The mother of all grab-kill-eat combos, jungle curry harkens back to times way before supermarkets made it a cinch to get food. The name sums it up. In the jungles and forests of northern Thailand, you never knew what you might come across. Something rushing out of a thicket towards you? No worries if you were ready for it. It’d probably be wild boar, soon to take pride of place on the dinner table. If boar wasn’t available, then chickens would do, or perhaps some fat juicy cat fish from a lake. Anything really. Whatever was to hand, for jungle curry, like all of the great Thai curries, is incredibly versatile. One thing that marks it out from its luscious curry peers is that – at least traditionally – no coconut is used. That’s because coconuts weren’t cultivated in the jungle. These days the curry can be made with just about anything, and you’ll sometimes find recipes where coconut milk can be added.
This month’s recipe features the most traditional kind of jungle curry and we’ll use pork as one of the ingredients. (This is for convenience as you’re more likely to find pork meat than wild boar!) Once you’ve assembled all the ingredients, you’ll
notice how they look like they’ve just come out of a very wild garden.
You’ll find its more fun to make this curry in a traditional Thai kitchen looking out over fields or forests. But it goes beyond aesthetics; an open-sided kitchen really is best as jungle curry is the spiciest curry of them all. For many people it falls into the category of extreme food. Twenty chillies are called for, though even many Thais will find that amount simply ridiculous. Twenty? No way, they’ll tell you. It should be sixty! Then there are the dried red chillies and the paste. Once the spices are frying, the air will become blindingly acrid and your eyes will water. And they’ll water again once you start eating what you’ve cooked; it’s seriously spicy even though there’s a lot of liquid. An acquired taste? For most, definitely.
And this explains why the majority of Thai restaurants don’t have jungle curry on their menu, though they’ll have a full range of other curries. Not for the faint-hearted, therefore. Some people just don’t dare to eat it. It’s probably best not to try it out for the first time if you’re trying to look cool and talk rationally. However, many restaurants frequented by holidaymakers will present a mild form of this fiery dish. Make sure you have plenty of rice to eat it with, and though you may be blown away at first by the spiciness of gaeng pa, you may well want to come back for second helpings. It’s a great balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty, and all the different flavours make it extremely yummy. Definitely a chop-and-pound labour of love, the efforts are all worth it; you’ll receive a mighty pay-off on first bite. It’s delicious.
Ingredients: for the curry paste
• 20 fresh Thai birds’ eye chillies either red or green, finely chopped
• 5 dried red big chillies, chopped after par-boiling
• 5 dried red chillies, chopped
• 5 shallots, chopped
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled.
• 1 tbsp chopped galangal
• 1 lemongrass, bottom part only, chopped
• 3/4 tbsp fermented shrimp paste
• 1 tsp chopped kaffir lime peel
• 7 coriander stems
• 1 tsp peppercorns, crushed, or stem of green peppercorns
• 1 tsp fresh turmeric, finely diced, or simply used powdered version.
Ingredients: for the curry
• 4 tbsp vegetable oil
• 600g pork, chopped into bite-sized pieces
• 6 Thai green aubergines, cut into quarters
• 500g chicken stock
• 3 small red chillies pierced for extra heat, chopped, with or without seeds
• Fish sauce to taste, up to 3 tbsp.
• 500g butternut squash, diced
• Handful of pea aubergines, available fresh in Thai markets
• 5 kaffir lime leaves
• 1 tbsp palm sugar
• 7 long beans, chopped into bite-sized slices,
• 1 large handful holy basil, torn
1. For the paste, chop first and then grind thoroughly in a pestle and mortar. Alternatively you can use a blender, but the results tend not be quite as good – this is a traditional curry after all. Set aside in a cool place. You can if you wish, make in advance and keep in a tightly sealed container or bag in the fridge.
2. Prepare all the other ingredients and have ready. There’s quite a bit of chopping to do and it’s quicker if everything’s done in one go.
3. Once you’re ready, take either a large-sized wok or a frying pan and place over a medium heat, add the vegetable oil and once it’s hot, add the paste you’ve made. Cook through, stirring at intervals. This will take about 4 minutes.
4. Now add the pork and stir fry until the meat is brown on all sides. Add the chopped Thai green aubergines, the hot stock, chillies and the fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat then simmer for 8 minutes.
5. Add the squash, pea aubergines, then the lime leaves and palm sugar.
6. Cook for a little longer until the butternut squash and green aubergines are just short of done. Ten minutes should suffice for this stage.
7. Next add the long beans and continue simmering until they’re cooked to your liking. Add the basil, folding it in to the mix and simmering for no more than 5 seconds. The dish is now ready. Serve in a small pot along with rice.