A dish boasting such vibrant colors is bound to be packed with effusive flavors too, and today’s entry excels in both regards. In taste and in tone, this curry is off the charts. Good thing it wasn’t featured on an old Technicolor television set, or the poor equipment wouldn’t have been able to keep pace and probably would’ve exploded.
One of the reasons for this burst is a heretofore unexamined fruit, hailing originally from Malaysia (as is today’s dish), the rambutan:
Surprisingly, perhaps, once peeled, the rambutan is milky white in color, like a grape in texture, and similar to strawberries and honeydew in flavor. Besides, the curry’s other ingredients more than make up the color. Turmeric and fresh pineapple (yellow), Thai peppers (red), cilantro and kafir lime leaves (green) are just some of the ingredients that make up the rainbow.
No doubt, the mind-expanding colors and the tastes they carry are one of the things that appealed to Saveur when it decided to feature the recipe for Summer Rambutan Curry on its website and in its July 2015 issue.
As mentioned before, rambutans are milky white when peeled, and are halfway in size between a grape and a chicken egg:
The recipe follows typical Malaysian preparation techniques, including pounding the curry ingredients together in a mortar and pestle. This part, while being exactingly authentic, is impractical (and messy) in most kitchens outside Southeast Asia. A useful workaround, producing the same result, is to place the ingredients in a food processer, and pulsing it a few times. Stopping far short of liquifying the ingredients, this method instead pulverizes everything rather coarsely, and releases their headline flavors to mingle.
It all comes together in the wok, all those striking tastes uniting to please every one of the taste buds, from sweet to sour; salty to savory, and so on, and so on. Imagine how this wakes up the chicken. Still, most of these flavors, while running the culinary range, are more or less familiar to most moderately curious diners. Not so with today’s “secret ingredient.” Want a taste that’ll surprise (pleasantly) even most East Asians? Try the rambutan!
Summer Rambutan Curry
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, coarsely torn
- 3 red Thai chilies, stemmed (*1)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, and the core thinly sliced
- 1 2-inch piece of galangal root, peeled and thinly sliced (*2)
- 8 rambutan, peeled and pits removed (*3)
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1/2 small pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced (*4)
- 2 and 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced on the bias (*5)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar (*6)
- cilantro leaves, torn, to garnish
- lime wedges, to garnish
- white rice, for serving
Put the ground turmeric, the garlic, the kaffir lime leaves, the chilies, the lemongrass and the galangal in a mortar and pestle. Pound until you have a coarse paste. (*7)
Place a wok over a medium-high flame. Add one tablespoon of the peanut oil, then add the pineapple pieces. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly caramelized, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pineapple to a plate.
Add the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, then add the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about four minutes. Add the paste you created earlier and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about two minutes.
Pour in the coconut milk and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce flame to medium-low and cook at a low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the volume reduces by half. Stir in the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 6 minutes.
Add the pineapple and the rambutan, and cook until warmed through, about two minutes.
Turn off the flame, and stir in the fish sauce and palm sugar. Put some rice in each of four shallow serving bowls. Ladle some of the curry over each, sprinkle with torn cilantro, garnish with lime wedges, and serve.
1 – Use bird chilies if you can find them. If not, a couple finger chilies, or even red Fresnos, will be fine.
2 – Galangal has a unique taste, though if it alludes the shopping basket, a similar quantity of fresh ginger will work.
3 – Can’t locate rambutan? Don’t worry; a dozen 1-inch cubes of honeydew or cantaloupe should make do.
4 – Nay, I say! Shallots are more palatable than are onions, and they’re bound to give you at least a little more color. A lot more color if you select a deeply-hued shallot. By the way, one large shallot = one medium onion.
5 – Instead, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Moister and much more flavorful. Plus, if they’re trimmed properly, the fat difference is negligible.
6 – Pretentious food nerds like me always have a fresh container of palm sugar in the pantry, plus an open container in the fridge. Most people with lives outside the kitchen (i.e., you) don’t. In that case, then, a similar quantity of light brown sugar is just dandy.
7 – As mentioned in the intro, a food processer is a great stand-in for a mortar and pestle. Much neater too. Give it maybe five or six one-second pulses, and I defy anyone, even a Malaysian chef, to tell the curry apart from something smashed in a traditional mortar and pestle.