Friday 21 January 2011

Chantra Authentic Thai Massaman Curry Kit

I don't know if it's because they think they have the best cuisine in the world or not but here in France, or at least here in Dunkirk, there is hardly any choice in exotic takeaway food. If you can't be bothered to cook, you can basically choose between pizza, kebabs or McDonalds ! There is one eat-in Indian restaurant, a few Vietnamese restaurants (I always wonder why England has Chinese takeaways and France has Vietnamese restaurants !) and one Tex-Mex restaurant. And that's about your lot.

This probably explains why there are fewer home cooks who dabble in exotic homecooked fayre too, so the supermarkets have less choice of exotic ingredients. All this means that the whole Thai food concept has pretty much passed me by. I don't know the first thing about it - except that, from what I've heard, it's blow-your-socks-off spicy !

So, when the chance came up to review them, I was really keen to try out of one Chantra Authentic Thai's curry kits. I asked them to go gently on me as a first-timer so they sent me their least spicy kit, the Massaman Curry kit ! When it arrived, I carefully unpacked all the separate components and oohed and aahed over the little sachet of whole spices - a cinnamon stick and two cardamom pods in this kit. I use a lot of herbs and spices in the kitchen but always shy away from using whole spices because I never know what to do with them so it made me feel very Mastercheffy to use them !

The kit contains several different sachets, containing Natural Thai Massaman curry paste, dried coconut cream powder, the cinnamon and cardamom and a small sachet of fish sauce. I was expecting it to be really complicated and long to prepare but was amazed to see that the box gives a preparation time of 10 minutes and 40 minutes cooking time ! The packaging suggests using beef, potato, onion and unsalted peanuts, but says it can also be used with chicken thighs, but I used chicken breast, potato, onion and cashew nuts as it's what I had in the cupboards ! It still worked really well.

The cooking instructions are extremely simple and I ignored all my instincts screaming at me to start off by browning the onions and potatoes and followed them to the letter for once (well, apart for using chicken and cashews in place of beef and peanuts !). You cook the curry paste in a spoonful of oil (using 2/3 or all of the sachet, depending on how spicy you want it - I used the whole thing and it was still mild and mellow, in my opinion), add the meat and cook, add water and the coconut cream, a chopped potato and onion, the peanuts and spices and then leave to simmer for 40 minutes. At the end, it says to add sugar and fish sauce to taste, which again went against all my instincts but I still tried it and it did add a whole new level of taste - surely the "umami" that everyone has been talking about in gastronomical circles !

Chantra also sent me some red Thai rice to try, a product that I had never heard of, let alone tried. I can be forgiven though, as Chantra are the only company to bring this into the UK at the moment. It makes a lovely colourful addition to the plate (the cooking water looks the colour of red kidney beans but the cooked rice is slightly more orangey) and has more taste than plain white rice. I would say it tastes almost nutty and it is almost impossible to overcook so you won't have soggy or sticky clumps of rice, if you're not very good at getting perfectly cooked white rice ! My one criticism is the cooking instructions which give no idea whatsoever of cooking times. It took almost 1/2 an hour to cook so I totally misjudged it, calculating about 15 minutes, which meant that my curry was a bit overcooked and the potato went a bit mushy. The red Thai rice goes really well with the curry but I find that it does need something with a lot of sauce to really do it justice, but I gave the girls a taste by itself and they thought it was lovely and asked if they could have some for their tea !

In conclusion, don't be put off trying Thai food because you think it is extremely hot and spicy. The Massaman curry is almost as mild as a korma and is absolutely packed with flavour. The Chantra kits also give you a great initiation into cooking with whole spices and discovering totally unknown ingredients that can really liven up your cooking. Given the quality of the ingredients, I was really impressed to discover their low price - it's cheaper than a takeaway and you get the satisfaction of knowing you've cooked it all by yourself.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £3.29 for the curry kit, £2.49 for 500g red Thai rice

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