Authentic Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish, Kaeng Pa Pla Dook – Thai Curry Episode XVII

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 5 (1)

The Thai curry series is back. Some of you might have been relieved to see this title, but don’t worry, I don’t think this series will ever end. There are too many curries in Thai cuisine; I don’t think I can cover all of them in my lifetime. With curry paste it’s different. Eventually you will learn all of the curry pastes. Once that’s happened, I will just give you the various curry recipes that will show you the endless potential of the Thai curries and hopefully you can start making your own without having to refer to my recipes anymore.

This episode is going to be about the Jungle Curry, both the paste and the curry. The advance Thai red curry episode only covers most of the different types of curries that use dried red chili, which most of the non-Thai call them by all one name, red curry paste. I hope you know that it’s the wrong thing to do now, right? 😉 If you said no, I will ban you from The High Heel Gourmet club for nine hundred and ninety-nine days!

I’ve gotten a few requests for this Thai jungle curry, which came as a total surprise to me because I didn’t think jungle curry was a popular curry among the non-Thai at all. First of all, the curry doesn’t use a coconut milk base and second, so many herbs and vegetables are piled up in the bowl you can’t really tell which is the herb which is the vegetable. And third, the jungle curry is so spicy, it’s beyond the level of heat that normal people can handle, including me.

Jungle Curry is called “Kaeng Pa” which is the direct translation, pa=jungle. Why do we call it the Jungle Curry? you might ask.

It’s not because we piled up all the herbs and vegetables in the curry until it looks like a jungle, as you might have thought. It’s not that at all. This curry is called the jungle curry because this is the type of the curry the Thais make when they’re out in the jungle. Way back when we had to hunt for our own food instead of going to the market, the hunters would have to take a trip out to track after the prey. They would have to cook wherever they set up their campsite and the ingredients for cooking would be limited. They have to forage for them.

This could be the early version of foraging for your foods. The curry paste of course was something that they could carry with them. You know they’re Thai, they can’t leave without their supply of chilies, so they pack curry paste too. They packed the rice but they couldn’t pack the coconut milk . They could have packed whole coconuts but they wouldn’t. Why would you do so? Hello, it would make so much noise the prey would hear them coming. So, the first character of jungle curry is that it is a water base curry not a coconut milk base.

The vegetables are usually the result of foraging the jungle near by the campsite. Most of the time they have to be mixed together to make up the amount. They didn’t plan the exact mixture, mostly it was whatever they could find. The meat in the curry was usually whatever they had killed that day, or the fresh fish caught from the pond or river or, the saddest story, they had to use the meat jerky they packed for the trip. It’s so delicious actually, but most of the time the hunters were grumpy about that.

I already gave you the recipe for the most popular water base curry among the Thais, the sour curry called Kaeng Som. This jungle curry will be the second. This might accustom to your palette than the sour curry, I suspect.

I don’t often cook jungle curry because of one ingredients I like in this curry isn’t available to me. That ingredient is green peppercorns or some might call it young peppercorns. I can get what used to be young and green peppercorn, but is now old and black, brined in a jar or frozen and black, that guarantees the corns will fall of the stem as soon as they thaw. Do you see why I don’t want to cook it?

There are more ingredients that I have to get frozen not just green peppercorns, but the rest of the ingredients I can deal with frozen but the peppercorns were just sad and didn’t make the curry spicy the way I wanted. I bet other people can very easily cover the fact that the peppercorns weren’t so green by using chillies, but I don’t put much in my curry, so it becomes obvious.

You can buy the curry paste to make this curry, but making your own is the only way you can control the level of heat. As I told you before, this is a curry paste that is very, very hot. So, pre-made curry will really hurt your digestive tract as it goes down, but that’s your choice.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 1

Ingredients for the jungle curry paste:

Garlic 25g (2 tablespoons)

Shallot 25g (2 tablespoons)

Dried chillies 25g (1/2 cup) This one, you pick your level of spice. I chose Anaheim peppers with a low to medium heat level, but you can go for Thai birds-eye chili, Serrano chili or even the chili with higher Scoville heat units. It’s all up to you.

