I’ve been cooking some more from David Thompson’s epic Thai Street Food and one of my favourite dishes is his version of Phetchaburi jungle curry with minced quail and yellow eggplant. I made it for the lovely N when she arrived from Spain, and it went down very well, but it has to be said that cutting up the quails and removing the meat from their bones was a finicky job. I am the first to admit that I am not an expert poultry de-boner and after spending some time faffing around with knives and scissors, I felt pretty sure I was Doing It Wrong. I need some lessons in butchery from Top Chef Hung, whose chicken chopping skills make me feel especially inadequate.
So, delicious as the recipe is, I wanted to develop a more everyday version that didn’t require an hour of messy meat prep. I decided on minced pork as a substitute for quail and small Indian eggplant as a replacement for the yellow Thai kind that are hard to find in my neck of the woods. I can actually get green Thai eggplant and have made the dish with these too. Somehow, though, I think the dryer texture of the pork works well against the softness of the Indian eggplant, whereas if you make the dish with quail it wants the crunchier quality of the Thai ones.
I messed around with the other ingredients a bit too. Instead of fresh birds’ eye chilies, I added Thai green peppercorns. Again, this was a response to the shift from quail to pork. They may be completely inauthentic in this context but they added nice bursts of sour spiciness and complemented the pork nicely.
Jungle curry with pork and eggplant
- 4-5 tbsp of dried red chilies, either medium sized or small birds’ eye
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp chopped galangal
- 3 tbsp chopped lemongrass
- 2 tsp grated lime zest
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 2 tsp shrimp paste
- 200g minced pork
- 6 small Indian eggplant
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp palm sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 strand fresh green peppercorns
- a bunch of Thai basil
First up, make the curry paste. Cut the tops off the dried red chilies and dump out the seeds, then soak them for 15 minutes in a bowl of water. When they’ve softened, chop them roughly and blend them in a mini-prep. Next add the salt, galangal, lemongrass, lime zest, garlic and shrimp paste, blending as you go until you have a thick paste. You might need to add a little water to keep it moving, but try not to add too much. Cut up your eggplant at this stage too, slicing each into six wedges. Put them in a bowl of salted water to keep them fresh until you need them.
Now heat a wok to a medium-high heat and add the oil. Once it’s hot, add the curry paste and stir constantly to stop it sticking. Thompson warns that the paste will become “sneeze-inducingly aromatic” and he is not kidding around. I would rather term it ‘coughing fit-inducingly smoky’ and each time I’ve made it, I’ve had to flee the kitchen repeatedly to breathe some fresh air in the back garden before plunging back into the melée. However, I don’t have an extractor fan right now, so you might find it easier if you’ve got a fancier kitchen set-up than I do. Regardless, be prepared for a couple of uncomfortable minutes over the wok.
Next, add the pork and keep stirring till coloured all over. Add the fish sauce and sugar, then the cup of water. Bring to the boil and add the eggplant wedges and green peppercorns. Simmer for a few minutes then add Thai basil and salt to taste.
The dish is pretty spicy, it’s true, but it somehow ends up less hot than you think it will. Served with rice, and especially if you have a cooling cucumber salad on the side, it isn’t as fearsome as you might anticipate.
Recipe adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food.