THAI GREEN CURRY (By a Thai Girl)


Posted on September 6th, by June in Food, recipe. 18 comments

Thai green curry - Main

By popular demand, I thought it’s time to give the centre stage to one of the most popular Thai dishes outside Thailand (probably only second to Pad Thai). *Drum roll* The delicious, mouthwatering, and most controversially misunderstood  of all curries; Thai Green Curry.

Unless you have been to Thailand, have Thai friends whose mothers have cooked for you (this is location dependent ie. can she get all the ingredients), or are freakishly lucky to have come across a restaurant that sticks to the real flavour (very rare), I guarantee you that the Thai green curry you have come to love is almost definitely the westerner version of this beautiful curry. That thick, ultra sweet, basically just ‘spiked’ with a hint of curry paste, slices of chicken breast, and lots of vegetable, with two leaves of basil garnished on top. Yeah. That’s not Thai green curry. Actually, it’s not guaranteed you would have had the real deal even if you have been to Thailand as most of the restaurants catered for tourists will most likely make the westerner version, based on what they think the westerners like.

Now, before I go any further I would like to state that there’s nothing wrong with you loving that version of the curry, especially if you’re not used to Asian flavours and/or have very low tolerance to spices and heat. In some way it is a good gateway to world of new flavours and spices. You might even like it because it’s comforting, that thick smooth coconut cream with a hint of eastern exotic spices, lean chicken breast, coupled with lots of vegetable (that mostly don’t go together, in my opinion) on rice. By all mean, do consume it to your heart’s content.

But for the rest of you who are curious to get to know this beautiful, intensely fragrant curry a bit more, if you are ready to step it up a notch and want to know what the REAL green curry we Thai people eat, then read on. I would also like to add that where you are in the world does make a fair bit of difference. Can you get fresh Thai basils? How about Kaffir lime leaves? If you can, this will help you immensely. But don’t sweat it if you can’t, knowing the basic rules of what to do with the paste, what and how much of each ingredients to put in will already improve your next Thai green curry by ten folds.

But first, let’s demystify the key ingredients in the curry.

Thai green curry ingredients 2{Top row from left: Fish sauce, Mae Ploy brand green curry paste, Ayam brand coconut cream, Thai basil
Bottom row from left: Sugar, Kaffir Lime leaves, Lime, Chicken thigh fillets, Courgette (Zucchini)}

The curry paste

Don’t get discouraged by people who says only home-made curry paste could yield a real curry. While it is true that good paste made from fresh ingredients will probably make more delicious curry (given you know a good recipe), this is unattainable when you live outside Thailand and don’t have access to all of the ingredients. It’s what you do to the paste and how you execute the dish that takes precedent over the freshly home-made component.

A lot of herbs used in Thai cooking are fresh herbs and once they have been frozen, the aromas are mostly gone (and it’s the aroma that plays the key part in the paste). Green curry paste requires a lot of fresh herbs, some of which I can’t even get in Melbourne. I have tried to make the paste from scratch here using mostly fresh ingredients baring one or two, and the results are good, but not spectacular enough that I would make it every time. If I have the time and the inclination to make it, then yes I will do it again, but otherwise for the rest of us who wants curry and we want it tonight (me included), the store-bought paste is just as good.

Let me tell you that in Thailand the majority of people actually buy ready-made paste from the market. Yes in the past people will make their own partly because there was generally one working parent (mums were at home) and ready-made pastes were not widely available. I have made curry paste numerous times when I was a kid in school (and learned a very important lesson in life earlier on; always cover the mouth of the mortar when bashing chillies! Yes, I did learn it the hard way). However, these days this is no longer the case, and ready-made pastes are now widely used. So if you think that to make a ‘real’ Thai curry you need to make your own paste, think again.

Now, selecting the right curry paste involves a trick or two. Anything that comes in a glass jar and looks wet (like pesto consistency), don’t use these. The popular brands for these glass jar paste in NZ and Australia are the likes of Valcom and Ayam, bypass these as they are rubbish. What you want is a thick mud like consistency, which is inline with the paste we get back in Thailand. You can buy them in Asian store or these days some big supermarkets stock them in the Asian food aisle. My go-to brand is Mae-Ploy (see picture above); it’s very popular, either comes in a sachet pack for one use, or in a plastic tub, which is what I buy as they are cheaper and will keep for a long time in the refrigerator once opened. They are also useful for other dishes not limiting to making curries. Once you learn the basic way of cooking these paste out, you can use it to spice up stir-fries, soups etc. (see note at the bottom).

