Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday Suppers At Jessie's

One of the nice side benefits of helping my friend John build his Web site is the "after-work" dinners created for us by his partner Jessie. I featured one of those dinners awhile back. (I love showing how Jessie creates his dinners.) On a recent Sunday, Jessie put together a quick and simple crab dinner for just the three of us and he reformed me on Thai curry. I've never been a fan of curry with coconut milk, but the flavoring and simplicity of Jessie's version converted me and now I'm going to make more Thai curry using his technique. Here's the evolution of Jessie's Sunday supper with crab.
Here are some of the main ingredients for the crab. Jessie assembled fish sauce, Penang curry paste, green onions, shallots and palm sugar. (Yep, Jessie tries to be authentic and buys palm sugar because that's what they use in Thai cooking. I would simply substitute with a light brown sugar or regular sugar, but that's the lazy me.)
Jessie had these baby romaine leaves drying in the colander and I thought they looked so beautiful in the kitchen light. It's going to be the base of a fabulous salad later.
Jessie says he makes his curry with coconut cream instead of coconut milk. This was the first time I heard of coconut cream, but it sounds seductive.
Here Jessie starts cooking the crab curry by heating up the Penang curry. It's important to release the flavor of the curry paste with initial heat.
The Thai curry starts to take shape and color after Jessie adds the coconut cream. Now the trick that Jessie told me is to be sure to cook the curry until you start to see the oil floating on the top. He says this is the sign that the curry has reached its peak flavoring.
Jessie added in the crab to the curry. The crab was pre-cooked and cut into pieces. But you can also use fresh crab if you're willing to kill it and clean it. (Which is actually what I like to do to get the meat even more fresh.)
These are kaffir lime leaves from Jessie's garden. I'm showing a picture of it because Jessie adds thinly sliced cuts of these leaves to the crab curry right before serving for that added dimension of Thai flavoring. Jessie planted the kaffir lime tree in a pot outside his kitchen after he searched and searched and couldn't find kaffir lime leaves for sale. Now he gets his own picked fresh right outside.
Yay, dinner starts! Jessie served a white wine with the crab.
Of course you have to have bread, which was great to slurp up the curry sauce. Hmmm, just remembering the slurping of the sauce is getting me hungry again. The bread was great too, from Grace Bakery.
Here's the main event: the Thai curry crab with kaffir lime leaves sprinkled on top. The kaffir leaves have been chiffonade, a term I learned from Jessie, which is the fancy French way of saying cut very very thin (even more so than julienned).
Jessie served the crab with a Thai chili sauce on the side. It was made with fish sauce, some sugar, and minced chili.
Jessie thinks of everything, and here he has a nice finger bowl for us to use as we eat the crab. It was nicely set off by a lavender flower from his garden.
After devouring the crab, Jessie continued the dinner with a crunchy chop salad made with romaine, escarole, tomatoes, shallots and avocado. It was tossed in a simple basalmic vinaigrette. It was refreshing and very French to have a salad after the crab.
Jessie ended the perfect crab dinner with a pear crisp baked in individual ramekins. Thanks for another great dinner Jessie!

Here's Jessie's recipe for the crab. He says it's a combination of various recipes he's seen, but primarily inspired by Vatch's Thai Street Food by London restaurateur Vatcharin Bhumichitr. (Coincidentally, Bhumichitr is John's landlord for the apartment he rents when he spends months hunting down gems in Thailand.)

Thai Crab Curry

1 T Penang curry paste (available at Asian grocery stores)
13 oz. can coconut cream, warmed
1 1/2 T fish sauce or to taste
1 T palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 bunch green onions, cut into 2 inch sticks
3 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
1 t vegetable oil
3 California crabs, cooked, cleaned, cracked

Heat oil in large pan in medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and saute for a minute. Add curry paste and heat for 30 seconds or so. Add two-thirds of warm coconut cream and turn down heat to low. Mix paste with coconut cream and continue cooking until red oil from curry surfaces with boiling bubbles. Add palm sugar and fish sauce. Cook for one minute. Add rest of the coconut cream.

Add crab pieces to the pan. Stir and make sure crabs are covered with sauce. Add green onions. Cover and warm for a few minutes. Throw in kaffir lime leaves. Eat!

Makes 3 to 4 servings. Serve with warm bread.

Pair with a glass of Riesling.

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