Galangal 1/2 teaspoon

Lemongrass 15 g (1-1/2 tablespoons)

(Optional) Kaffir lime peel 1/2 teaspoon

Cilantro root 1/2 teaspoon (You can use the stem if you can’t find the root)

White pepper 1 teaspoon

Shrimp paste 1/2 tablespoon

Ground coriander seed 1 tablespoon

Ground cumin 1 teaspoon

(Optional) Fresh chillies, as many or as few as you want to increase the heat level, but I didn’t use them in the curry paste. I put mine in the curry itself.

Method for the jungle curry paste:

1) I described earlier in green curry paste episode II about the order of the ingredients that goes in the mortar if you want to do it the traditional way. The order is only to make it easier with much less splashing that could hurt you because we’re dealing with a large amount of chillies here.  I usually do it this way with jungle curry because the original curry paste isn’t going to be as smooth a blend as all the other pastes. The texture is supposed to be rough, with big chunks of ingredients.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 3

This is the order:

1.1) white pepper, roasted coriander, roasted cumin

1.2) cilantro root, galangal, kaffir lime peel, lemongrass

1.3) dried chili, salt

1.4) garlic, shallots

1.5) shrimp paste

I just used a small food processor to make the paste this time. I didn’t bring out my big gun, the Vitamix, because I’m afraid that it will end up too smooth. Once you’ve made your curry paste, you are ready for a pot of curry. Putting on The Lion King music might put you in the jungle mood a bit,  but I’m sure if you have a good bottle of bourbon, now we’re talking an adult version of mood improver…strongly recommended!

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 2

Ingredient for the curry:

One whole catfish, cut crosswise

Squash (I used Angel gourd) peeled and cut  2 cups

Eggplants I used Thai eggplant quartered 1-1/2 cups

Or the vegetables of your choice, as much or as little as you want

Fingerroot, julienned 1/2 cup

Holy Basil, Ka-prow or Tulsi about half a cup or more. (It’s the same leave we use in Pad Kaprow and the Drunken Noodles, Pad Kee Mao.)

Cilantro, long Coriander or Saw tooth coriander about 1/4 cup or a handful

Sliced red jalapeño chili or any other chili you like

Green peppercorn at whatever stage you can find

Water 5-6 cups

Kaffir lime leaves 4-5 leaves

Salt 1 teaspoon

Fish sauce 2 tablespoons

Sugar 1-2 teaspoons

Method for the curry

1) The ancient way to start this pot of curry is to mix the curry paste with the water and bring it to boil. Well, you didn’t expect the hunter to carry a bottle of vegetable oil on the hunting trip, did you? I hope not. The jungle in the modern era is different. I don’t cook it that way because I like to cook my curry paste in oil until it releases the aromas and cooks the bitterness away first. After all, I’m not on any hunting trip why don’t I draw the most out off the ingredients at hand.

So, this I how I do it. I put oil (or lard) in a pot and cook the curry paste in the oil until fragrant.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 1 (1)

2) Add water to the cooked curry paste and wait until the soup base reaches a boil. You might want to season your curry now with salt, fish sauce and sugar.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 2 (1)

3) Add the vegetables and then wait until it reaches a boil again.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 4

4) Add the fingerroot, peppercorns and kaffir lime leaves and wait until it again reaches a boil. At this step, before you add the fish, you have to make sure that the curry is really boiling or your curry could be very fishy if you don’t.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 3 (1)

5) Add the fish and, of course, wait until it reaches a boil. Make sure that the fish is cooked through.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 5

6) Add the long coriander and holy basil. Check if you like the taste. If not, add more salt, fish sauce or sugar as you like. Turn off the heat. You are ready to serve this. I normally serve it with white jasmine rice and fried beef jerky or salted pork. You can also serve it with a standard Thai omelette or crispy Thai omelette to help ease down the heat.

Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish - Kaeng Pa Pla Dook by The High Heel Gourmet 6

6 thoughts on “Authentic Thai Jungle Curry with Cat Fish, Kaeng Pa Pla Dook – Thai Curry Episode XVII

  1. So is this different with the one that we deep fried the catfish till crispy first? Or maybe we can deep fried the catfish first, and then proceed to step 5, hmph.

    • Thad one you mentioned, is it dried and sweet?

      We have fried cat fish stir fried with curry paste, fried cat fish in Kaeng Som too. You can fried the cat fish if you like and put it in Kaeng pa as well, many variation.

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