In the recipe below, I will use the store-bought paste as this is much more likely to be useful to most of the readers here. At a later stage, I can write up another post on how to make fresh curry pastes for those who are curious.

Coconut cream

I spent a long time searching for a good brand of coconut cream. You see, most of them (products of Thailand included) have this coconut-enhanced smell and taste which is very artificial. In NZ, the brand which has the closest smell and taste to the real thing is Fia Fia brand from Fiji. In Australia, I favour the Ayam brand from Malaysia.

Next is a popular question; coconut cream or coconut milk? I always buy coconut cream and here’s why. How coconut cream/milk is produced back in Thailand is you split a coconut in half (variety that is used for this purpose), drain, and shred the hard flesh by hand (very ancient) or by machine (what we use now). The fine shredded flesh, about the consistency of almond meal, is then sold by weight at the fresh market. You buy a small bag for one use (they go off quickly within a day or two). A small amount of lukewarm water is added to shredded coconut (think thick fritter or bircher muesli consistency), then the mixture is squeeze over a muslin clothe to extract, surprise surprise, the coconut CREAM. Then more water is added to the same shredded coconut flesh after having the life squeezed out of it the first time round, repeat the squeezing action over the muslin clothes into another bowl and ta-da, you get the coconut milk. You can repeat again if you wish until you have enough coconut milk that you need. So really, I always buy coconut cream because you can always dilute it with water to make coconut milk, but not the other way round. As for making curry, you need both coconut cream and coconut milk, so save yourself trouble and just buy coconut cream from now on.

Thai basil

Repeat after me:

Thai basil is not just for garnishing.
Thai basil is not just for garnishing.
Thai basil is not just for garnishing.

Thai green curry basil

Without handfuls of Thai basils, it wouldn’t be a green curry. You might as well just not make it. However, if you can’t get your hands on thai basil, freshly picked italian basils can be used as a substitute, you just need more of it. Look for the organically grown, or home grown, as they tend to have stronger flavour and more aroma. Forget the limpy, old looking leaves as the aroma is almost gone. Brush the tips of your fingers backward and forward on italian basil leaves and smell your fingers, the more pungent the smell, the better they will be as a substitute to Thai basil.

There are three types of basils used in Thai cooking; Thai basil, Holy basil, and lemon basil. Lemon basil, as the name suggest, has a sweet citrus smell with smaller leaves, and is used a lot in Northeastern Thai cooking. Holy basil has the sharpest taste of all three, is harder to come by in NZ or Australia, and have an almost clove-pepperiness taste and smell to it. They are authentically used in the famous Thai chilli and basil stir-fry dish, also used in tom yum to give it a spicy kick (more so than it already has!).

Thai basil is readily available in Australia, and parts of NZ. It looks a bit similar to Italian basils but buds with white flowers and has a rich, aniseed like taste and aroma when fresh. All basils like hotter climate so you’re more likely to get them in warmer place. In Melbourne we get them all year round as during winter they are flown in from tropical Queensland. Look for them in Asian supermarkets or fresh markets. The fresher they are, the more aroma they will give off.

One of the problem with green curries produced in Thai restaurants is that they don’t put enough Thai basils in. They tend to come as a garnish on top by means of few leaves sprinkled here and there. The flavour of the curry completely transforms the moment you put a handful of Thai basils in so remember the above three lines I ask you to repeat. Thai basil is not just for garnishing.

Meat vs. Vegetable

The most popular green curries in Thailand are either made with chicken, or beef. I personally cook a lot of chicken green curry. Traditionally, a whole chicken is used, chopped up with bones into small pieces. Because the chicken is cooked on the bones, the flavour of the curry is intensely moorish. If you can be bother hacking a whole chicken with a clever, then go ahead but I generally cheat and use boneless chicken thighs instead. I find that for 4 people, chicken things diced up into about 1 inch cubes is perfect. However, if you are making a big batch of curry, I would suggest combining thigh pieces with breast fillets. Things are very oily and in big quantity it can tip the scale and make the curry too sickly with fatty meat. Maybe use about 2/3 thighs, 1/3 breast if making for say more than 8 people. Or use a whole chicken and that should even out quite nicely.

