Jessica and I are in a never-ending war with our fridge – we’re always trying to find a balance between having space for things like fresh produce and accommodating my many, many condiments, spices, and preserves that I use for cooking. This leads to frequent fridge audits that look like an episode of Hoarders (“do you really need three different kinds of pickled mango?”).
In a recent review of my pantry, I came to the realization that I have fully TEN kinds of curry in the house, be it paste, powder or bricks. I told Jessica that, and she slowly turned to stare at me from the couch. “That’s crazy. YOU’RE crazy. How…why do you need that many kinds of curry?”
I defended myself the best way I know how – by running into the bathroom and locking the door. Later I cried for a bit while hugging my wok. Once Jess made me stop making a scene, I said I would write out my justification for why I need that many curries, and that we could publish it here – part for my vindication by the presumably curry-loving masses, partly as a weird form of public shaming. I believe by the end of this list I will have made my case, members of the Internet jury. Now buckle up, and get ready for a Sunday drive through Flavortown.
- S&B Golden Curry (Hot): The gold standard (sorry, had to) for instant Japanese curry, in my book. Jess doesn’t like it, but am not sure I could live without it. Japanese curry in general is unique in the curry pantheon for its flavor (I’ve heard some pretty bizarre theories on the sources of its distinctive warm, hearty taste- apples, Worcestershire sauce, black magic, etc…), and something about S&B’s formula hits my sweet spot. I mostly use this to make katsu curry and curry udon.
- Patak’s Curry Paste (Hot): I rarely make Indian curries, although I am getting more interested in making homemade Indian pastes. For right now though, on the occasions I want to make an Indian curry, I just get lazy and reach for this.
- Pyramide Ca Ri Dau An Do (Vietnamese Madras curry paste): In my kitchen, used almost exclusively to make Vietnamese chicken curry. I load it down with caramelized shallots and lemongrass and serve it over rice noodles with plenty of fresh diced cucumber and cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mint, roasted peanuts and crispy fried shallots on top. Not strictly traditional? I don’t care, it’s delicious.
- Pyramide Ca Ri Ni An Do (Vietnamese Madras curry powder): “But why do you need the same curry in paste AND powder”, you may ask. To which I would reply, “shut up”. THEN I would say, I use the powder when I am making sai ua, a Northeastern Thai sausage that I am kind of obsessed with. Strictly speaking, I should be using Burmese curry powder for sai ua, but this tastes very similar and is easy to get. For a process as time consuming as making sai ua, any little shortcut is welcome.
- Spice Islands Curry Powder: I dunno, I think we really only use this to make chicken salad or egg salad. It doesn’t see a lot of use.
- Mae Ploy Yellow Curry: Ahh, Thai curries. I could write entire essays on the many joys of Thai curry, but I will keep it brief. The three pre-made pastes I keep on hand are the ones I use the most, and thus can’t be arsed to make from scratch as often as I’d need to. Yellow curry is a joy on a cold night, loaded with carrots, onions and potatoes. I also use it as a principle ingredient to marinate chicken prior to deep-frying it. Try it sometime, it’s awesome.
- Mae Ploy Panang Curry: Dark, rich and unctuous, add a dollop of natural, preservative-free peanut butter (or just a cup of fresh-roasted and crushed peanuts if you prefer) near the end of cooking to really nail the flavor.
- Mae Ploy Green Curry: Usually prepared with chicken, Thai or Indian eggplant, maybe some green bell pepper, and plenty of fresh Thai basil at the end. I think this may be Jess’s favorite curry.
- Home-made Thai Khao Soi paste: Because nobody that I have found in the US sells premade khao soi paste for making the eponymous noodle soup from Northern Thailand, I make my own and freeze it. I’m still perfecting my recipe, but Jess refuses to get khao soi at restaurants anymore because she claims mine is better, so I think I am on the right track. The secret, I think, is using plenty of toasted black cardamom and charred turmeric.
- Raya Malaysian Rendang Paste: I don’t make rendang often (Jess has opinions about coconut in savory dishes), but this is to date the best premade rendang paste I have found. Still not quite right, though. I am probably going to have to start doing this from scratch too. Now I just have to make room in the freezer…
So there you have it, dear reader. That’s how I ended up with ten, count ‘em, TEN kinds of curry paste lurking in the pantry. I ask that you not judge me too harshly, for I did not choose the curry life. In the eternal quest for great food I have simply gone, as Warren Zevon once said, “where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called”. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rearrange my collection of vinegars. Just…don’t count them, okay? I think I have to go hug my wok.