I’m allergic to shellfish. I wasn’t always, I used to love the little crustacean!
It started gradually. I spent years enjoying shrimp and lobster, although I have to admit I was never really very keen on the crab.
Back in the day, we used to have a standing order, every Thursday night, I’d call ahead from work and we’d swing by and pick it up to go. General Tso’s chicken and Singapore Noodles, every week. But gradually after eating the noodles that were loaded with shrimp I would start to feel weird. Racing heart, dizzy and my tongue would feel swollen, but I always blamed it on MSG. So we started insisting on no MSG in our order.
Gradually I noticed it happened at other restaurants and with other shellfish dishes and the reactions became worse and worse, so I went and got tested for allergies and low and behold, much to my disappointment, it turned out to be a shellfish allergy. More on food allergies at another time.
Oh well. I’ve since learned that eating shellfish isn’t really the best idea anyway because they are bottom feeders and therefore have a much higher concentration of toxins than other fish products. Oh well indeed.
Since developing this allergy, I have a great fear of Asian style and seafood restaurants. Because even if you warn your server and even if they are very careful, all it takes is one spoon in the wrong sauce or a forgotten splash of fish sauce in a salad dressing and you’re in trouble.
Even certain Chinese curry powders have ground up shrimp in them and yet it is no where on the label. So it’s hard. It’s especially hard when you actually LOVE Asian food!
All this to say, due to my extreme fear of bad reactions, I had to start learning to make all of my favorite Asian style dishes at home so I would know EXACTLY what was in them!
Here is one of my favorite curry sauces. We used chicken, but you could use beef, lamb or even a good firm fish like halibut. And for our Veg or even Vegan friends just add your favorite root vegetables and or beans.
For the sauce start with:
- Half a small jar of prepared curry paste. Thai Kitchen Curry Paste is my favorite because there is no shrimp in it.
- 2 cans of coconut milk
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp palm sugar (available at most ethnic food stores)
- 4 sprigs of Thai Basil leaves
- 2 Kaffir lime leaves
Heat a large heavy frying pan or dutch oven to a fairly high temperature, when ready, add curry paste, ginger and garlic. Cook for about five minutes and blend together throughly. Once it gets sort of sticky it is time to deglaze with the coconut milk.
It’s very important though that you only use the liquidy part of the coconut milk. If you aren’t familiar with canned coconut milk, you’ll notice when you open the can that it has separated into a water part and a thick white creamy part that looks like white butter or something like that. So at this time ONLY use the watery part. A good trick is to turn the can upside down and then open the can, that way the liquid part is now on top.
So add the liquid of the coconut milk and stir and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom.
Then add the kaffir lime leaves and just the stems of the Thai basil…..NOT the leaves yet. Both of these items are to be treated in the same way you would a Bay leaf….where you add while cooking but then remove them later.
Keep stirring, NOW add in the coconut butter portion of the can and turn down to medium. Keep cooking and stirring from time to time until it reduces down to about half of what it was.
Once it is reduced, fish out the kaffir lime leaves and the basil stems and discard.
Then add the palm sugar. Make sure you break it up because it comes in a big chunk. Keep stirring till the sugar is all dissolved.
Then thinly slice up or “chiffonade” ( that’s the fancy French cooking term!) the basil leaves and add to the sauce. Taste it at this point. Keep in mind, prepared curry/chili pastes can differ from brand to brand so the recipe can be quite different depending on the brand you use. If it is too spicy hot, then add some more coconut butter. Or if it isn’t sweet enough add a bit more palm sugar. This is up to your taste.
Then you are ready to go. You have Panang curry sauce!
So now depending on what you are going to put in it you can proceed. If it’s a meat product, brown it up in a separate pan and then add it to the sauce and cook till tender. If you are using boneless chick breast you can actually add it back a few steps, just after the Thai paste, ginger and garlic, browning it along with those items and then letting it simmer in the sauce while it cooks. If you are using fish, like halibut, it is best to cook it separately and then just pour the sauce over it. For the Veg or Vegan version you would just add what ever you are going to use to the sauce when it’s ready and heat till warmed through.
My favorite thing to serve with this curry is black Thai rice because it is kind of sweet and sticky and the colour is a nice contrast to the orange curry. And then garnish with some toasted cashews and some sort of colourful veg like red peppers or green onions.
This sounds all kind of exotic, but once you are able to find the ingredients and make it a time or two, believe me, it will become a regular in your repertoire.