Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thai'ing Up Loose Ends - Curried Shrimp Lasagna

I realize I kind of left everyone hanging after my last post regarding Thai Curry Paste.  I have finally had a few moments for finish reducing photos, so here is why I was making Curry Paste.

I have often stated that Lasagna is the worlds most perfect food.  That cleverly layered mix of Tomato sauce, Béchamel, Pasta, Ricotta, Mozzarella and Spinach/Arugula/Chard is the magnum opus of the kitchen.

Little did I know that lasagna could be even more "perfecter" than it already was.

Enter the Thai Curry Paste.

Oh yes my friends, unorthodox though it may be... When you combine a Béchamel made from Coconut milk and a little Curry paste, layer it with Shrimp, Pasta and Ricotta that has been spiked with Galangal and Kaffir lime.  It's Nirvana in a casserole dish.  Seriously, Botticelli's "Madonna of the Magnificat" weeps with joy.

Curried Shrimp Lasagna

3 TB Butter
1 TB Fish Sauce
2 TB Red Curry Paste
3 TB AP Flour
2 cans Coconut Milk
15 oz Whole Milk Ricotta
1 inch Galangal, grated
3 Kaffir Lime leaves, finely slices (or the zest of 1 Kaffir lime)
8 oz Mozzarella, shredded; divided
12 oz Lasagna noodles
1 TB Sesame Oil
1 lb Bay Shrimp (I used precooked this time, but raw works just as well)
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
(This works equally well with Green Curry Paste and Chicken)

OK, so first we need to start the Thai Béchamel.....
Melt 3 TB Butter in a medium sauce pan set over medium flame.

In a small ramekin, combine the Fish sauce and the Curry paste while the butter is melting.

Once the butter is melted, add the Flour, continuing to cook the roux until it just begins to smell nutty.

Add the Coconut Milk and whisk until everything is well combined.

Whisk in the curry paste mixture, then continue cooking until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken (about 15 minutes)

Meanwhile, bring a tea kettle full of water to a boil.
Lay out the lasagne noodles in a baking dish and pour the boiling water over them, letting them set for about 10 minutes until the begin soften.

While the lasagne are softening, and the Béchamel is continuing to cook, grab a medium bowl and add the Ricotta, 4 oz of the Mozzarella, Galangal and the Kaffir lime, stirring to combine....

(Don't forget the Galangal, like I did... oops)

By now the Béchamel should be thickened, so remove it from the flame and allow to cool for 10 minutes.....
While you remove the now slightly bendable pasta from the water and lay it out on paper towels.

Rub down your 13 x 9 baking dish with a little Sesame oil.

OK, now you are ready for construction, but before you begin...  Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
Spoon about 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish and spread it out.

 Lay down your noodles.

Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles.

Scatter about 1/2 of the shrimp over the Ricotta mixture.

Spoon just enough Béchamel over the Shrimp to cover them.

Add another layer of noodles and repeat (Like washing your hair.... Ricotta, Shrimp, Béchamel, repeat)

Again, cover the last layer of Shrimp and Béchamel with another layer of Pasta. (To recap - Béchamel, Pasta, Ricotta, Shrimp, Béchamel, Pasta, Ricotta, Shrimp, Béchamel, Pasta)
And finally, cover that last layer of Pasta with the remaining Béchamel.

Sprinkle the top with the remaining 4 oz of Mozzarella and the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes (Be sure to put a sheet pan underneath, cause Lasagna ALWAYS stews over)

Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking to get a nice golden brown crust on the cheese topping.

Let it set for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it.

Serve with Gewurztraminer or Riesling.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All Thai'ed Up - Thai Red Curry Paste

A significant amount of time has past since my last post.  Sorry bout that, but I have had to re-prioritize a few things due to my study schedule for one of my Microsoft Certifications.  Basically, I needed to be certified "yesterday",  so I am attempting to cram copious quantities of technical data into my already overtaxed brain.

As a result, dinners are devoid of forethought and resemble a haphazard conglomeration of whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. 

