At Thanksgiving time there’s a great option for a main course at your Thanksgiving feast – it’s Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry.
It’s that time of year again when pretty winter squashes in different sizes, shapes and colors attract my attention at produce markets near my home. I can’t resist picking up an assortment to take home to brighten up the greenhouse window in my kitchen. Most of them sooner or later end up in the pot, pan and wok, adding sweetness, richness and the golden color of autumn to comfort foods that warm the cool evenings of the season.
Though not as colorful and outwardly pretty, my favorite golden squash for cooking is still the Japanese kabocha, as its flavor, smoothness and creaminess are closest to the tropical “pumpkins” I grew up eating in Thailand. Although it is available year-round in the Bay Area, at this time of year, riper and tastier ones are easier to find. I look for squashes that have a good weight for their size and whose color has turned from the deep green of summer to a grayish green splashed with the golden hues of the season. The outside peel of ripened kabochas may feel a little sticky to the touch, revealing that the sugar is well-developed and sweetness is assured. (See Kasma’s blog on Kabocha Squash.)
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The bright golden flesh of kabocha cooks to a smooth and creamy consistency and is delicious paired with coconut milk in desserts and in rich, warming soups. It can also be cut into sticks, coated with seasonings and fried to make a tasty snack, served with a tamarind dipping sauce. As Thanksgiving approaches, I like to pair the golden squash with roast duck, simmering them in a spicy curry sauce to serve up as a main dish with rice. My husband, in fact, finds the combination perfect for the season, and calls it our “Thai Thanksgiving curry.”
The curry paste I prefer with duck is red curry. Unlike Indian curries where dry spices figure prominently, the popular Southeast Asian red curry is decidedly herbal with the majority of ingredients comprised of moist tropical herbs and roots, such as lemon grass, galanga, kaffir lime peel, cilantro roots, kachai (an aromatic ginger), garlic and shallots. To these are added a few varieties of dry seeds, such as peppercorns, coriander and cumin, and fermented shrimp paste. It is “red” from both fresh and dried red chillies, and although other curries may have a reddish color, red curry is a particular combination of ingredients that makes it more herbal and lighter-tasting than say, massaman and panaeng curries, for instance.
Several brands of red curry paste are imported from Thailand, available in plastic pouches, plastic tubs, glass jars and tin cans. I generally do not like canned pastes as canning tends to destroy the subtle flavors of more delicate herbs in the paste. My favorite brand is Mae Ploy in small and large plastic tubs. This is a spicy and salty paste that probably will not require the addition of fish sauce during cooking. It is readily available in Asian markets that carry Thai ingredients.
Save yourself the trouble of roasting the duck for the curry by buying one of the beautifully roasted ducks seen hanging in front of duck shops in Chinatown or in the cooked foods section of large, full-service Asian supermarkets. Have the duck chopped up for you into bite-size pieces, but tell them you do not need the sauce. Cook the duck with bone in and skin on to impart a rich roasted duck flavor to the curry sauce. Before serving, skim off and discard the duck fat that has melted into the sauce during cooking.
Of course, other kinds of winter squashes may be used for the curry, so if you have a preference for others of autumn’s golden fruits, try them in this curry. The calabasa now available in many farmer’s markets is delicious and should not be missed.
See our website for more Thai recipes.
This recipe is also available on our website – Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry
Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry – Gkaeng Ped Bped
A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit
- An approximately 1 1/2-lb. kabocha or other winter squash
- 4-5 cups coconut milk (use two 19-oz cans of the Mae Ploy brand)
- 4-6 Tbs. red curry paste
- 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs. palm or coconut sugar
- Fish sauce (nahm bplah) as needed to desired saltiness
- 2 1/2 to 3 lb. roast duck, chopped through the bone into small chunks
- 2-4 red hot chillies, cut into thin slivers with seeds (optional)
- 2 cups Thai basil leaves and flower buds
- Basil sprig(s) for garnish
Cut the kabocha in half, scoop out the seeds and pith. Placing the cut ends flat on a surface for balance, peel and discard the greenish skin. Then cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch chunks.
Do not shake the cans of coconut milk before opening. Spoon 2/3 cup of the thickest cream off the top of a can into a large pot placed over medium-high heat. Reduce cream until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), then add the curry paste. Stir and mush the paste into the coconut cream and fry for a few minutes until it is very aromatic and darkened in color. Then pour in the remaining milk from both cans, stirring well to dissolve the paste to make a smooth rich sauce.
Add 1 1/2 Tbs. of palm or coconut sugar, stirring well to blend into the curry sauce. Taste and add fish sauce only as necessary to salt to the desired saltiness (may not be necessary with some brands of curry paste which are already highly salted).
Add the kabocha chunks and duck pieces. Stir well into the sauce. If there is not enough curry sauce to cover most of the duck and squash pieces, add more coconut milk; or if the sauce already looks plenty rich, add 1/2 cup of water instead, as the squash and duck will thicken and enrich the sauce even more when they are cooked.
Return to a boil, then lower heat to medium, or just enough to boil the sauce gently. Cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, or cooked to your liking (15-20 minutes or more). Taste the sauce and adjust as needed with fish sauce and palm sugar to the desired salty-sweet combination. If more hotness is desired, stir in the slivered chillies.
If a lot of fat has cooked out from the duck, skim out the oil floating on top of the curry sauce. Then stir in the basil until it wilts to a bright green color. Turn off heat and spoon curry into a serving dish. Garnish top with basil sprig(s).
Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, November 2010.