So there I was, this past Monday night, with lofty goals of making a beef curry. I’d prepared the curry paste the day before to save time, and I grabbed my pressure cooker. The recipe I was using as a guideline (it’s rare that I actually follow a recipe – I tend to make a lot of changes along the way) suggested I would be braising my beef shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Since this was a weeknight, I figured a 45 minute stay in the pressure cooker would do the trick nicely.
And so it began. I browned the beef, and placed it in the pressure cooker along with a generous helping of coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, and cilantro. Things were smelling good, and I was salivating at the idea of such a flavorful curry that would be gracing our plates in about an hour. I get really excited about curries of all kinds. There is just something so wonderful about an intense mix of spices and flavors that, when simmered for a bit, they really get to know one another and emerge as more than the sum of their parts. It’s comforting and soul-satisfying, and it’s why I have several recipes hanging around this blog, such as this Kerala-style Curry or this Shrimp Cauliflower Curry. A good curry sends me to my happy place.
Well, my (older generation, super-simple) pressure cooker began to heat and spit some steam, so I lowered the temperature a bit. I then set to chopping cauliflower for a side dish in my “prep area” towards the right of the stove. About 10 minutes had passed, and that’s when it happened.
Suddenly, the pressure cooker exploded with a loud “BOOM”, and shot off to my left, across the floor. I squealed. And then just stared, motionless, at the disaster in front of me. My husband (who was in our living room), moments later, asks me. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I mutter, dumbfounded. So he asks again, worry in his voice. “Baby, are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m fine.” I say, rather flatly, given the situation. I was in a bit of shock. “It exploded.”
The mess was horrendous. There was coconut milk on every surface to the left of where I’d been standing – on the cabinets, on the counter, on the stove (on the burner, smoking a bit and turning black, thanks to the sugar), on the floor, on the walls, and even on the cabinets and the books on top of the cabinets on the opposite side of the kitchen from the stove. The smell of fish sauce permeated the air. By some miracle, I had none on me at all. Later on, I would realize that I was rather lucky. That pressure cooker could have flown in my direction and bruised or burned me, or worse.
I quickly picked up the pressure cooker and set it back on the stove, with the beef and about half of the sauce still inside. My husband joined me, and we started cleaning. It was about then that I started to realize just how absurd the whole fiasco was. I laughed at it. Laughed at the coconut milk under the cabinets, laughed at how disgusting the floor was, giggled at the cilantro stuck to the wall inside my combination laundry room/pantry at the end of our kitchen (a good 12 feet away, at least), and joked about how we’d be finding this mess for months. Any other night, an event of this magnitude might have brought me to tears, but in that moment, it was pretty darn funny, and laughing was all I could do. It took us about an hour to get the kitchen back to some semblance of order. I mopped twice, and came back home the following day to mop again so I could get rid of the film left by the coconut milk.
Needless to say, we didn’t have curry that night.
However, I did manage to salvage that beef and remaining sauce. I stuck it in my smaller, 4-quart slow cooker and stuck it in the fridge. In spite of all that happened, I still wanted curry. Also, I detest throwing away food. So the following night, I asked my husband to take the slow cooker out of the fridge and turn it on high for a few hours when he got home. (He’s typically home an hour or two before I arrive.) I was going to resume this curry-making, for better or worse.
Thankfully, it was worth the trouble. Well, maybe not worth the trouble of the whole pressure-cooker-explosion thing, but it was worth salvaging the meat for another night. The slow cooker finished the braising job beautifully, and with a relatively quick finish in my skillet, we had a deliciously spicy, silky beef curry. There are a few things I’d do differently, if I was to make this again (and I’ll share those notes in the recipe below), but we were both more than satisfied, with happy, full bellies and that sense of calmness and peace that accompanies a good curry. It was a tad salty (even though I reduced the fish sauce), and of course, due to the explosion factor, the amount of liquids actually used in the cooking process are approximated. So this is definitely not a perfected recipe at this point, but I felt I had to share with you, if for the story alone! But all in all, it was worthy of seconds by my husband, so I declare it a winner.
Now, the next question is: Does anyone have a good (safe) pressure cooker recommendation? One requirement – it must not explode.
Spicy Beef Curry, adapted from Bon Appetit – this is what I did, but I am giving you notes to adjust for better flavor next time.
3 whole cloves
1 1/2 t coriander seeds
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
1 t cumin seeds
seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
1 t kosher salt (I would probably use 1/2 t next time)
1/4 t ground cayenne (I would reduce this to 1/8 teaspoon or omit, as the resulting curry was plenty spicy!)
Combine first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Add cold water to cover, then drain. Place spices in large wok or skillet. Dry-roast over medium heat until dry and fragrant, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to spice grinder. Add salt and cayenne; grind to fine powder.
10 small chiles de arbol, stemmed
about 25 cilantro stems
1 c chopped yellow onion
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 piece of ginger (about 1 1/2 inches long), thinly sliced
1 1/2 T grated lemongrass
Place chiles in small saucepan; add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
Combine cilantro stems, onion, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass in large skillet. Add 3/4 cup water. Cover skillet and cook until ginger is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
Scrape vegetable mixture into a small food processor. Add drained red chiles. Blend, adding enough reserved chile soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls to form smooth paste. Stir in spice mix. If you are making this the day before, transfer to bowl, cover, and chill.
For the beef:
3 T coconut oil, divided
2 1/2 lbs cross-cut beef shanks (each about 1 1/2-2 inches thick)
2 cans coconut milk (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)
2 cups beef or chicken stock (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)
About 25 cilantro stems
3/4 c fish sauce (I would use 1/2 cup and increase the stock next time – or if using a slow cooker, I’d use 1/4 cup)
1/3 c coconut palm sugar (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)
1 1/2 T grated lemongrass (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)
1/4 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c chopped roasted cashews
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet (if transferring to slow cooker) or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the beef with salt and pepper. Brown the beef, searing until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer beef to plate. Add the coconut milk, cilantro, fish sauce, coconut palm sugar, and lemongrass into the slow cooker or Dutch oven. If using a slow cooker, add the beef and turn on high for about 3-3 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender and pulling away from the bone. If using a Dutch oven, bring the liquids to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and add the beef. Cover and allow to simmer for about 2 1/2 hours or until beef is tender and pulling away from the bone.
Transfer beef to a plate to cool. Strain braising liquid using a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl and set aside.
Heat remaining tablespoon of coconut oil in the Dutch oven or a large skillet over medium heat. Add the curry paste. Stir until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved braising liquid and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice and beef. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is silky and clinging to the beef. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve beef curry with steamed long-grain rice, such as Basmati, garnished with chopped cashews and cilantro.