Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Thai Yellow Curry Lobster

Holy crap, you guys. The making of this dish was intense. I went back to From Curries to Kebabs for a Thai curry recipe on Saturday, and the cooking process was far more educational than I was prepared for... But let's start from the beginning.
The first step in making a yellow curry is to make yellow curry paste. This involves dried chilies, ginger, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, shrimp paste, cinnamon, white pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and curry powder.
This is all combined in a blender with a bit of water, until it becomes paste-like. The rest of the ingredient list is super-short. Some peanut oil, some coconut milk (with the extra-thick part separated from the thinner part), curry powder, lime leaves, and a couple lobsters (along with the curry paste you just made).
There's still a quarantine on lime leaves, so I pulled some more out of my freezer stash, which is now running dangerously low. With those live lobsters came my unwelcome education. Madhur Jaffrey describes a very specific method for dispatching your lobsters and cutting them into curry-ready pieces. You first decapitate the lobster (at which point the tail and every limb on the upper half start failing around wildly). Next, you are supposed to pull off the spindly legs and twist off the front claws (which are REALLY active at this point). From there you cut off the front of the head where the eyes are to pull out the stomach sac before slicing the head down the middle. I totally failed to follow through with this method, because it seemed incredibly effed up to be twisting active, struggling limbs off of the freaked out head of a clearly-not-at-all-dead-yet creature. I'm no vegan, and I understand that my meat comes from things that used to be alive, but I apparently draw some arbitrary line at ripping the limbs off of a struggling creature while those limbs are flailing wildly in apparent desperation. Instead, I decided to split the head down the middle after decapitation and face-slicing-off (which I had hoped might slow down the flailing... but didn't... at all...), since this is how chefs seem to dispatch lobsters on TV. Yeah. That didn't really slow things down, either. At this point this was the scene on my cutting board: That front claw is trying desperately to pull itself off of the board and/or kill me. I finished off this lobster and moved on to Lobster Number Two. I didn't have the stomach to go through the above process again (seriously, you guys... it was a trip...), so I started by splitting the head this time, then left the room to have a glass of wine while waiting for the beast to stop flailing. When I came back he was (mostly) still and I proceeded with getting him cut into pieces. In the end, I had a bowl containing what Jaffrey wanted it to contain, even if I couldn't bring myself to use her method. I don't think I'll be killing any more lobsters her way.
On to more pleasant matters, like delicious curry. You start by cooking a bit of peanut oil and the thickest coconut milk with the curry paste.
The rest of the coconut milk is added and things are brought to a simmer. (The dish can be made in advance to this point and finished a couple hours later if you're so inclined...)
The lime leaves and lobster pieces go in, and are gently simmered until the lobster is just cooked through.From here you're ready to plate up with a mound of jasmine rice.
The thing about a dish like this is that I wouldn't ever really serve it to guests or eat it in front of people as plated above, because you still have to pull all of the meat out of shells that are soaked in curry. I went ahead and dismantled the above, pulling meat out of shells for an infinitely more spoonable (if less awesome-looking) lunch...
That's a lot of lobster-y goodness in that bowl. The curry was totally awesome. Like in the Kerala curry last week, the complexity of the layered spices was insanely delicious. I never really order yellow curries, but I'd been meaning to start making more of my own Thai curry pastes. I don't have any restaurant curries to compare my sauce to, but it tasted amazing and I can see myself making it again in the future for chicken or shrimp curries, too. I had to stop after pretty much every bite and say to myself, "Dude. Nicely done!" So far I continue to be impressed by Jaffrey's book (even if I now suspect she's slightly deranged). I'm thinking my adventure next weekend will involve a feast of dishes from Kerala (from a different book), but I suspect it won't be too long before I come back to Jaffrey's book to try something new...

No comments: