Saturday night for me is the night I like to prepare a nice simple dinner to share with loved ones. I like the dinner to be quick to cook, while catching up with my friends, but still look impressive.
Choo chee curry is one of the lesser-known Thai dishes. In southern Thailand, choo chee pla tu is small Indian ocean mackerel cooked in curry sauce and sprinkled with very finely julienned makrut leaves, but this dish is very versatile and many types of fish, seafood or tofu can also be used.
I like to use tiger prawns as they are quick to cook and look fabulous on the plate. It should be served with jasmine rice. I also like to serve it with som-tum papaya salad. The sour, salty and sweet flavours of this salad work very well with the mellow choo chee curry sauce.
Both the raw ingredients and the curry sauce can be prepared in advance. The cooking time is short but you need to allow yourself sufficient time for the preparation.
For the red curry paste
large dried chillies 20g, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained and chopped into small pieces (the smaller the pieces, the easier to make the paste)
lemongrass 25g, thinly sliced
garlic 3 cloves, thinly sliced
makrut lime zest 5g, thinly sliced, or 3 makrut leaves, thinly sliced
fresh turmeric 10g, thinly sliced
black pepper 1 tsp
salt ½ tsp
shrimp paste ¼ tsp
For the curry
vegetable oil 60g
garlic 2 cloves, finely chopped
makrut lime leaves 2
red curry paste (see above)
coconut milk 120g, 1 tbsp reserved to drizzle on top of curry sauce
nam pla (fish sauce) 15g
granulated sugar 25g
tiger prawns 12 large, shelled and deveined (leave the head on)
makrut lime leaves 3, finely julienned
red chilli 1 large, julienned
First, make the curry paste. Pound the ingredients in a pestle and mortar until it becomes a smooth paste. If using a handheld blender, add 50ml of water to make it easier to blend.
Heat 40g of oil in a deep-bottomed pan on medium heat, until hot and slightly smoky.
Add the chopped garlic and makrut leaves to the hot oil. Fry until the garlic is lightly golden. Lower the heat, add the curry paste and keep stirring with a spatula for 1 minute. Then turn up the heat to medium, keep the spatula moving – especially at the bottom of the pan. At this point the curry paste should start to smell very fragrant. Keep stirring the paste for 2 minutes, add the coconut milk and keep stirring for another minute. Now add the water, fish sauce and sugar until the sauce has started to bubble – keep stirring for 1 minute. Taste the curry sauce at this point; it should be slightly sweet and salty. Turn the heat right down but keep it warm on a very low heat until you are ready to assemble the dish.
To cook the prawns, heat a large, shallow non-stick pan on medium heat, adding the rest of the oil. When the oil is hot, place the prawns in the pan, brown the prawns on each side for a minute each, cover the pan with a lid for a further minute; the steam will help cook the thicker part of the prawns and keep the prawns moist. Next remove the lid and continue cooking the prawns for further 1 minute on each side. The prawns should be ready when no translucent meat appears in the middle of the deveined section of the back of the prawns; they should be slightly bouncy to the touch. The total cooking time for the prawns depends on the size of prawns – standard size tiger prawns normally take about 5 minutes, but larger ones may take longer.
To assemble the choo chee, choose a large shallow dish and place the sauce on the bottom of the dish. Then arrange the cooked prawns on top of the sauce. Drizzle the reserved coconut milk on the sauce and prawns. Then, finally, spoon the oil used to cook the prawns over the dish, and sprinkle over the julienned makrut leaves and red chilli. Serve with jasmine rice.