Sunday, October 18, 2009

Assam pork curry

That's 'assam', the Malay word for tamarind, not the region of India. Although they have curries in Assam too. Particularly mild ones as Indian curries go, or so I read. Some of the recipes looked interesting so I'll probably be making one of those soon enough.

This is pretty much a bog standard Malaysian curry (found at the blog of a Malaysian woman sharing her recipes) so I'm not sure I ought to bother posting about it. But it uses lemongrass and curry leaves which I think tend to baffle folks when they show up in the CSA so it's probably worth putting another easy recipe out there. Also, I came up with a good trick with the coconut milk I want to share.

2/3 pounds stew pork, cut into bite-sized pieces or strips

spice mix:
4 Tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 stalks lemongrass, mashed (the lemongrass I had in the house was pretty old and dried out so I grated it on my microplane instead. That made the most of its faded flavor, but I still had to add the zest of a lime to bolster it.)
2-3 stalks curry leaves, destemmed and bruised
(the recipe also called for 1 Tablespoon of curry powder, but every curry powder is different. I have no clue what mix of spices they use in Malaysian, but I'm reasonably certain the Madras curry powder I've got isn't it. I know I'm losing some complexity of flavor, but safer to leave it out.)
3 Tablespoons chili paste (I used sriracha which is probably not quite right)

sauce mix:
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1/4 cup water (even thinned down by a third like this, thick coconut milk is thicker than the standard canned coconut milk you can find in the supermarket so, although it's tempting to just use 3/4 cup of that, don't. Instead, put a can into the refrigerator for an hour or two. The thick cream will separate and you can spoon it out leaving thin coconut water behind. Hokan, my favorite brand, is thicker than most and yielded over 3/4 cup of coconut cream, but most brands should give you plenty for this recipe.)
3 Tablespoons tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup water and strained (the original recipe calls for just 2 Tablespoons of the paste plus 3 pieces of dried tamarind in the spice mix. If you can find dried tamarind, you should probably do that instead. And as long as I'm on the topic, I've seen fresh tamarind in the supermarket and I've been curious how to use it. Any advice would be appreciated.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce

0. Brine the pork. Otherwise you'll end up with dull bits of meat cluttering up a flavorful sauce.

1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of cooking oil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until shimmery. Add spice mix and fry just a few seconds until fragrant. Add pork and stir to coat the meat with the spices.

2. Add the sauce mix and stir well. Bring to a boil then turn heat down to medium low. Cook down the sauce until it's a thick gravy and the pork is tender, 20-30 minutes.

(Alternately, you could use a large pan, giving you space to brown the meat and allowing the sauce to cook down faster. It's not an authentic technique, but it would add some nice flavor.)

Check the flavor balance and maybe bolster the tartness with a little lime juice or the heat with a little more chili sauce. Serve over rice, sprinkled with some cilantro or chopped curry leaves.

The flavor is a sweet-tart with a funky edge from the curry leaves which come through surprisingly well considering the strength of the other flavors. There's a background of heat from the sriracha and richness from the coconut milk, but they don't overwhelm the more delicate herbal and citrus notes. It's a pretty typical Malaysian combination of flavors. But then it's a pretty typical Malaysian combination of ingredients so that's only to be expected. If you like that sort of thing then that's the sort of thing you like. And if you don't, well, you should.

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