Jungle Curry of Minced Quail (Geng Bpaa Nok Sap)

Recently tried this recipe from Thai Street Food by David Thompson, part cookbook, part photo journey of the food of Thailand. The two page spreads of fantastic photos capture the feeling of being on a busy street full of amazing food stalls.
Jungle curry paste is very, very hot and is used in rural areas that don’t have access to the more sophisticated ingredients found in the cities. Although, of course, hotness can vary from chili to chili, most people will find this dish hot enough even with the chili portions halved, which is my recommendation unless you have a bet going.
A mild version of green papaya salad is a great refresher for this hot dish.
Removing the quail meat from the bones is tedious and the most time consuming part of this recipe. Deboned quail can be purchased to save time, but then there won’t be bones for the quail stock. Chicken, another game bird or even rabbit can be substituted for the quail. Jungle curry paste is also great with fish.
If you can’t find a kaffir lime you can substitute kaffir lime leaves. Chinese eggplant works as a substitute for the yellow or green apple eggplants.
This is a delicious dish and a great way to cook quail.

Jungle Curry of Minced Quail
Jungle Curry of Minced Quail Served with Papaya Salad and Really Good Beer

Serves 3-4

Jungle Curry Paste
1-2 dried long red chilies
4-5 tablespoons dried prik gariang chilies or dried bird’s eye chilies-about 30g (1 oz)
a few fresh bird’s eye chilies (scuds)-ideally red ones
good pinch of salt
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
2 teaspoons finely grated kaffir lime zest
2 heaped tablespoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons Thai shrimp paste (gapi)

4 medium sized quail, about 500g (1 lb) in total or 200 g (6 oz) minced chicken or rabbit
pinch of salt
4-5 yellow or green apple eggplants- about 150 g (5 oz)
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
pinch of shaved palm sugar- optional
1-1 1/2 cups quail stock- see method- or water
1 cup holy basil leaves

First make the curry paste. Deseed the dried long red chilies by cutting along their length and scraping out the seeds. Soak the chilies in water for about 15 minutes until soft, then drain, squeezing to extract as much water as possible and roughly chop them. Rinse the dried red bird’s eye chilies to remove any dust. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the chilies with the salt, then add the remaining ingredients in the order they are listed, reducing each one to a paste before adding the next. Include any seeds, flowers or buds you find when cleaning the basil in the paste as well. Alternatively puree the ingredients in an electric blender. It will probably be necessary to add a little water to aid in the blending, but try not to add more than necessary, as this will dilute the paste and alter the taste of the curry. Halfway through, turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, the turn it back on and whiz the paste until it is completely pureed.

Take the quail meat off the bones, then mince it somewhat coarsely with the salt- if you like, you could also include the heart and liver. If desired, make a light stock from the bones by giving them a quick rinse before putting them in a pan with about 3-4 cups of water and a few offcuts from the lemongrass, garlic and galangal used to make the curry paste. Simmer for about half an hour, skimming as needed, then strain.

Trim the apple eggplants and cut into six wedges. If using yellow eggplants, scrape out the seeds (which are bitter and can cause a slight allergic reaction), then rinse well; if using the green variety, there is no need to do this as its seeds are not irritating. Place the eggplant wedges in a bowl of salted water and set aside.

Heat the oil and cook the paste over a medium heat until fragrant, stirring furiously to prevent it catching. This should take about 2-3 minutes, but be careful- it will become sneeze-inducingly aromatic. Add the minced quail, and simmer gently until cooked- about 4 minutes. Season the curry with the fish sauce and palm sugar, if using, then pour in 1 cup of the stock or water. Bring to the boil and add the drained eggplant wedges. Simmer until the eggplant is cooked (about 3 minutes), then add the holy basil leaves.

This curry should be a little thick, but not too dry- it may be necessary to lighten it with a little additional stock or water. It should taste hot, damned hot, and should also be salty and aromatic from the basil with a tinge of bitterness from the eggplants. Leave to cool slightly to deepen its flavour and soften its spicy bite before serving with steamed rice.

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