So it’s not every day that this curry blogger prepares several curry dishes at once for an 8-person (!) dinner party…but then Curry Fest doesn’t happen every day.
Curry Fest, held on a recent Friday night, was the fantastic (and ambitious) idea of a friend and reader named David, who had never actually tried any of my curries before, but took it on good faith that I could make something passable for himself, his family and a number of acquaintances.
The idea first came to pass when David suggested over the winter that he’d love to introduce his kids to a “a spicy delight that doesn’t come in a white plastic bag with I ♥ NY on it.” That was admirable enough, and I figured I could easily stop by after work to whip up a curry. By spring, his idea had morphed into a full-out foodie event, where he’d invite “writers and cooks” who could appreciate “a bit of curry.” It would be a fun night, he assured me, plus he was taking the afternoon off to be my “personal curry guy” from 3 p.m. on.
So David was good on his word — and here is a photo of him from last Friday afternoon, hailing a cab after we met at Eataly in New York to pick up several pounds of fresh swordfish and shrimp, plus numerous bottles of wine and other supplies, for Curry Fest. (It’s an action shot as we were under the gun… the guests were coming at 7 p.m.)
I had come straight from work, but was prepared: I had my stash of fresh curry pastes — both red and green — to make two favorite recipes, Spicy Southern Curry with Swordfish and Kaja’s Pineapple Shrimp Curry.
David’s intrepid wife Steffani, meanwhile, had already headed to Kalustyan’s for the unenviable task of picking up the hard-to-find curry ingredients. (Sorry, Steffani — I had expected to do this!) While she handily found palm sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and fresh kaffir lime leaves, the ingredient she had the most trouble securing was coconut cream (which is different than more widely available coconut milk), and a key ingredient in my swordfish curry. “I found something called ‘Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut,'” she showed me, when we arrived at their beautiful apartment. “Is this it?”
Oh my, no. Cream of coconut is a sugary coconut beverage used to make pina coladas. Disaster! When we later sent David out on his bike to attempt to find coconut cream, he also stumbled and picked up something even worst: Dehydrated creamed coconut, which came with instructions (maybe for astronauts!?) about adding hot water.
I will pause here to explain what coconut cream is. (Here’s a photo, at left, of several brands of coconut cream.) During the production process, the flesh of full-grown coconuts is grated and squeezed. The first squeeze becomes coconut cream…a thick, rich, lovely substance. When that coconut meat is squeezed a second time, and water is added, the result is coconut milk. It’s far more decadent to work with coconut cream.
The coconut cream dilemma was solved by making a quick call to my regular dining companion FGG, who hadn’t left his apartment left and found a frozen chunk of it (which I had left in his freezer) to bring down. Phew!
The rest of the evening went smoothly after that. I had a plethora of sous-chefs who helped (including this cute one pictured right)! Dining guest Lori gamely learned how to shred kaffir lime leaves. Sophie, a food critic and by far the most intimidating guest of the evening, kept a watchful (and supportive) eye on everything. Ian and Geoffrey wandered around and poured wine — always a helpful contribution to any dinner party.
The evening progressed. During one brief moment, I momentarily felt like a contestant on Top Chef. I had four burners going — two skillets for the lemongrass-infused swordfish, a third for the pineapple shrimp curry, and a fourth for a big batch of jasmine rice. My colleagues who know me as a mere financial journalist would be impressed, I think.
We paired the dishes with a healthy assortment of wines — Rieslings, Gewurtraminers, Silvaner and a few light reds, including a Montepulciano — and some fun conversation. As I’ve often noted on this blog, curry is a uniter. Here we were, a group of random New Yorkers, enjoying a home-cooked meal under one roof. Who knows when — or if? — we’ll come together again, but at least for one evening, we were dinner-party companions talking about flavors, culinary techniques and a common love of spices.
The best compliment came a day later, from Sophie the food critic. She pronounced the evening “gorgeous.” (And I’ll immodestly agree with that assessment.) “The Thai curry and Grewurztraminer was like eating in a flower garden,” she said, via email. “I’m still smiling.”
Below, post-dinner lounging. We also enjoyed desserts of chocolate and baklava.