Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thai Red Curry Chicken with Sokolin Perfect Pairings

As some of you may know, I am now writing a blog with, a superb wine e-tailer which is located on the East End of Long Island.  From their 30,000 square foot 'wine cooler', they ship fine wine to collectors all over the world.  Their sommelier, Christopher Keigel does all the heavy lifting selecting wines to go with our recipes every week.  Here's our first shared post.  You can read our past efforts at  But first, enjoy this one. 

       Once you’ve made your first Thai Curry, you’ll be pretty set for life.  The cooking method is so adaptable that you can create your own variations using beef instead of chicken, pork in lieu of fish.  You can go meatless, instead relying on a host of beautiful seasonal vegetables. You can make your curry mild or hot.  And you don’t need a wok to do so.  You can use a large sauté pan and achieve dazzling results.  And as exotic as your results may be, Thai Curry is extremely quick to make—15 minutes tops after you’ve sliced and diced.  Then you can pull yourself up to the table and get out your spoon and fork and dive into your bowl of heavenly curry and rice.

       Yes, I said spoon and fork.  The Thais are not chopstick users except when they eat noodle soups.  They settled on the spoon and, more often, the fork when King Mongkut, who with his brother, Vice King Pinkloa, westernized the country in the mid 1800s.  King Mongkut is well known in this country for something else entirely.  He was first portrayed in “Anna and the King of Siam and immortalized in “The King and I”.  Some years later, his Number One son ascended to the throne of Siam and came to Canada on a State Visit.  My grandparents accompanied the King and his Queen across the country by train.  But that’s a story for another day.
The All-Essential Coconut Milk

       The key to Thai Curries is to start with 3 ingredients and build on from there.  The three essentials are Coconut Milk, Curry paste and broth – either chicken or vegetable will do.   When buying the Coconut Milk, I would suggest the low fat or light versions.  Full Fat Coconut Milk, while not hugely high in calories, has staggering amounts of saturated fat.  You won’t taste the difference in the lower fat versions so it only makes sense to choose the healthier of the two.   

Photo Courtesy of Fine Cooking Magazine

The adaptability of this recipe begins with your choice of one of 4 Curry Pastes. The most commonly used in Thailand is Red Curry paste which is what I used.   It is colored with dried hot red chiles but in this recipe its fire is somewhat limited.   But if you have a fear of heat, choose Yellow Curry Paste which is the mildest.  Next to it is Panang Curry paste, which is similar to the Red but includes ground peanuts.  Finally, the hottest of all is   Green Curry Paste which is colored with fresh, green chiles. Choose one and then move on to the aromatics which will season your Coconut and Curry sauce.  Fresh lime leaves may be hard to come by but ginger and fresh lemon grass are now quite supermarket-friendly. Choose one two or all three.
You can make a totally vegetarian Thai curry. But if you’re a carnivore there’s an amazing array of proteins that you can choose from.  The key here is the cooking times:  Boneless chicken thighs and pork shoulder, leg or tenderloin cut into bite size pieces need to simmer for 5 minutes.  Beef Flank, strip or sirloin, large shrimp and extra Tofu require less time—just three minutes.  At the two minute level are scallops and firm white fish.  And finally, squid in half inch rings, needs only a minute.

For the vegetables, it’s smart to remember that since we eat with our eyes first, color is everything.  You can’t really go wrong with any fresh vegetable you choose.  You should have 3 cups of veggies.  Carrots, Onions, Japanese eggplant, green beans, kabocha squash are all candidates for a five minute simmer in the sauce.  Asparagus, Bell Peppers, Sugar Snap Peas, Cabbage and Cremini, Oyster, Button or Shitake mushrooms are great choices to simmer for 3 minutes.  And for one minute, you can add Cherry Tomatoes, Bamboo Shoots, Snow Peas or Bok Choy.  Then for your final act, stir in basil, cilantro or fresh lime leaves, garnish your glorious creation with more cilantro, fresh red chiles, basil, cucumber, lime wedges or more coconut milk.  

