I had about 3/4 lbs of flank steak left over from making Beef Chow Fun; I decided to make a Thai curry with the remaining beef, since I've had "learn to make a real Thai curry" on my cooking todo list for quite a while. After browsing through "Thai Food" by David Thompson, I decided to make his recipe for "A Southern Mussaman Curry of Beef". Mussaman curry is a Thai curry that has Muslim influence. There are at least two different theories on this dish's origins--either Indian or Arab traders or perhaps from a Persian envoy. I served this with jasmine rice and the suggested "Steamed Eggs" from the same cookbook. This recipe made enough for about 2 dinners for 2 people.
The eggs are steamed in their shells, not hard boiled. I steamed them for 10 minutes as Thompson recommended for soft boiled eggs, however, mine came out fully cooked. I had the burners on medium high when steaming, and I also let the eggs sit on the counter for about an hour before steaming them so they were room temperature, and I didn't cool them off after cooking them (I just let them sit on the counter for about 30 minutes since Thompson didn't say to put them in an ice bath).
Many brands of canned coconut milk are unsuitable for use in Thai curries because they are homogenized so that the oily parts don't separate (For more information, see Kasma Loha-unchit's recommendations on canned coconut milk and SheSimmer's recommendations for canned coconut milk). Guar gum is one of the ingredients used to homogenize coconut milk, so do not buy this type of coconut milk for Thai curries. Thai curries are supposed to have fat that has separated from the coconut milk floating on the top (see SheSimmers). I used 2 bags of frozen coconut milk (the bag said it has 3 cups of coconut milk, but I melted and measured them and they actually only had 2 cups); the ingredients are just coconut and water (so it is non-homogenized). The coconut milk tasted like fresh coconuts.
Thompson suggested cooking the beef for 2 hours or until tender; they were tender after 2 hours, but I wanted to try to get them even more tender so I cooked them for 3 hours. This was too long, since the beef was too tender, since by this point that the beef cubes were falling apart in the curry. So next time I would only simmer it for 2 hours.
I used a prepared paste for this instead of making my own paste as Thompson suggests. I used type that comes in a plastic vacuum-sealed bag and deposited in a plastic tub (made by Mae Ploy), since it was much cheaper than the canned curry pastes (it was $2 - $3 for a plastic tub with enough curry paste to make many curries, but $2 - $3 for a canned curry paste which makes only 1 curry). Although I think it would be great to make my own pastes, and it would help to give my curries a better and unique flavor, for now, I'm following the advice of SheSimmers who said in this post that "unless you have all of the fresh herbs and spices required to make authentic and traditional Thai curry pastes, you’re better off using commercial curry pastes than trying to make do with ill-advised substitutes". I am very good at searching out ingredients, but I've been finding it really hard to find the right kind of dried chilies, cilantro roots, and kaffir lime zest needed for Thai curries and I don't even own the Thai granite mortar and pestle needed to grind the paste. Also, I really want to learn how to make authentic Thai curries; a lot of my previous curry attempts on this blog have been tasty but weren't similar to what you get in Thai restaurants. So I used a prepared paste this time so that I wouldn't have to substitute ingredients, and because I'm not sure I've even ever ordered a Mussaman curry at a restaurant, so I wouldn't be able to tell if the curry paste was made right if I made my own. Also, the prepared curry paste was also a huge time saver.
In addition, Thompson points out that you need the oil in the coconut milk to separate (called "breaking the coconut milk"), so that you can fry the curry paste (SheSimmers also has a picture of broken coconut milk in the same post). Frying the curry paste is a very important step in Thai cooking; the paste won't taste right unless it is fried for long enough. so, when you make this curry, be sure to read the notes on page 294-296 about how to break coconut milk, and fry and season the paste. Specifically, mussaman paste must be fried for at least 15 minutes before it can be seasoned. I fried about 30 g of the curry paste in coconut cream that I skimmed from the top of the coconut milk that the beef was braised in. The seasoning should be done to taste, which is not necessarily the amount specified in the recipe. I ended up adding some water to the remaining braising liquid and using about half of the mussaman curry paste that I fried (since I didn't want to make it too spicy for William), 1 Tbsp palm sugar, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, and an unknown amount of tamarind water. I didn't add any of the optional bamboo shoots.
The curry before adding the eggplant, showing desirable fat separation in the coconut milk:
White Eggplant. The flavor is similar to regular purple eggplant, except it might be a bit milder. The skin turns slightly purplish when it is cooked.
The finished curry, with cooked eggplant: