Thai Chicken Curry & Prik Nam Pla

I have a dilemma and I need some help! The daylight is quickly disappearing here, and by the time I get home and start cooking I’ve lost all access to natural light. Which means my photos are starting to look terrible. For a few months of the year, we’re spoiled by our midnight sun, and I can cook whenever I please, taking some decent photos along the way. Does anyone have any ideas for taking photos of food without natural light? Flash and food are not friends, so this isn’t an option. I’ve tried taking photos under one of my lamps, but things are still looking rather harsh. Any good (and pocket-friendly) artificial lighting options? Preferably something light and small for use in teeny dwellings? Will deliver 100 cookies to the individual with the first solution that I can actually use (and that delivers beautiful results)!

Here’s a quick weeknight meal for lovers of curries. I enjoy curries that have been slowly simmered for hours, but there are times I’m craving the sweet combination of coconut milk, chiles, and lemongrass, and I want those flavours in my mouth NOW! So here’s my go-to curry recipe to get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. The ingredients are minimal, but the flavour is still bright and full of spicy heat. Serve this with rice or on top of rice noodles for a full meal.

I’m also including a recipe for prik nam pla (Thai fish sauce with hot chiles). I am addicted to this stuff. Ever since I made it for the first time about 4 years ago, I have always looked for excuses to pour it onto something. And this curry is just one of the frequent victims of this pungent sauce. It’s exactly as I’ve stated in parentheses: fish sauce and chiles. That’s it. Combine them in a jar and leave in your fridge – FOREVER. Well, not really forever, you have to keep replenishing it. Sometimes it’s really hot. Sometimes it’s super salty. It just depends on what you’ve re-added to the sauce lately. This isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t like intense heat, or strong stinky fish sauce isn’t your cup of tea, I’d recommend you stick to sriracha and limes for your condiments of choice.

(disclaimer: the photos of the prik nam pla were taken in the summer. So voila! natural light. And no, you are not missing something in the recipe: there is no garlic in either recipe below – I was making something else delicious at the time)

Thai Chicken Curry

I alternate between chicken and shrimp when making this dish. I suppose you could also use tofu if you’re into that sort of thing. Read this recipe thoroughly before you start so you can make the dish in less than 30 minutes.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into thin strips
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp fish sauce, divided
vegetable oil
1 Tbsp red curry paste
1 can coconut milk (don’t shake it!!)
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 small onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 lime (+ 1 more to serve if you like)
1/4 cup Thai basil, chopped (you can substitute fresh basil if you can’t find Thai basil)

Combine chicken, pepper and 1 Tbsp of the fish sauce into a bowl. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of the vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches (about 2-3), saute the chicken in the pan for about 3-4 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. (you don’t want to add all the chicken at once or you’ll steam the chicken instead of browning it) Once each batch of chicken is done, transfer it a clean bowl. Add a bit of extra oil to the pan between batches if necessary. (if you want to speed up your cooking process even further, use the time that you’re browning the chicken to slice your onions and pepper – if you can handle two tasks at once. I typically can’t so I get my chopping all done before I start any cooking)

Once you have finished browning the chicken, heat another 1/2 Tbsp of vegetable oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the red curry paste to the pan and give it a quick stir to start cooking it – about 30 seconds. Add the thick coconut milk at the top of the can to the pan (there is usually a couple spoonfuls worth of thicker milk at the top). Stir the pan to combine the coconut milk and paste – another 30 seconds. Add the sugar and remaining 1 Tbsp of fish sauce to the pan, stir to combine, then add the onion and red peppers. Saute for about 2-4 minutes or until onions start to soften. Return the chicken to the pan and add the remaining coconut milk. Stir to combine everything in the pan and cook for another 3-5 minutes so the flavours can meld. Add the juice of 1 lime and then take the pan off the heat. Stir in 1/2 of the Thai basil then serve over rice or rice noodles. Garnish each dish with the remaining basil.

Serve with lime wedges, prik nam pla, sriracha, sambal oelek for everyone to pick what they want to add.

Serves 4.

Prik Nam Pla (aka The Best Sauce on Earth; aka Thai Fish Sauce with Hot Chiles)

Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid

1/2 cup Thai bird chiles (green, red or combination), stems removed
1 cup Thai fish sauce

With a sharp knife (and perhaps rubber gloves to protect your hands … and later your eyes), mince the chiles. Or if you prefer, use a food processor to complete this task. Place minced chiles (seeds and all) into a glass mason jar – or any other glass container of choice (something that will be airtight) – and add the fish sauce. Cover the container and store in your fridge. As I stated above, this sauce lasts F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Just keep topping up the chiles or fish sauce as things run low. To ensure you don’t contaminate the sauce, pour out a little bit into a small bowl when serving.

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  1. #1 by Lisa on October 25, 2011 - 10:23 pm

    Hey lady, try cranking up your ISO on the camera. The pictures may look a tad more grainy (not a big deal if you are not blowing them up) but it will help and you may be able to get away without using flash. Or if possible slow down your shutter speed…just use a steady hand or the timer!

    This looks delicious! I may have to try it!

    Xo Lisa

  2. #2 by Gorging George on October 25, 2011 - 10:31 pm

    This sounds like something that would work … I just have to figure it out on my dinky point-and-shoot (still saving up for a DSLR). Expect some cookies in the mail if I have success!

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