One word of caution:  Thai Curry is so flexible, so deliciously complex yet so incredibly quick and easy to make, it may become habit-forming.  Or as an old friend of mine once said: It’ll be wok around the clock…with or without the wok.
Here’s the Recipe:
For the Curry Base
1 13.5-14 oz. can of light Coconut Milk  
¼ cup of Curry Paste
1 cup Reduced Sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Shake the can of coconut milk or stir well as the fat may have solidified at the top of the can.
In a 3-4 quart saucepan or work over medium heat, simmer ½ cup of the coconut milk until it is reduced by half, in 3 to 5 minutes time. 

Add your choice of curry paste and whisk well for one minute.  Whisk in your choice of broth and the remaining coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

For the Simmer
1 lb of chicken, meat, or tofu
3 cups of Vegetables cut into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp. Light Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Fish Sauce

Add your choice of aromatics—6 fresh lime leaves or 1 tsp of finely grated lime zest, three slices of ginger 1/8 thick and/or three stalks of fresh lemon grass cut into 3 to 4 inch pieces that you have trimmed and bruised.
Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Next add your protein along with the brown sugar and the fish sauce.  Use the timings in the earlier part of this post.  Next add your vegetables in stages based on their cooking times.  Adjust the heat if necessary and simmer until the meat, chicken or seafood is cooked through and the vegetables are crisp tender.  Remove the curry from the heat, adjust the seasonings to taste by adding more brown sugar and fish sauce. Remove the aromatics before serving.  Add the finish, garnish and serve.
Basmati Rice is a perfect accompaniment.  Serves 4.

        For the finish:
        1 cup of whole basil leaves
        1 tbsp. Fresh Wild Lime Leaves
        ¼ cup roughly chopped Cilantro leaves and stems

And now, Sokolin Sommelier Chris Kiegiel’s Perfect Pairings:  You can order these and any other fine wines you fancy by going to

Thai food tends to be quite complex and pairing wine with the many flavors in specific dishes can be difficult as well. As with Asian cuisine and wine pairings, the key to success lies with balancing the sweet, salty, sour, and pungent flavors with those same characteristics in the wine. Rieslings and lighter muscats pair well with chicken or seafood red curry as their high acidity levels help to cut the spiciness of the dish (good rule of thumb). Wines with tropical notes like pineapple, mango, peaches, apricots, lemongrass, and those with floral notes should pair well with the exotic flavors of Thailand, but stay away from wines with strong tannins. If you do prefer red wine, try Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Rioja. Dry roses are also an excellent choice for Thai food because of their versatility, right along with sparkling wines like Prosecco and Champagne or course. Here are a few suggestions. Cheers!

Adami's NV Prosecco Superiore Bosco di Gica  $15.99
“Emerges from the glass with mineral-infused white fruit, smoke and crushed rocks in an intense, serious style of Prosecco I find appealing.” 91 RP

2009 Zilliken Riesling Kabinett Saarburger Rausch   $22.99
“Tropical notes of grapefruit and mango join the cherry and peach here. Subtle smokiness and salinity thought by many observers (including this one) to be somehow related to the presence of diabase and quartzite respectively offer intriguing counterpoint for the fruit on a subtly creamy, irresistibly juicy, and delicately buoyant palate, while inner-mouth perfume of honeysuckle and iris waft through to the wine's long, luscious, lip licking finish. This will dazzle for two decades, and what an amazing value it represents.”  92 RP

2006 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Evenstad Reserve  $49.95
“Smooth and round, with a lovely polished feel to the dark berry, cherry, licorice and spice flavors, flowing easily over finely tuned tannins, persisting expressively. Drink now through 2016.” 92 WS

2010 D’Esclans Whispering Angel  $17.99
“A blend of Grenache and Rolle. Very light pink, truly vin gris in color. An aromatic nose with herbaceous plants and flowers. Strawberries, lavender, minerals on the palate with a dry, clean finish. Provence in a bottle – and a text book expression of rosé. Beautiful, elegant and seductive.”  93 DS

