If you had to guess how much liquid is in a spoonful of soup, what would you say? A teaspoon? Tablespoon? Well, when I eat this Thai Curry Beef Stew, I ask myself, how can so much flavor be contained in one little spoonful. How can there be such depth and complexity in that small amount of red brown elixir that accompanies the beef, carrots and noodles of each bite. I’m telling you, this dish will send you to Thai food heaven.
The curry paste for this stew contains just about every great Thai flavoring ingredient, including lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, shallots and garlic. Also, guajillo chiles and the big flavor item: shrimp paste. I happened to have a paper-wrapped block of Malaysian belacan that I used, but I have also made it with jarred shrimp sauce and shrimp paste. If you have never cooked with shrimp paste, this recipe is a great first time to dip your toe in the water.
Here are four little jars of different shrimp sauce and paste, from different countries. I got several at my local Asian markets to try, because the cost is small and they last forever. So far, I have made this recipe with the Koon Chun brand and it was marvelous. If you really want more in-depth information, check out this Wikipedia article.
The curry paste is made with a Thai granite mortar and pestle. You can really pound with this heavy duty tool. The recipe calls for pounding each ingredient to a paste, one at a time, before adding the next. Thus, the chiles and lemongrass are pounded a lot by the time you get to the shallots, making a really creamy concoction. If you don’t have the granite mortar, you could use your mini processor, but the texture will turn out differently. That brilliant orangey-red color comes from the fresh turmeric and guajillo chiles. Really astounding.
So, don’t wait. Make this Thai Curry Beef Stew and be prepared to have your socks knocked right off!
Thai Curry Beef Stew
6 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded, cut in 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 lemongrass stalk, bottom 4” only, tough outer layer removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sliced peeled fresh galangal or young ginger (not ginger root)
2 tablespoons sliced peeled fresh turmeric
½ cup chopped shallots
¼ cup halved garlic cloves
1 tablespoon shrimp paste, shrimp sauce, or belacan
2 pounds beef chuck, trimmed, cut into 1 ½ – 2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
9 cups beef broth, low-salt
1 cup halved shallots
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut into ¼-inch half-moons
6 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves
Rice noodles, cooked per package instructions, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro
Thinly sliced Thai basil (Italian basil can be substituted)
Fresh bean sprouts
Green onions, sliced thin on diagonal
Fresh red Thai chiles, sliced thin in rounds, for garnish, optional
1. Make the curry paste: In a granite mortar, pound guajillo chiles and salt with granite pestle to small flakes. Add subsequent ingredients in order listed, fully pounding each into a paste before adding the next. This should take about 15 minutes total.
2. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, stir beef, curry paste and soy sauce to evenly coat meat. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. Thoroughly scrape bottom of pot to incorporate curry paste into broth. Cover, and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 – 2 ½ hours, until beef is tender but not falling apart. (My beef was not tender enough after 2 ½ hours, so I raised the heat a little for an additional ½ hour until done.)
4. Stir in shallots, carrots and lime leaves. Simmer about 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.
5. Serve in shallow soup bowls, with rice noodles if desired, garnished with bean sprouts, sliced green onions, cilantro, basil and sliced Thai red peppers, if using.
Note: Curry paste can be made 1 week in advance. Cover and chill.