Shiftwork Bites: Texas Thai Curry

Through the course of Shiftwork Bites, I've been making a conscious effort to build a semi-respectable pantry at work. Ultimately, I'd love to have one from which I might actually theoretically be able to prepare full meals with little or nothing in the way of extra ingredients brought in. Obviously, this would be limited to simple fare like Spaghetti Aglia e Olio, various bean and lentil preparations, and the occasional garlic soup.

So far, however, I've mainly focused on getting super basic things like oil (olive and canola), spices (everything from cinnamon to pimenton), vinegar (decent balsamic and good sherry),and decent quality salt and pepper. I even have a box of matzoh for the next time I decide to make matzoh brei. In short, a fairly rudimentary handful of items without which I would be hard-pressed to cook much of anything.

Thus far, the majority of my Shiftwork Bites meals have taken their cues from decidedly European or American culinary traditions, and this fact is clearly reflected in the contents of my meager pantry. I decided it was time to change that a little bit, expanding not only the menu for my most recent 30th-floor repast, but also the possibilities for future night-shift cookery.

I decided on a (very) loosely interpreted Thai curry, with the Texas twist of using up the last few remaining pieces of venison jerky from a local smokehouse, in lieu of more traditional beef or pork. Not only did this result in a delicious meal, but it added an Eastern hemisphere to my pantry, in the form of soy sauce, nam pla, dried chiles, coconut milk, and Sriracha brand chile-garlic sauce.

I sweated a few thinly sliced shallots for a few minutes, then added a few minced cloves of garlic and a piece of ginger about the size of my thumb, also minced. Once those were fragrant, I tossed in a couple of handfuls of sliced shiitake mushrooms and some julienned red bell pepper. When the mushrooms had given up their liquid, I added a about a tablespoon each of soy sauce and nam pla, allowing the mushrooms to absorb the liquid. One can of coconut milk and about a cup of hot water went in as soon as the pan was dry again, along with a handful of dried chiles and about two cups of thinly sliced venison jerky, and a handful of baby spinach leaves I happened to have at work from a sandwich I'd made the night before. A lid went on, and the curry was allowed to cook on low for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, I softened some wide rice noodles in hot water, drained them, coated them with a bit of oil, and set them aside. I cut about one packed cup of basil chiffonade, and shredded some carrots, beets, and daikon with my Benriner mandolin. (I hope some of you got your own for Christmas.)

When the flavors in the curry had melded, I added most of the basil to the pot and gave it a few minutes to wilt and perfume the curry, and stirred in a tablespoon or so of cashew butter as a flavorful thickener. The noodles were added, and everything was tossed to combine. Once plated, I topped each serving with a little bundle of shredded vegetables, with the remaining basil ribbons mixed in. I passed chile-garlic sauce to my coworkers, so that each could tailor the spiciness to their own preference.

Aside from having slightly more noodles than needed, and slightly underdressed noodles as a result, the dish was a definite success. The curry was nutty and rich, with a subtle smoky gaminess from the jerky. The slaw on top was a very nice counterpoint, its cool freshness setting off the curry nicely and adding a wonderful crunch.

Now that I've got a few Asian flavors at my disposal, what else should I attempt?

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall