How hot is that curry?


Masaman curry chicken, sweet potatoes, and cabbage

Curry is one of those things that you either eat a lot of, or very little. And if you eat a lot of curry, you might want to shake it up every once in a while. I conclude this based on the vast selection of curry pastes at Tran’s World Food Market. I’m pretty sure they have one entire aisle that’s devoted entirely to this pantry staple. (They also have at least a whole freezer section of squid, and other excellent foods to admire and consider cooking.) They stock many brands of the classic varieties of Thai curry: red, yellow, green, masaman, and more I haven’t yet tried, or don’t remember. Tonight’s can of curry—I’m sorry—didn’t come from Tran’s. I think we found this one at Whole Foods and decided that it was probably good on the basis that it was a brand we recognize from shopping at Tran’s.

And it was tasty. A slow, gentle heat, despite putting way more vegetable in the wok than is called for (which I pretty much always do… I ask for a lot from my curry pastes.) A wok, because that’s what the can called for, and it was a good call. The sloping sides make for easy stirring. The directions called for me to stir fry the paste with half of the coconut milk. This challenges my understanding of the term, “stir fry,” but I did it anyway and it worked out fine.

I veered from the printed instructions, not only because the measurements were in metric and not standard to American packaged products (my can of coconut milk was only 414, not 600 ml), but because I always do that. Do you ever make a curry with exactly as little meat and veg as it calls for? How does that work out for you? Truthfully, I’m afraid the curry will be way too hot if I only make it with ten grams of shrimp or whatever it calls for. But then I over-correct.

I made this curry with is a pound and a half of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, a small head of cabbage, three sweet potatoes, one onion, a can of coconut cream (more cream, less water), and a bit of chicken stock, plus the contents of one can of this brand of masaman curry paste:

Maesri brand Masaman curry paste

Maesri brand Masaman curry paste

The people of the Pioneer Valley, in western Massachusetts, don’t really like spicy food. Even when you go somewhere the food is supposed to be spicy, like for cajun or Thai, it really isn’t: not compared with eating those foods in other parts of the US where they like them some spice.

So it’s hard to say, on any kind of subjective rating system, how hot a food is. I’d rate this dish, as I prepared it, a one on a scale of one to six, or even one to eight. And I don’t even like it wicked spicy (though I like it hotter than they do in general around here). If I were rating it in Florida, where they like their hot wings to be capable of melting most industrial materials at room temp, I’d give it a one on a scale of one to twelve, at least, and that’s just encompassing food I would actually consider eating. Nothing that spicy exists around here, so like milliliters to an American, without a reference point, the measurements become meaningless.

As Einstein said, it’s relative.



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