From both of us to all of you, Salut!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A recipe for Clay Pot Pork from John Willoughby in the New York Times

Wednesday is the day New York foodies wait all week for. It’s Dining Out Day in the New York Times.  There’s a whole section to devour.  Restaurant Reviews, a column called “Off the Menu” which lists restaurant openings and closings along with chefs comings and goings.  There are  “Wines of the Times”, and then there are the recipes.  Here we’re treated to the superb Melissa Clark’s “A Good Appetite” (much more on that in a future post or two) and recently an intriguing article by John Willoughby, author of 8 cookbooks, the latest of which is called "Grill It". But in the Times, John wrote  about Braising.
I associate a good Braise with cold winter temperatures and a heavy pot on the stove cooking away for hours.  That means it’s almost time to put the Braise to rest for the season.  But I was intrigued by the premise of the article that Doc (as John Willoughby is called) wrote on the subject.  It was about his adventures in creating braises without the almost mandatory instruction to brown the meat before adding it to the braise. 
An authentic Vietnamese Clay Pot
but you can make this dish in a saute pan with a lid
The purpose of browning is to create something called the Maillard reaction:  As the meat is seared over high heat, the proteins and carbohydrates interact to produce distinct flavor compounds which come alive when the liquid is added to the pot.  The result is a richer, deeper flavor.  Doc wanted to find out if you could literally cook the spices and other aromatics into the meat—penetrating it in with flavor.  He performed this feat on a Lamb Tagine and he braised chicken with Indian flavors.  But what caught my eye was his recipe for Clay Pot Pork.
When I was last in Hong Kong, I’d really loved the Vietnamese cooking I encountered.  Clay Pot Pork is a Vietnamese classic and I couldn’t wait to try it.  It did not disappoint.  Doc pointed out that in place of browning the meat, the Vietnamese caramelize the meat by actually making caramel.
I used Organic Brown Sugar but you can use
White Sugar if you'd like
        That is really a very easy process.  I took Organic sugar, put it not in a Clay Pot but just in my large sauté pan.  It quickly caramelized at which point I added chicken stock and fish sauce and made a beautiful poaching liquid. The aromatics went in next and finally the Pork Shoulder.  It bubbled away on the stove for only an hour.  Served on Basmatic rice ringed with tender baby peas, the dish was an absolute winner.   Using very easy-to-find ingredients, it’s almost amazing how satisfyingly complex this wonderful sauce becomes.  Since Doc pointed it out, I should too: The fish sauce does not in any way make the dish ‘fishy’, it just provides a lovely saltiness. Go ahead and make this and I am sure whoever you cook it for will be astonished at your Asian cooking ability.
Recipe for Clay Pot Pork from John Willoughby
Using Pork Shoulder makes this a very economical dish
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup chicken stock, more if necessary
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 small fresh chili, minced (optional)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias, green and white parts separated
1 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder (or pork belly) cut into 1-inch cubes
Steamed white rice for serving.

1. Put the sugar in a medium-size heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat, shaking gently every once in a while, until it starts to melt. Start stirring with a fork and continue, crushing clumps of sugar so that the sugar melts evenly. When the sugar is liquid, continue to cook for another minute or so until it darkens, then remove from heat.
2. Combine the chicken stock and fish sauce and carefully add at arm’s length to the sugar (it will splutter and pop). Turn heat to medium high, return sugar mixture to the heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until well combined. (If the sugar clumps when you add the liquid, don’t worry, it will melt again.)
3. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, pepper, chili if using, and the white portion of the scallions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are nicely softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add pork to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partly cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of stock or water if the pan looks too dry, until the pork is very tender and the liquid has reduced to a medium-thick sauce, about 1 hour.

5. Remove from heat, add the green part of the scallions, and serve over steamed white rice.
Yield: 4 servings.