Over the weekend, I used Pok Pok chef/owner Andy Ricker’s recipe for Thai beef
and potato yellow curry in the October issue of Saveur magazine. I’d spent
quite some time making his Thai yellow curry paste so I wanted to use the curry
and see what else I could glean from his recipes.
First off, I’d somehow assumed that yellow curry was only
for chicken (Viet folks make similar kinds of yellow curry with chicken and
potato) but Ricker prescribed beef and a long simmering in unseasoned coconut
milk. I was curious about the pairing of beef in a Southeast Asian curry.
Perhaps it would lend depth to the mellow yellow curry paste?
Cooking the beef
in coconut milk reminded me of how Italian bolognese sauce requires simmering
ground meat in milk and white wine. The result would no doubt be rich, despite
the small amount of meat involved. Smart low-meat cooking.
Another thing that intrigued me about Ricker’s recipe was
the notion of “cracking” coconut cream (what you get at the top when the
container of coconut milk is left to sit for 1 or 2 days). That is, the thick
coconut cream is cooked until the solids disappeared and the oil remained. Then
a good cup of the paste went into the pot and fried. Yes, a cup of paste seemed
like a heck of a lot but I’d tasted the paste and it was not frighteningly
strong. (Maybe the stuff from the stores are made to be extra strong?)
and frying the curry paste made sense. A number of Malaysian and Indonesian seasoning
pastes are often fried to meld flavors before the protein and liquid are added.
And, using the natural sweet nuttiness of coconut oil ties the entire dish
together, kind of like rendering chicken fat for a chicken and rice claypot.
Ricker also called for adding water to second simmering. His
curry promised to be lighter, runnier than what you’d normally get at Thai
restaurants. Runny curries are what I remember from eating in Chiang Mai in the
early 1990s. We sat down at a market curry stall, pointed to a couple of curry pots
and the vendor dished it up on tin plates. At room temperature, the curry was
ethereal tasting, not thick and creamy. You tasted the curry paste’s nuanced
flavors and it didn’t weigh you down.
I always let my curries rest before serving. With the Thai
yellow curry, we ate it in a near-tepid state with rice, boiled grean beans and
some sliced cucumber for refreshing crunch; I also made canh, a clear Viet
A batch of this curry yielded about 8 servings and after
reading Austin Bush’s piece on kaeng
karii, I added a side of chiles and soy sauce to subsequent meals of Thai
yellow curry. We mixed them into the rice and curry at the table for spirited
heat and savory depth. As with stews, this curry tastes better as it ages.
So how was the curry over all? It was excellent, full of
complexity yet well balanced enough to be elegant. The beef imparted gravitas.
Thumbs up on the DIY Thai yellow curry paste and this curry. I now have a cup of yellow curry paste left in the
fridge for another run, maybe with chicken and potatoes. Ricker's Thai cookbook coming out soon and judging from this little curry experiment, good things are bound to come from from the publication.
Note that I used a canned coconut palm sugar that I had to
scrape with a fork; it was okay stuff but very compact so use a little less
than what’s called for or the curry may be on the sweet side.
Thai Yellow Curry
with Beef and Potatoes
Yield: 8 servings,
with 2 or 3 other dishes
- Two 13.5 oz / 390 ml cans
coconut milk (3 1/3 cups / 810 ml total)
- 1 1/2 pounds beef chuck
- 1 cup Thai
Yellow Curry Paste, at room temperature
- 3 medium regular shallots,
or 10 small red Asian shallots
- 3 large Yukon gold, red,
or white potatoes
- 2 tablespoons grated palm
sugar or light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- Cooked jasmine rice, for
- 2 or 3 sliced Thai,
serrano, jalapeno, or Fresno chiles, for serving
- Regular soy sauce, for
- Use a spoon to skim off 1
cup of the thicker coconut cream floating at the top of the can. Set
aside. Pour the remaining coconut milk into a 4-quart (1 L) pot.
- Trimmed and cut the beef
into thick strips, each about 2 inches (5 cm) long and 1/2 inch (1.25 cm).
Add to the pot. The beef should be covered. Add water, if not. Bring to
simmer over medium heat, then cook for about 1 hour, occasionally
stirring, until tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a bowl
and cover to keep warm. Measure out 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) of coconut milk
and set aside. Save extra for another use.*
- Pour the reserved coconut
cream into a 5 or 6-quart (1.25 or 1.5 L) pot. Heat over medium heat,
stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the oil separates and
there’s little of the white solids that remain. Some golden bits are fine.
- Add the curry paste, then
cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until slightly darkened and fragrant. Add the
reserved coconut milk and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil before adding
the beef, shallot, and potatoes. Lower the heat to gently simmer for about
40 minutes, until the potatoes are
- Stir in the sugar and fish
sauce. Turn off the heat and let the curry rest and cool for about 20
minutes before serving with the rice. If there's too much oil/fat at the top, skim some off; refrigerating overnight will make the job easier. Offer sliced chiles and soy sauce to
guests to add to their curry. Enjoy this Thai style, on a plate with fork
*Employ the extra beefy coconut milk to moisten a vegetable stir-fry
or enrich soup. It’ll keep for days in the fridge.
Related posts and
Yellow Curry Paste recipe
- Leela at She Simmers delves into Thai yellow
curry, clarifying what the term means and includes a link to her recipe
- Bangkok-based photographer
Austin Bush gives a quick lowdown
on the Thai capitol’s best spots for kaeng karii, as well as the
differences between Chinese and Muslim renditions