I’ve always loved Thai Fresh. The little neighborhood restaurant on Mary and South Fifth streets in South Austin has been the host of many lunch dates, book club meetings and post-library ice creams over the years, in part because I got to know owner Jam Sanitchat through her food blog when I was starting my own food blog on austin360.com.
And then, for a short while a good number of years ago, my kids’ dad worked there. That’s how I started to learn some of the methods to make some of Sanitchat’s popular dishes, including pad prik king and everyday curries, such as this Massaman curry with chicken and potatoes. It’s now part of a regular rotation of curries that I make and then freeze in individual portions for quick dinners and lunches.
Making that dish reminded me that Thai curries are some of the easiest DIY takeout meals to make at home, as long as you have two key ingredients: a can of Thai curry paste and a can of coconut milk.
Coconut milk is mainstream at this point, and you can find these little 4-ounce cans of Maesri curry pastes at international markets and at Thai Fresh, which also sells the lemongrass and lime leaves you’d need to make your own. I keep these store-bought pastes and cans of coconut milk in my pantry for quick dinners that sometimes require only the two cans and a pound of protein, such as chicken, beef or shrimp. You could use tempeh, pork or tofu, if you prefer.
In Sanitchat’s 2013 cookbook, “The Everything Thai Cookbook,” she shares recipes for making about 20 different curries, from yellow curries with fish to the sweeter panang curry that is usually paired with beef. They all share a similar process: Cook the curry paste in a little coconut cream (or, as I’ve learned, coconut oil) and then simmer the meat with the coconut milk and curry paste. Add some fish sauce, tamarind and sugar, if desired. Serve over rice.
You can watch a video of Sanitchat and me making this curry at food.blog.austin360.com. She also teaches cooking classes, which you can find out more about at thai-fresh.com.
Massaman Curry With Chicken and Potatoes
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
12 pieces bone-in chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
1/2 cup Massaman curry paste
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (or 2 tablespoons tamarind water) (optional)
2 cups large-cubed sweet or regular potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped into bite-size pieces (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
4 cardamom pods (optional)
Do not shake the coconut milk. Scoop the cream on top of the coconut milk cans, about halfway down, into a medium saucepan. In another saucepan, bring the other half of the coconut milk to a boil. Add chicken pieces and simmer for 45 minutes over low heat.
Bring coconut cream that was scooped out to a boil over medium heat. Stir in curry paste and turn down the heat to low. Simmer at low heat, without stirring, until fragrant and coconut cream starts to release some oil, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add chicken and the simmering liquid to the fried paste. Add the peanuts.
Bring to a boil over medium heat. Season with sugar, fish sauce and tamarind, if using. Add sweet potatoes, onions, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom. Simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust as needed. Serve.
— Adapted from “The Everything Thai Cookbook” by Jam Sanitchat (Everything, $18.95)