Then "it" happened while I was deeply involved in the creation of SharePoint's Feature Event Receivers.  I had this undeniable craving for Thai food. 

Normally, I steer far and wide of Pan-Asian cuisine, simply because it requires a completely different, and somewhat foreign, pantry full of ingredients.  This can involve a significant amount of financial outpouring to accomplish, but I wanted Thai food REALLY REALLY bad.  So, I decided that since I am "turning a page" in my career, it would be fitting for me to turn a page in my culinary pursuits as well.

Luckily, since my appetite was focused on Red Curry, the list of "special ingredients" is fairly short.  Well, it was short for me at least.  I always have Kaffir (Makrut) lime leaves in the freezer (I use them in my Saffron sauce) and I usually have Cilantro floating around the refrigerator, and Galangal (which is Ginger's more robust cousin) as well as Sesame oil, multiple types of Garlic, Coriander Seed, Cumin and Peppercorns.  In fact, in order to make a fairly passable Red Curry, the only ingredients I needed were Dried Thai Chilies, Lemon Grass and Shrimp paste (though I have been told that you can use Fish sauce or Soy mixed with brown sugar)

So grab a large mortar and pestle, cause I have tried this in a food processor and the results were less than stellar to say the least, and follow along, cause Thai Red Curry is a snap to make... with a little elbow grease.

Thai Red Curry

(Gaeng Phet)

1 bulb of Thai Garlic (or 7 peeled cloves of American garlic)
1 TB Minced Shallot (if your using the American garlic)
2 stalks of Lemon Grass (peeled and thinly sliced pale parts only)
2 inch chunk of Galangal (chipped - this stuff is tough)
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 TB Cilantro (Coriander) Stems (though Cilantro root is better)
4 tsp Coriander (Cilantro) seeds, toasted
1 TB Cumin Seeds, toasted
1 tsp White peppercorns
10 Kaffir (Makrut) Lime leaves (middle stem removed and thinly sliced) or zest of 1 Kaffir lime
For Red Curry - 20 Dried Red Thai Chilies (prik haeng is their name I believe)
2 tsp Shrimp Paste 
2 TB Toasted Sesame oil for cooking everything together.

OK, let's prep first.
Now as far as the dried chilies go....

If you like a "medium" heat, I suggest that you cut the stem end off of 10 of them, and remove the seeds.

Thus reducing the Scoville burn potential of your final paste mixture.

Soak your chilies for about 15 minutes in a little boiling water, then drain.

Meanwhile, peel the Garlic (Please note that the Thai garlic on the right is significantly smaller than the normal American garlic, it also has a slightly milder flavor and a much thinner peel)

Thinly slice the Lemon Grass (Lemon grass has very long fibers so the thinner you slice it the less fibrous your paste will be)

This is Galangal (on the left) and Ginger (on the right).  Galangal's flavor is similar to Ginger, but without the warm "heat" usually associated with Ginger.

Hack thin chips of Galangal (with a VERY sharp knife, this stuff is tough)

Toast the Coriander Seed and Cumin in a dry skillet over medium flame for about 4 minutes (until fragrant)

This is a Kaffir lime leaf.  (it kind of tastes like lime zest but it's more perfume-y)

Remove the stems from the lime leaves,

then slice the leaf lobes thinly.

On a happy note, now you have something to do with the cilantro stems after you have picked off all the leaves.

Chop the stems fairly finely.

Don't forget to grab your shrimp paste....

OK, lets get to smashing and mashing.... 
In a large Mortar and Pestle (preferably a granite one, not a molcajete like I used) smash everything together until it forms a sloppy paste.

Finally, stir in the shrimp paste.
Heat the Sesame oil in a skillet set over medium heat.

Add the curry paste and cook it until it has absorbed all the oil and becomes extremely fragrant. (about 5 minutes)

Remove from the heat and your ready to jar it and store it in the refrigerator for 2 months.

Me, I have some immediate plans for about 2 TB of this curry.  But you will have to check in over the next couple of days to see what it is.   :)