This multi-flavored, vibrantly colored Thai seafood curry is fired by spicy bird’s eye chilies, sweetened with papaya and palm sugar, and spiced by the sharp, citrusy tang of tamarind. It’s a terrific taste of Thailand that’s ready in just thirty minutes.
In this beautiful dish, the delicate tastes of firm-fleshed fish and shell-on prawns are highlighted against the backdrop of a sauce that’s full of contrasting flavors — hot and mild, sour and sweet.
The reason why the seafood showcases all its subtle savour is because it only gets minimal cooking. It poaches softly on top of the cooked sauce for only a few minutes, until it’s just cooked through.
The sauce and the seafood let one another shine
There are definitely two, very distinct halves to this curry. On one side there’s the intensity of the sauce with its big, strong, arresting flavors. Then there’s the mellow, calm clarity of the seafood whose own qualities are every bit as evident and equally apparent.
But, make no mistake, this curry is hot. Those dried Thai bird’s eyes peppers — and there’s a dozen of them here — pack a pretty potent punch. Even though their heat is really obvious, it’s happily welcomed by the soft sweetness of the papaya, and the caramelly, smooth richness of palm sugar.
And that sweet combo pairs perfectly with the unmistakable, darkly sour sharpness of tamarind paste. In many ways, bringing in the immense flavor of tamarind emphasizes how Thai cooking blends such strident tastes into a balanced, delighting harmony.
Add the deep, briny saltiness of fish sauce, and you’ll have a curry that really typifies the exciting contrasts for which Thailand’s cuisine is so rightly famous around the world.
The finishing touches to your Thai seafood curry
Our curry’s final flavors are introduced right at the end — by its garnish. For sure, an appealing sprinkle of thinly sliced, bright-red cayenne peppers, and a little roughly chopped, emerald green cilantro, does add the finishing touch to a dish that’s already fabulously good looking.
But most of all, these two garnishes introduce yet more layers of taste. The cayennes’ fruity heat adds an immediate, freshening dimension to the bird’s eyes’ far fiercer fieriness. And the cilantro brings in an earthy, clear-as-a bell, aromatic note of citrus to compliment the deeper, more insistent sourness of the tamarind.
Choosing the right rice: Jasmine, please
A curry that’s this good deserves to be served with an equally special rice. Aromatic jasmine rice — one of the stars of Thai cuisine — certainly fits the bill. It’s softer textured than other long grain rice, slightly sweeter and nuttier, and is mildly fragrant.
Those attributes mean it will really suit your curry’s exotic, bold flavors. And it’s just dandy for making sure that there’s not a drop of that wonderful sauce left on your plate.
Thai Seafood Curry With Jasmine Rice
For the hot, sweet, and sour curry sauce
- 12 dried red Thai bird’s eye chilies the ones I used were no more than 1 ¼ inch long.
- 1 papaya medium-to-large, slightly unripe, peeled, and de-seeded. Cut two-thirds of the papaya into bite-size chunks, and leave the other third as it is.
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3 heaped teaspoons tamarind paste take a bit of care to remove any hard seeds
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar I used the “rock’ type that comes in slightly domed, round slabs. One round is equal to about a tablespoon.
- 3 cups water
For the seafood
- 1 1/2 pounds white fish fillets cut into bite-size chunks. Hake, cod, or Atlantic pollack are all grand choices — frozen and defrosted is fine.
- 1 pound prawn tails frozen and shell-on. The ones I used were about 2 1/2 inches long, and that weight gave me about 20 plump tails.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
For the garnish
- 2 cayenne peppers fresh, for garnish. Sliced into 1/8 inch rounds, seeds and all.
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro remove the thicker stems, then roughly chop all the rest
For the jasmine rice
- 2 cups jasmine rice or basmati rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
Preparing the curry sauce
- Place 1/3 of the peeled and de-seeded papaya in your food processor together with all the other ingredients except the ‘rock’ palm sugar and water — those two are only added when you cook the sauce. The remaining 2/3 two-thirds of the papaya — the bite-size pieces — is also going to be added later when you cook the sauce.
- Blitz the mix until you get a finely-textured paste. Good — sauce prep done.
Cooking the jasmine rice
- Because the curry takes so little time to cook, I’d recommend making the rice first and then keeping it warm in a bowl ready for serving.
- Cooking the rice is easy — simply follow the instructions on the pack. That usually means covering the rice in a pan with water and adding a level teaspoon of salt. I used a 7-inch saucepan, and added enough water to cover the rice by an inch.
- Bring the pan to a boil, drop the heat to low, and cover the pan, so it slowly simmers for about 7 minutes. The rice will absorb all the water and be just al dente. Done. Turn the rice into a warmed serving dish, and scatter a few sprigs of decorative cilantro over the top.
Cooking the curry
- You’ll need to use a saucepan that’s easily big enough to hold all the ingredients — the blitzed curry paste, 3 cups water, and the seafood.
- Set the pan on a medium heat, and stir in the blitzed paste and the water. Let the pan just come to the boil, then turn the heat to low so that the sauce can just barely simmer for ten minutes on that low heat. Now gently stir in the bite-size chunks of payaya and turn off the heat. **Pre-cooking the prawn tails**
- For this, you’ll need a skillet that will hold all the tails in an even layer. Set the skillet on a high heat and add the coconut oil. You want the oil to be hot enough to give the tails a little color, and pull out the flavor from the shells. That means giving them some fast, searing heat for about 30 seconds on each side in the hot oil. Tip them quickly into the pan with the sauce — you’re now ready to finish cooking your Thai fish curry.
Finishing the Thai seafood curry
- Place the saucepan with the sauce and prawn tails on a medium-high heat. Stir just enough so that the prawns get a coating of the sauce. The moment the sauce starts to bubble, drop the heat to low and carefully add the pieces of fish in a single layer on top of the sauce. Don’t push the pieces into the sauce, just let them sit on top of it.
- Cover the pan and let it gently simmer — and I mean gently — for five minutes. Done. It’s ready for serving in a good size, shallow, warmed dish. I used a 14-inch, cast iron gratin dish, with the rice served alongside, so people can eagerly help themselves.