What We're Cooking: Beef cheek and eggplant green curry

How does MFWF’s Industry Engagement Manager Zenon Misko like to spend his lockdown hours? Preparing a potent green curry that’s got weekend cooking project written all over it.

If, like me, you love to spend a Sunday in the kitchen, making David Thompson’s green curry paste at least once in your life is a must. It’s not a dish for the faint-hearted – you’ll need a good mortar and pestle, and the wrist workout alone is hardcore – but it’s immensely rewarding. And if there’s one thing most of us have more of now, it’s time.

The recipe:

Get your ingredients for the curry paste together:

•           7 green birdseye chillies, finely chopped

•           12 coriander roots, scraped of dirt and soaked until clean

•           3 lemongrass stalks, white part only, thinly sliced

•           10g (about 2cm piece) galangal, peeled and finely chopped

•           5g fresh turmeric, peeled finely chopped

•           Rind of 1½ kaffir limes, finely chopped

•           4 shallots, finely chopped

•           4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

•           1 tsp shrimp paste, roasted (wrap in foil and roast in 200C oven for 5-10 minutes until fragrant)

•           10 white peppercorns

•           ½ tsp coriander seeds, dry-roasted

•           ¼ tsp cumin seeds, dry-roasted

To make the paste, pound the green birdseye chillies to a pulp in a mortar and pestle (a pinch of salt in the mortar helps). I used seven chillies with seeds in, which gives the dish a lingering hit of spice without blowing your head clean off, but adjust the quantity to suit your taste. Add the other ingredients one at a time, pounding each to a pulp before adding the next. (I follow the order listed above.) All this pounding will take about half an hour – just the iso-workout you were looking for.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, fry the paste (we used all four or so tablespoons that the recipe yields) in a neutral oil until it’s fragrant then add about half a kilo of beef cheeks. Beef shin or chuck steak would also work nicely. Brown the meat in the paste and then add enough stock to cover – chicken is preferred by some cooks, but we used home-made veg stock from the freezer. You’ll need between half a litre and a litre. Add two tablespoons of fish sauce, two teaspoons of palm sugar, five (or more!) coarsely torn kaffir lime leaves and, if you like, the trim from the lemongrass stalks. (If you like your curry more sour, more sweet or more fragrant, adjust any of these quantities to suit your taste; ideally you want all of those elements to be in harmony.) Bring it to a low simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is tender. The beef cheeks I used took about three hours.

When the meat is done to your liking, add about 400ml of coconut cream and simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes until the coconut is well incorporated into the sauce. Add a handful of whole or halved apple eggplants if you have them, Thai basil and any other vegetables you like and simmer for another 5-10 minutes (or until the vegetables are just cooked through). Garnish with plenty of Thai basil and serve with jasmine rice, wedges of lime and a bowl of finely chopped birdseye chillies in a bit of fish sauce – this is great to splash into the dish as you eat to add sourness, saltiness and spice.

I matched this with a delicious dark pale ale from Bruny Island Beer Co, the first example I’ve tasted of this style. It complemented the spice of the curry and richness of the beef cheek nicely.

Tip: If you have thin walls or a neighbourly relationship to preserve, you may want to schedule the mortar and pestle work to daytime hours or ensure you have music playing.

What are we watching with this? The first two bowls were enjoyed with conversation at the dinner table. The third bowl was eaten while watching True Detective, season three. It’s a story of obsession, along the lines of Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac. On a lighter note, it’s cool to see actor Mahershala Ali’s haircuts change back and forth across the decades.

Leftover potential? Despite having three bowls for dinner, there was plenty of leftover curry sauce, which makes a great meat-free lunch the following day. Reheat the sauce and add zucchini, eggplant or whatever else you have to hand. Makes for a fierce toastie, too.