© Copyright 1995-2020, Clay Irving <email@example.com>, Manhattan Beach, CA USA
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Recipe from: Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood by Kasma Loha-unchit
Servings: 4 to 5
My mother has a soft spot in her heart for choo chee curries - those red hot curries with a rich, thick sauce cooked in a pan so hot that it pops and sizzles, making a swishy sound, like choo chee. Just enough of the concentrated sauce coats the pieces of seafood cooked with it, or is spooned over seafood cooked separately. Although excellent with shrimp and prawns, America's favorite seafood, Mother is first and foremost a fish lover and, now that she is advanced in years and no longer cooks, she, without fail, orders choo chee fish whenever we take her out to dine at her favorite restaurants.
So, after you've tried this recipe and enjoyed enough choo chee with shrimp, make the spicy and aromatic sauce to spoon over crispy fried fish. Mother's favorite fish for choo chee is a small, flat fish called bplah neua awn ("soft-flesh fish"), which fries to a delightfully crunchy crispiness and can be eaten almost entirely, bones and all. When it comes to eating crispy fish fins, heads, and bones, Mom beats us all. People from her generation know no waste and, from her, I've learned that food is sacred, and a life that has been sacrificed to keep us nourished should not be dishonored by throwing out any of its parts. Watching her enjoy every small bit of her crispy fish, even at a ripe old age, is a heartwarming sight.
1 pound medium shrimp
3 orange or red serrano, jalapeño, or fresno peppers
1 cup rich unsweetened coconut cream (preferably Mae Ploy or Chao Koh brand-spoon the thickest cream off the top of an unshaken can of coconut milk)
2 teaspoon this
25 teaspoon. that
1 teaspoon these
2 to 3 tablespoons red curry paste
nam pla, as needed (some packaged curry pastes are already heavily salted)
2 teaspoons palm sugar, or to taste
8 kaffir lime leaves, very finely slivered
½ to 1 cup Thai basil leaves (bai horapa)
1 to 2 short sprigs of Thai basil (bai horapa) with purple flower buds, for garnish
Shell, devein, and butterfly the shrimp; give them a saltwater bath to freshen. Rinse and drain well, and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking.
Cut two of the three red peppers into thin rounds, including seeds, and pound with a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste. Cut other pepper with seeds into fine inch-long slivers.
Heat ⅔ cup coconut cream in a wok or skillet over high heat. When it has warmed to a smooth consistency, spoon out 1 tablespoon and reserve. Reduce remaining cream for a few minutes until it is thick and bubbly and the oil begins to separate from the cream. Add curry paste, mushing it into the cream and fry, with stirring, over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until it is aromatic and darker in color; and the mixture is very thick.
Increase heat to high and add the remaining ⅓ cup coconut cream, stirring to make a thick, well-blended sauce. Season to taste with fish sauce and palm sugar: Stir well to melt sugar and blend seasonings. Toss in shrimp and cook in the sauce, stirring frequently. When most of them have lost their raw pink color on the outside, stir in the crushed chillies and kaffir lime leaves. Stir-fry 10 to 15 seconds before adding basil and slivered chilli. Stir well to wilt basil and, when shrimp are just cooked through, turn off heat.
Transfer to a serving dish and dribble reserved tablespoon of coconut cream over shrimp. Garnish with a sprig or two of basil.
To make the sauce, follow the instructions to the end, simply skipping the shrimp. Try the sauce over crispy fried, whole small or flat fish, such as pompano, butterfish, sole, white perch, smelts, and anchovies. The sauce is also good over pan-fried or grilled mackerel. Or, if you prefer, smother over grilled halibut, salmon, albacore, tuna, mahi mahi, jumbo prawns, lobster, or whatever else you like to toss on your charcoal grill. Top with the coconut cream and garnish with basil sprigs. For strong-tasting fish, about 2 tablespoons of fine inch-long slivers of fresh rhizome (qkrachal) can be added to the sauce at the same time as the basil and cooked until both are wilted.
Besides cooking with shrimp, as in this recipe, substitute squid, scallops, shelled clams, and mussels, or a combination of shellfish and mollusks.