Now comes the biggest mistake people make, they put TOO MUCH vegetables in. The rule of thumb is 2/3 meat, 1/3 veg. Okay, if you really want to push it, then maybe 1/2 meat, 1/2 veg, but no more. People often crowd the curry with all sorts of vegetables, most of which don’t go with the curry and do nothing to enhance flavour. Worse, sometimes they detract and change the flavour of the curry. When friends try my curry, they often marvel at how tasty and delicious it is. I will let you in on a secret, two words, meat juice. There is a reason why dishes like stews, ragouts, bolognese are super tasty. Do you see a lot of vegetables going in that? Not much aside from the aromat. I am often presented with a question like ‘But I love vegetables/want my curry to be more healthy/I am health conscious/etc. What do I do?’, to which I always reply ‘Have a side of vegetables’.

I often suggest to friends who want to include more vegetables in the meal to serve Thai Green curry with steam (or blanched) green beans, tossed in a tiny amount of neutral tasting oil (I use rice bran) and a squeeze of lemon, on the side along with jasmine rice. They do go very well together. There you have it, now stop crowding your curry with unwanted/unnecessary vegetables.

Another equally important question is; what vegetable to use? In Thailand we use Thai eggplants which are round and about the side of a small mandarin. They are slight bitter and have robust texture when cooked, slight hard on the outside but soft and pulpy on the inside. We also put baby eggplants in. They look just like peas but are very firm and quite bitter. I spent a lot of time trying to find a suitable substitute vegetable that would yield similar texture to these. I found that the long oval dark purple eggplants we have here in NZ and Australia are a poor substitute. They absorb too much fat, which makes them too greasy, and they wilt and disintegrate too quickly. Unless you can get the Thai eggplants, I find that courgette (zucchini) is a good substitute. Cut into chunks, roughly the same size as the chicken pieces, cooked only until soft to bite but retains the firm texture. It provides similar texture yet don’t absorb too much fat like regular eggplants. It also doesn’t have a lot of own flavour to detract from the curry. I only put one type of vegetable in. In Thailand people sometimes put bamboo shoot as well, but over here in Australia you can only get them brined, in cans, and the flavour is completely different so I don’t bother with that.

Vegetables that are particularly not suitable in my opinion are: capsicum (too strong a flavour, will change the curry taste drastically), broccoli (they taste better steamed and eaten on the side anyway), mushrooms (too spongey, too mushroomy), carrots (unless it’s super soft, but often has strong carrot flavour), cabbage (I don’t know where to start with this). Pumpkin, however is not too bad but just make sure you watch that sugar level as they are sweet. Personally, I make my curry with one type of vegetable and I have other types of vegetables on the side if I want to eat them. Or just eat other vegetables on the next day and enjoy your curry today. Problem solved.

Sugar

This deserves a place in the key ingredient list because two opposite things are happening here; restaurants put too much in hence most curries taste like desserts, and you at home don’t put enough (or any at all). If you have cooked curry, used the right paste, but somehow it just didn’t taste that great, and/or felt like something was missing but couldn’t pint point it, 9 times out of 10 you probably forgot to put sugar in it (or enough of it). So do take note later on in the recipe and always remember to put sugar, and it’s generally more than you think because the store-bought paste is full of salt (as a preservative).

The quantity of ingredients in the recipe below are a rough guideline. Different brands of coconut creams will have different level of sweetness, same goes with courgettes, so the sugar level will need adjusting.  The amount of paste is indicative, you will make it once and adjust it the next time to suit your taste. I will describe to the best of my ability what the flavour should be like, but ultimately what you want is a curry that is salty, spicy, with an undertone sweetness, intense chickeny flavour, but light and bursting with Thai basil aroma. It should neither be too creamy, nor should it be sickly sweet.

RECIPES FOR CHICKEN THAI GREEN CURRY 

Enough for 4, or 6 skinny. Served with steamed Jasmine rice. 

