Two Uncommon Ingredients in a Pot of Curry Stew
My sister and I once had a dream that we would work together in our own restaurant in Phuket. But as it turns out, she has her restaurant and I am a culinary instructor here in Seattle. But we do share with each other what we have learned over the years. During my last trip home I learned about an herb in the mint family called Bai Lah. It is an herb used in Thai cuisine. I took a picture of my sister’s Lah plant. I believe that Lah is a Thai word that is short for perilla.
Green Perilla—also called Green Shiso or Beefstalk—is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, but it doesn’t taste like mint. The Purple Perilla is more common in the markets, but it belongs to a different species in the botanical world. Purple Perilla is also known as Japanese basil or purple mint. It has a very refreshing taste. To me it tastes like lemon verbena, cinnamon and grass.
In Seattle, I was familiar with the plant Green Perilla because I am a Vietnamese food fanatic and I have a passion for herbs. I even made Jerry Traunfeld’s Green Apple & Green Shiso Sorbet once. But seeing Lah in Thai cuisine is a new experience for me.
The second unusual ingredient in my stew is stingray. In Thailand, stingray is hard to come by so my mom would be sure to bring some home whenever it appeared in the market. In Phuket, stingray is available in the market already barbecued and ready to be eaten. The venders would grill it in pieces about 2 to 3 inch wide and the length of half of the wing.
We eat stingray with spicy chili and lime dipping sauce and steamed jasmine rice. It is simply delicious. Another delicious way to eat stingray is to cook the flesh from a barbecued stingray in a curry with a flavorful leaf such as wild pepper leaf (please see Pranee’s Blog entree on wild pepper leaf). Stingray is eaten in Southeast Asia in Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand. We eat the wings or flaps and the flesh, but not the bone and skin. Because they have such a strong flavor and aroma, the first thing we do with fish like stingray, tuna and catfish is to barbecue them with salt to temper the strong fishy flavors and aromas.
One day I decided to cook stingray and Green Perilla leaves together in a curry. It turned out to be a splendid idea. The perilla leaves left behind a unique flavor and aroma of lemon, cinnamon and cloves in my new creation of fish curry stew ~ Pla Kraban Kub Bai Lah ~ Stingray Curry Stew with Green Perilla.
Through I haven’t had stingray curry for over 20 years, seeing a frozen stingray at Mekong Rainier Asian Market inspired me to cook it for the blog and for myself to revisit the flavor. I bought small portions of the stingray flap at the Asian market, then took them home and baked them instead of grilling or barbecuing them. It needed to be cooked first before I did anything else because we never handle fresh stingray.
This recipe is not hot like most curries. This allows you to enjoy the flavor of the fish more than in a hot curry sauce. But if you wish it to be hot like any curry, follow the steps below, but double the amounts of curry paste and coconut milk.
This recipe is for anyone who might find stingray in the market and be interested in learning how to cook it. It was fun to make this recipe with stingray, but on a regular basis I am more likely to make this recipe using halibut cheeks or grilled catfish.
Stingray Curry Stew with Green Perilla
Gaeng Pla Kra Baen Bai Lah
Serves 41 ½ pounds stingray, prepared as describe below (or halibut or grilled tuna) 2 tablespoons canola oil 1 ½ tablespoon red curry paste 6 tablespoons coconut milk, divided 1 cup water 1 cup green perilla leaves, stems removed 1 teaspoon fish sauce
Pre-heat oven to 350F.
Place parchment paper on the bottom of a baking sheet and place the stingray on top. Bake stingray for 30 minutes, or until the meat pulls away from the bone as shown in the photo below. Using a fork, remove the cooked fish from the bone and the skin; it should come off easily. Discard the bone and skin.
Heat a heavy bottom pot and stir in canola oil; pan-fry curry paste in the oil until fragrant. Add coconut milk and let it cook on medium-high heat until oil is separated and the curry is fragrant. Stir in coconut milk and water and bring to a boil. Stir in the previously prepared stingray and boil for 3 minutes. Add green perilla. Let it boil for 1 more minute to allow the flavor of perilla into the soup, but not so long that the fresh herb flavor disappears. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
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