Sunday, 27 July 2014

Jungle Curry of Fish with Deep-Fried Shallots

The Jungle Curry (or Kaeng Pa) has it’s roots in Northern Thailand. It is distinct from curries originating further south in Thailand as it has no coconut milk due to the rarity of coconuts in the forested areas in the North.

My knowledge of Jungle Curry prior to making this dish didn't extend much past the “hot” aspect knowing that it is one of the hottest curries made in Thailand. This isn't what attracted me to the recipe, I like hot food but I know my tolerance would have the “wimp” factor if you were to ask David Thompson.

After sifting through the curry recipes in “Thai Food” David’s first foray into the cookbook market I settled on this recipe as it differed from the other David Thompson curries I had made in the past. My past experiences involved vast periods of time extracting the flesh from coconuts in order to squeeze my own coconut milk and cream. I was after a change in pace and with no coconut milk listed in the ingredients and a relatively short “method” for this recipe I was deceived into thinking cooking the jungle curry of fish was going to be a walk in the park.

As far as techniques go if you can assemble a curry paste and use a wok yes you can make this dish. Where I struggled was the balance of flavours and the speed and which everything comes together in this recipe, I found I didn't have the time to try and balance them. It was a little like a runaway freight train. Once that flame was burning under the wok there was a quick succession of ingredient additions and you were done. No time to contemplate the flavours.

Hot, nutty and salty is what David promises of this recipe and I feel my final result reflected all of those tastes but the difference in the look of my curry to the one in the picture indicated all was not right. The picture showed a broth like consistency and quite a strong red colour. Now I know that reducing the number of chilli’s as I did (as I am not a sadist) will affect the colour but the consistency and texture are still a mystery to me. Mine was far more textural and less broth like. Without having David’s version to compare mine to it is hard to know where the flavours were out. My first instinct was that it was “tart” enough and the fact that I couldn't  get a hold of the long leaf coriander and substituted it for normal coriander or the Kaffir lime zest and used a normal lime would indicate those elements may be vital to the final flavour.

Overall I enjoyed it but the flavours were a little mellow, it didn't have that pop that other David Thompson curries I have made offer. I will reserve final judgement until a second attempt at this recipe as there were places I could have improved.


  • Assembling a curry paste either by hand with a mortar & pestle as I did or with a blender.
  • Deep Frying sliced shallots this provides the nutty taste to the curry
  • Frying off curry paste (recommended by David it is ready when you sneeze)
  • Cooking fish in curry (without overcooking, only takes 1-2 minutes)

Deep-Frying Red Shallots

Curry Paste

Pressure Points:

Be careful with the garlic paste, it went from golden to black in seconds and I think this had a strong effect on the final outcome of the dish.

Time Commitment:

This dish took me 60 minutes to make, this included making the curry paste with a mortar and pestle which was by far the most time consuming aspect. If you used a blender you would likely reduce this recipe to 35 minutes.


  • Ensure all of your ingredients are chopped and ready before you turn on that burner. Once going you won’t have time to step away from the wok to prep anything. If you do you may burn your paste.
  • Reduce the Chillies dependent of your heat tolerance. Whilst I am still in two minds about doing this as I like to eat authentic food I also wanted a dish I could actually consume. David recommended between 13 & 18 chillies in total including in the garlic paste and I used 8 (this is to 100 grams of meat which served 2 people). It was spicy but not burning and at the time of eating it I thought I should have gone a few more chillies but that ominous rumble in my tummy late in the night told me I was glad I didn't go for more.
  • David’s recipes are designed for a banquet style serving so the protein quantities are small. This recipe has 100 grams of fish and whilst fine when served with a selection of other dishes like salads and relishes you will need more meat to serve a family with one dish. I found there is plenty of “sauce” in these dishes to just increase the quantity of the protein and not the rest of the ingredients.

Questions For David:

What would have caused the textural difference in mine that made it less like a broth and more like a thicker sauce?

Does hand pounding the curry paste differ the final result over using a blender?

Why you should cook this dish:

Cooking with David is a true authentic Thai experience. It is wondrous to be able to take the decades he has spent studying this cuisine and have it presented for you step by step to enjoy for yourself. Thai food also presents a challenge in the kitchen which is all a part of the fun.

This dish is unique to the North of Thailand and it is great to experience the range of curries in Thailand. Don’t get hung up on the recognisable green and red curries, expand your horizons. It was also lovely to have it with fish, a change from the more common chicken and pork curries and we stuck with the Mekong Catfish as this recipe was originally intended (sold in Australia as "Basa").

This recipe is a testament to the skill of Thai cooks. Whilst offering a relatively simple set of techniques it is all in the balance of flavours. I have not mastered this by a long shot but I will have fun trying.

Where to find it: Thai Food by David Thompson 

You may also be interested in my review of "Thai Food" by David Thompson

Originally posted on Sunday, 27 July 2014 by


Post a Comment