500g of Chicken thigh fillets, no skin, diced into 1 inch cubes
2 Tbs of Rice Bran oil (or canola oil)
70-100g of Mae Ploy green curry paste (or roughly 2 1/2 – 4 Tbs, leveled and loosely packed. Depending on your heat tolerance)
270ml of Coconut Cream
1 tsp of white/raw sugar (or more depending on your taste)
1 medium or 2 small courgettes, cut into similar size to chicken pieces (adjust to achieve the 2/3 meat, 1/3 veg ratio)
160ml of water, roughly
a handful of Thai basil leaves
Fish sauce (to taste)
1 cheek of lime, or half a cheek of lemon
2-3 long red chillies (optional)
3-4 Kaffir Lime leaves (optional)

Heat oil in a large saucepan or a deep sauté pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, carefully put curry paste in to fry it off. It will spit a bit. With a wooden spoon or a spatula, move the paste around to prevent the paste from burning. It should give off a wonderful aroma, totally different from the smell straight from the packet/tub. Don’t sniff too close or you will continuously sneeze for a good 15 seconds. The paste needs to be fried off, otherwise it will leave this bitter taste in your curry. This shouldn’t take long, about 1 min after it starts to sizzle.

Thai green curry fry paste

Fry the diced chicken pieces with the paste. Move the chicken around to get an even coat. Be careful not to colour the chicken. Pour in half of coconut cream in and mix well. Make sure the paste are thoroughly dissolved and there is no lump. If using kaffir lime leaves, tear them with your hand and add to the pan. Let the whole thing boil hard for a few minutes until the coconut cream ‘breaks’, which is the separation of the oil. You will see a layer of oil floating on top, a colour as vibrant as that of very green, extra virgin olive oil. Do not skim this off. This is flavour and we want it.

There are two school of thoughts on these initial steps. Traditionally, the paste is fried in oil, then the coconut cream is added to the paste to mix and boil to ‘break’ the coconut cream. Then the chicken goes in. However, I like to do it as per above because I find that there is no real difference in the final product between the two methods, but it is easier for the paste to dissolved after it’s been distributed amongst chicken pieces (have you ever tried to mix in a blob of wasabi into a lot of soy sauce? bits floating? yeah, same idea).

Thai green curry chicken and paste

 

Thai green curry pouring coconut cream

Thai green curry coconut break

Once the coconut cream ‘breaks’, add the rest of the coconut cream cream, 3/4 of the water, 1tsp of sugar, and simmer until the chicken is cooked. Do not add any fish sauce at this point as the paste is quite salty. Add in courgettes and extra chillies (if used, split length-wise). Let it simmer until courgette are just cooked through. Also worth noting that a can of coconut cream that has been sitting on the shelf for a while will have a hard layer or pure cream of top and a cloudy, watery juice on the bottom. Don’t be alarmed, it hasn’t gone off. Don’t even bother mixing it back in, just scoop the top to start with, and throw in the rest later.

Thai green curry diced courgette

 

Thai green curry stiring in veg

Taste and adjust the seasoning. You may need a tiny bit more sugar but be careful not to let it be overly sweet. I doubt you will need the curry to be more salty, but if you do, add fish sauce. Add more water if it’s too thick (or too salty). The curry should have an intense flavour and be quite salty so it doesn’t get lost when eaten with rice. The consistency shouldn’t be too creamy, but rather a half stew half soup kind of consistency.

If you have added too much curry paste (and therefore too salty and/or spicy), add more coconut cream/water. However this will dilute the meatiness taste of the curry as there is less meat juice to go around.

If you haven’t added enough curry paste (ie. the curry tastes too bland/not aromatic enough), you have two options; first you can just try to season it with fish sauce, sugar, and lime so it’s well balance, and add extra chilli (then remember for next time to increase the amount of curry paste). Or you can take another small pan out and fry extra curry paste in oil until aromatic and then mix that into the curry thoroughly. DO NOT add raw curry paste straight into your curry, it will give your curry a bitter taste and a weird texture in your mouth, not very nice at all.

When everything is cooked and you’re happy with the seasoning, turn off the heat. Add basil leaves in and stir. Unless you have surgeon hands, the basil leaves would have been a little bruised a bit when you picked them off the branch (it’s okay, you do want them to be bruised so the aroma comes out more). However, if you are a surgeon, please tear the leaves a bit before putting them in. Squeeze in juice of a cheek of lime or half a cheek of lemon and mix through. You shouldn’t be able to taste the lime/lemon but rather it should magically lightens the whole profile of the curry up a notch. If you can taste the sourness, you put too much in.

