fully soft, about 15 minutes
1.5 ounces/45 grams peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced against the grain
1 1/2 teaspoons Kapi Kung, shrimp paste

I couldn't decide whether Kapi Kung was the dried, block of belachan or the sticky, black hei chu (which goes into assam laksa). Let me know if you know! I rather leant toward the latter, given the assam flavours in this dish, but I used belachan anyway, since that is the most common.

The recipe also says to pound all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle but honestly, we live in the moden age. I blitzed it all in a Magimix until it reached a fairly soft and smooth curry paste. I doubled the recipe, which hopefully will make me two batches of curry, without having to make the rempah again.

(2) Curry
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters vegetable oil
1 ounce/30 grams peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced with the grain (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons mild Indian curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 pound/450 grams skinless pork belly, cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound/450 grams boneless pork shoulder, cut into approximately 1 1/2 inch chunks
3 tablespoons/45 milliliters Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters Thai black soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons/22.5 milliliters liquid from Thai pickled ginger (straight from the jar)
1 1/2 ounces/45 grams palm sugar, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons/80 milliliters Naam Makham (Tamarind water)
2 cups/500 milliliters water
1 (1-ounce/30-gram) piece peeled ginger, cut into long (about 1 1/2-inch/4-centimeter), thin (about 1/8-inch/0.3-centimeter) matchsticks (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 ounces/45 grams separated and peeled pickled garlic cloves (about 30 small cloves)
4 ounces/115 grams long beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths (about 2 cups)
6 tablespoons Hom Daeng Jiaw (Fried Shallots)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Then add half the paste, breaking it up and stirring, till it turns a slightly duller shade of red, 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the shallots, then add the curry powder and tumeric, then add the pork, stir to coat and cook for awhile till the pork has a chance to absorb the flavour.

Stir in the fish sauce, black soy sauce and pickled garlic liquid, then add the palm sugar. Increase the heat slightly to bring the liquid to a simmer, cook until the palm sugar has more or less completely dissolved, then stir in the tamarind water along with the 2 cups of water. Increase the heat to high, let the liquid come to a strong simmer, then immediately decrease the heat to low and cover (or partially cover, if your lid doesn’t let any steam escape), adjusting the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Cook for 45 minutes, stir in the ginger, then remove the lid and cook at a steady simmer until the pork shoulder is very tender but not falling apart and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 45 minutes more. The curry should still be fairly soupy (not gravy-like and dry) with a layer of reddish liquid fat near the surface.

I didn't understand what pickled garlic cloves were- I guess I really should have visited a Thai supermarket before making this, so the curry had to stand while I figured out how to procure some. The curry is a complex balance of sweet, salty and sour flavors, with sweetness taking the lead, it really gave me a better appreciation for how interesting Thai and less specifically, South East Asian cooking can be. There are so many ingredients that you need! No wonder a proper South East Asian kitchen has to be so fully stocked with packets and wrapped bits and bobs of everything.

The curry keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days and the taste matures best over a day. Serve over warm white rice with fried shallots. I garnished with some sliced garlic matchsticks and fresh basil leaves.