This decadent and moorish curry found in Northern Thailand has tender hunks of fatty pork belly and pork shoulder that’s been simmered for well over an hour until it reaches a heavenly rich and silky consistency. Historically Burmese, the use of tamarind, pickled garlic, palm sugar and Indian curry powder give it the perfect balance of sweetness, sourness and a slight salty tinge.
*Recipe Serves 6
29 grams (about 4 stalks) thinly sliced lemongrass, tender parts only
1 teaspoon salt
1 piece (about 14grams) galangal, thinly sliced against the grain
4 (about 7 grams) stemmed dried Mexican puya chilies, soaked in hot water for about 15 minutes, until fully soft
43 grams peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced against the grain
1 1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
29 grams (about 1/4 cup) peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced with the grain
1 1/2 teaspoons mild Indian curry powder
1/2 teaspoon tumeric powder
450 grams pork belly cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
450 grams boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (or good quality regular)
2 tablespoons Thai black soy sauce (or good quality regular)
1 1/2 tablespoons liquid from pickled garlic straight from the jar (preferably Thai)
43 grams palm sugar, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons Tamarind water (recipe below) or 3 tablespoons of Tamarind paste
2 cups water
1 (29 grams) piece peeled ginger, cut into long and thin matchsticks (to make about 1/4 cup)
43 grams peeled and separated pickled garlic cloves (about 30 small cloves)
1 handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
1/4 cup skinless unsalted roasted peanuts
6 tablespoons fried shallots (can purchase in the Asian section of supermarket)
MAKE THE PASTE
Combine the lemongrass and the salt in a heavy granite mortar and pound firmly for about 2 minutes until you have a fairly smooth, slightly fibrous paste.
Add the galangal and pound for a further two minutes.
Drain the chillies well, wrapping them in paper towels to gently squeeze dry. Cut them into small pieces and then add to the mortar and pound, ensuring that you end with a smooth, slightly fibrous paste.
Add the shallots and the shrimp paste, fully pounding each ingredient before moving onto the next. I spent about 20 minutes pounding my paste. This is the vital step to the curry, so ensure that you end with a smooth, consistent paste. You should end up with about 1/2 cup of paste. You can use it straight away or store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
MAKE THE CURRY
- Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Add all of the paste, breaking it up and stirring for about 2 -3 minutes until it’s fragrant and turns a slightly duller shade of red.
- Stir in the shallots and cook for about 3 minutes until they soften slightly. Then add the curry powder, and turmeric powder and stir frequently for a minute or so until fragrant.
- Add the pork belly and shoulder, stirring to coat the pork and cook for a few minutes so that the pork has a chance to absorb a little of the flavour of the paste.
- Stir in the fish sauce, black soy sauce and pickled garlic liquid, then add the palm sugar. Increase the heat slightly to bring the liquid to a simmer, cook until the palm sugar has completely dissolved, then stir in the tamarind water or paste along with the 2 cups of water.
- Increase the heat to high, bringing the liquid to a simmer, then immediately decrease the heat to low and cover (or partially cover, if your lid doesn’t let any steam escape), adjusting the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, then stir in the ginger, then remove the lid and cook at a steady simmer for about another 45 minutes until the pork shoulder is very tender but not falling apart and the liquid has thickened slightly. The curry should still be fairly soupy (not gravy like and dry) with a layer of of reddish liquid fat near the surface. You want some of this fat, but you might have too much; use your discretion and spoon off as much as you would like. I needed to add more water to the curry as it was cooking to keep it from thickening too much.
- Stir in the pickled garlic cloves and peanuts and cook for 10 minutes. Then stir in the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes or until they’re just tender but still slightly crunchy.
- Serve topped with the fried shallots and a side of rice, preferably sticky rice.
There should be a balance between sweet, salty and sour flavours with sweetness taking the lead. If necessary, season with more palm sugar for sweetness, tamarind water for sourness, or fish sauce for saltiness. When I cooked this, my version was too salty so I added more of both palm sugar and tamarind water.
The curry will keep in the fridge for 5 days, and like most curries it actually tastes better the day after you make it.
Put 1 cup of seedless tamarind pulp into a medium pot or bowl. Boil water then add to the pot and leave to soak for about 1o minutes. Using a spoon, press the tamarind pulp against the sides of the pot, making the liquid thicker. One you have a nice thick liquid, strain the liquid through a fine sieve. The tamarind water will keep in the fridge for up to a week and in the freezer for up to 3 months.