Thai green curry collage

 

Thai green curry bowl

To serve, ladle an individual portion into a nice bowl and serve with a plate of steam jasmine rice. Or if you want to serve it together as one dish, I suggest using a pasta plate (the one which dips down in the middle), put steam rice on one side, and ladle the curry onto the other side. Never put the curry on top of the rice (unless you like soggy rice). In Thailand, the curry is consumed with other dishes on a communal table. We take a portion enough for 1-2 bites at a time onto our rice, hence the rice never get soggy. You go back for more when you finish that portion. But in the west, individual plates are commonly served so if you follow my suggestion above, it should maintain the balance of texture between rice and curry.

Tips for cooking curry for a group of friends with that one guy who can’t handle the heat: 
Warm a small amount of coconut cream in a saucepan, be sure to not ‘break’ it. Pour warm coconut cream into a gravy jug/milk jug and put it on the table. If the curry is too hot for some, they can pour a bit of warm coconut cream onto their portion of curry to tone it down (but it will also dilute the saltiness. You could season the coconut cream if you’d like, but I don’t usually bother).

A few other ways of utilising curry paste:

  • Fry a little paste in oil and use it to spice up broccoli soup. Just make sure you cook it with the broccoli. Great in winter to kick the warmth up a notch.
  • Use it to make a green curry stir fry dish. Just reduce the amount of paste (as you won’t be putting in any coconut milk to soften it), and fry the paste off as per usual, add meat/vegs/tofu/whichever you like. Remember to allow for the saltiness of the paste before adding in more sauce. And don’t forget the sugar.
  • Fry a little paste off in oil and add coconut cream, shaved palm sugar, lime zest, and lime juice. Use it as a hot dressing for rice noodle salad with crunchy vegetable and topped with crushed toasted peanuts.

This is a rather long post but I hope I have demystified some of the basics of Thai green curry for you. In my opinion, understanding each ingredients and their purpose behind it is the only way to make a great curry. Please do leave me a comment if you have any questions (like what to use as a substitute for certain products, confusing cooking steps, or just anything in general). I will do my best to answer them all.

Enjoy making Thai green curry and let me know how yours go.

Happy eating!

xx

 

 

 

 

 





  • Liam O’Boyle

    You should add some close up pictures of each of the basil types, I don’t think I could tell the difference. I didn’t know there were so many types, really!

    • junelikesfood

      I don’t have any pictures of the other two 🙁 Maybe I will hunt the down and take pictures when I am back in Thailand in a few weeks.

    • Tas

      Plenty of photos, just go to a herb seed site

  • Moira

    Gerald is very pleased to see that you are using the Mae Ploy paste – he swears by it also!

    • junelikesfood

      Does he put sugar in it?

      • Moira

        No he never does, June! in fact, he often puts in extra lime juice!! Having been to Thailand, I know that the Thais actually put sugar in everything, so he’s not being authentic, is he?!

        • junelikesfood

          Tell him to read this and put some sugar in! 😉

  • Carla

    Brill post!

    • junelikesfood

      Thank you Carla 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it. xx

  • Irene

    Great post miss. Mmm green curry.. dammit June, I’ve got to stop reading your blog after I shop. Mmm green curry..

    • junelikesfood

      Hmmm….green curry. I like green curry…

  • Lucille

    Thanks June, exactly what I needed to know!! Brilliant post, keep them coming! Lucille

    • junelikesfood

      Thanks Lucille 😀 glad you like it.

  • Yan

    Wow, June you are a fountain of food knowledge! Keep up the amazing posts!

  • Becky – Pretty Dandy

    Love this post, thanks for sharing June. I would’ve definitely avoided pastes before, so it’s good to know I can use them and which type to look out for. So many good tips here, I’m sure I’ll be returning to it time and again!

  • Tas

    Excellent post, Mae Ploy is the best, but suggested quantities are too hot for me!

  • James

    Excellent post! I live in Melbourne, Australia and was interested by your comments about produce. If you haven’t done so already, I’d definitely recommend you take a look at the fresh market produce available in Melbourne suburbs like Springvale and Dandenong or Richmond. I regularly see small, round, green-purple Thai eggplants and lots of varieties of basil, including Thai and Holy Basil available at those locations. Asian grocers also stock all kinds of coconut cream/milk (including those without any thinners, water or starch added).
    Thanks again for sharing, I look forward to making this!

  • Kath

    Docile you tell me how I would make this for more people? If a double the meat content, should I double everything else too?

    I’d be interested to know the best way without spoiling the flavones

    Kath