Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You can't curry love

The new-found social and political symbolism of the dish aside, I embraced Singapore's National Curry Day yesterday as an opportunity to recreate one of my favorite things from home. My mom makes the best curry I know and nothing I've made has ever come close to her hallowed version. I guess it doesn't help that in the years we've been here, I've only ever relied on pre-mixes. But this time, I promised Jude that I was going to do it old-school, from scratch as much as possible.

I used this Violet Oon recipe as a starting point: first point of order, a whole chicken from Whole Foods properly chopped up (they're one of the few places in Ann Arbor where you can request to have your chicken chopped up into fairly small pieces as opposed to the typical 8 portions). Next, the aromatics:

Shallots, ginger, galangal, garlic, and chillies
Shallots, ginger, galangal, garlic, and chillies- all ready to be ground

I didn't take a picture of how they look like ground (sort of a speckled indistinguishable pulp) or of the curry paste I made by mixing curry powder my parents had brought from Singapore and some water. The next step was to marinate the chicken, which I think was key to the flavorful meat and robust richness of the curry:

Chicken marinating with curry paste and ground aromatics
Chicken marinating with curry paste and ground aromatics

The house really started to smell like my mom's kitchen when I then fried up the remaining curry paste and some bruised lemongrass. Adding the marinated chicken and coconut milk only heightened that to a whole other level. When people talk about sense memory, this is what they mean- when a smell can literally transport you to another place, and with that a whole host of associated memories- home, love, warmth, comfort...

Frying the curry paste with bruised lemongrass
Frying curry paste

In goes the marinated chicken
In goes the marinated chicken

With 3 cups of coconut milk
With 3 cups of coconut milk

In the end, it still wasn't quite my mom's curry, but it was about as close as I have ever gotten it- really flavorful, palate-coatingly rich, pungent, and deeply satisfying. Unlike the anaemic pre-mixed curry pastes we've used in the past, this curry had soul... Maybe it was just the fresh aromatics, or maybe because I was thinking of home a lot when cooking, but it was a definite Like Water for Chocolate moment when cooking and eating became jumbled up with a whole bunch of other emotions.

Dinner :)
Mom, you should be so proud of me :)

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