As regular readers of this blog know, I recently tied the knot … and as a result have rather an embarrassing amount of beautiful wedding gifts (most of which are in storage, as we don’t have enough room in our tiny apartment).
Some wonderful friends named Ivan and Bella gave us this incredibly elegant Alessi wok, pictured above. For about a week after unwrapping it, we kept it displayed on our stove like a museum exhibit, afraid to touch it. Finally, it was time to break it in.
For years, I have used a flat-bottomed Joyce Chen wok, which I originally purchased when I lived in an apartment on Christopher Street that had (horrors!) an electric stove. It has served me well. Truth be told, the new hubby actually picked out the Alessi wok when choosing items for our wedding registry. I was skeptical that anything so beautiful and sleek could actually be functional. Also, Alessi is famously an Italian kitchenware company. What do Italians know about woks? (After realizing that I am an Italian chef who makes curry, I decided this was *slightly* hypocritical of me.)
A month ago, we kicked off the maiden voyage of our new Alessi wok with a new recipe, Red Curry Coconut Sauce With Shrimp, Bok Choy and Bamboo Shoots. A pictorial essay is below. The verdict on the wok: Spettacolare! It works divinely, and makes cooking feel like an art form. Since making this dish, we have used the wok countless times, including to make pasta dishes (the instructions recommend that). The piece is designed to be picked off the stove and brought to the table, for guests to enjoy the beauty, too. Er, someday when we have a table we might actually do that. Thank you, Ivan and Bella!
So without further ado, let’s begin the recipe. First, pour a 1/2 can of coconut cream into your wok (you can freeze the other half, for future recipes). Numerous people have asked, what is coconut cream? It is the first squeeze of coconut meat, so it is richer and thicker than regular coconut milk (which we’ll also use, later in this recipe). It is hard to find — but lo and behold, I did find it at Trader’s Joe’s, a grocey store I normally dislike but which has now gone up in my estimation, just because it carries coconut cream.
Once you add the coconut cream, turn the heat up to high and begin stirring the cream with your spatula, splashing it up the sides of the wok and scraping it down. Do this for quite some time, until the liquid reduces by about one-third and you start to see some separation happening. The cream literally separates into a clear shiny liquid and bubbly milk. That is what you want to see — it is a process called “cracking.” Once you’ve got this beautiful oiliness in your wok, you are going to want to fry 3 tbsps of red curry paste in it for several minutes.
This is probably more photos than needed, but look how beautiful the curry paste looks, once dissolved into the cracked coconut cream. I use a homemade curry paste — I would never use anything out of a jar, though if you’re an amateur I wouldn’t blame you — and the aromas of roasted coriander, cumin, kaffir lime zest, shrimp paste, garlic and galangal start to fill the kitchen.
After the paste has cooked for a few minutes, it’s time to add about 4 tbsp of fish sauce and 3 tbsp of palm sugar. I know, I know, palm sugar is hard to find. You could probably use brown sugar or agave nectar as a substitute, but palm sugar (made from the sap of blossoms on coconut palm trees) is truly rich and wonderful. Once you’ve mixed those ingredients, add your coconut milk. You can use a can of coconut milk. I tend to buy frozen coconut milk (Indian and Thai stores carry it) which is nice because it doesn’t have preservatives. All 3 ingredients are pictured below.
Once you’ve got all that percolating on a lower heat, you can chop up your kaffir lime leaves (see below – I grow mine on my fire escape) and also about 3 “bird’s eye” Thai chiles (I use a mix of red and green.)
Below are the kaffir lime leaves “chiffonaded” and the bird’s eye chiles, chopped. You can add both at this point. (Or I sometimes wait till closer to the end to add the kaffir lime leaves, often saving a few for garnish.)
Now it’s time to turn the heat back up to a boil, and add the shrimp. Push them down into the sauce, allowing them to “enjoy the jacuzzi” as my Thai cooking instructor once said.
When the shrimp are almost done, add the bok choy, stirring thoroughly, and allow to steam. You can turn down the wok and partially throw on the lid if you like…my new Alessi wok has a lid! Once the bok choy pieces are almost done, throw in the bamboo shoots.
At this point, you’ve got all the ingredients combined and your dish is looking fabulous.
Serve over jasmine rice…and enjoy!
Red Curry Coconut Sauce With Shrimp, Bok Choy and Bamboo Shoots
1/2 can coconut cream (about half a can – you can freeze other half
3 tbsp red curry paste
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp palm sugar
1 can coconut milk
2-3 bird’s eye chili peppers
4-6 kaffir lime leaves (chiffonaded)
1 lb shrimp (enough for two people)
2 heads baby bok choy, sliced horizontally starting from base
Heat the coconut cream on high heat in the wok until it “cracks,” or becomes something that looks like oil and bubbly milk. Fry the curry paste in the cracked cream until fragrant. Add fish sauce and palm sugar; stir well. Slowly add coconut milk. Add chilis and sliced kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil. Drop in pieces of shrimp and push down until covered. Allow to cook for several minutes. When shrimp is almost done, add the bok choy, stirring well and allowing tougher pieces (like the stalk) to become tender. Add bamboo shoots. Serve over jasmine rice. Delicious!