Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thai Curry With Gravel

What better way to honor friends you haven't seen in ages than by cooking them a meal?  Well, I suppose you could give them something they'd rather have like money or a plane ticket to Hawaii, but that would be kind of weird.  

Such an occasion calls for something special that is not easily obtainable, something that gets one's attention and that requires some effort. 

Nothing says ''Love you" like a Thai curry with freshly milked coconut cream and hand pounded paste.  Especially during a mid-January thaw, when one worries that February, with its bland monologues, has decided to show up to the party early.  If ever we needed the gastronomic equivalent to a thermite grenade, now is the time.

I don't consider myself well-versed in Thai cooking, and neither will you once you hear my tale.  Nonetheless, the few cracks I've made at the old coconut have yielded pleasing results.  

Milking the coconut is the fun part:  Standing before the small mound of  fruits at the store, shaking each, selecting the heaviest, juiciest one.  Then roasting it in the oven to separate the flesh from the shell, cracking it open and shredding it in the food processor.  Adding warm water to the fragrant pulp and massaging it 89 times in accordance with tradition all the while downing a glass of coconut water you poured out of the fruit's ''eyes.''      

When pounding out a fresh curry paste in the past I've borrowed a molcajete, one of those Mexican monster-mortars made of porous lavastone.  The wimpy grocery store mortar and pestles tend only to have volume enough for crushing three cumin seeds at a time and won't cut it for making curry.  You need plenty of room to churn your chiles, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and shallots.  The borrowed molcajete was a well-seasoned one, having ground enough seeds and spices to fill a Texas megachurch.  It worked great.

Impressed with the molcajete, I bought one about a year ago and it has seen minimal use.  I seasoned it by grinding a handful of rice to powder.  This is supposed to shear all of the loose bits off the surface of the mortar.

For those who have not tried their hands at curry pounding, I can attest that it is hard work.  I was sweating like a pig by the time I'd ground the chiles, only the third ingredient I'd tossed in the mortar.  I had eight more to go.

I knew things were going badly when I mixed a cup of the paste with my boiling coconut cream in the wok.  A terrible scratchy feeling traveled up the handle of my spatula as I mixed the concoction.

I warned my friends that the meal might be a bit fibrous as we dished up the food.  It tasted good, but the  unpleasant crunch led to a rather unenthusiastic response.  It was as though a teaspoon and a half of sand had been added to the wok.  What a nightmare.  We should have called it quits and ordered a pizza.  Instead, we ate up and hopefully managed not to strip too much enamel from our teeth.

I can only imagine that the acids and liquids in the curry paste combined with the pounding required to pulverize the ingredients were too much for the basalt.  Next time I make curry, it will be in a proper Thai granite mortar or the food processor.

I can't see the sand.  Can you?

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