The Beer Lover's Table: Aubergine Massaman Curry and Boxcar Brewery Double Dark Mild

Beer Lover's Table Boxcar Brew Co Claire Bullen East London London Mild

If sourdough bread was very Lockdown 1, then Lockdown 3 looks more like one-pot cooking projects: long-simmered stews, tender meatballs, creamy pasta dishes.

In the middle of a deep cold snap, the stove is the warmest place in the house, and standing in front of it for an extra hour or two has never felt so inviting.  Of course, there are other sensory pleasures to be had there, beyond the heat thrown off by the gas burners. If you’re making this Thai massaman curry, you can luxuriate in its beguiling, house-filling perfume right at the source. The fragrance is complex enough that I wish I could bottle and spritz it: all pungency and sweetness, equal weight given to vivid fresh herbs and warming spices.

This dish – adapted from a recipe by equitable spice company Diaspora Co., in turn adapted from myriad other sources – is one of the best curries I’ve ever made. Credit for that goes to the homemade curry paste, which is so flavourful it feels like it should emit its own neon light and heat.

If you flinch at the idea of making curry paste from scratch, or at the admittedly long ingredients list, know that it is as straightforward as toasting a few spices in a frying pan, grinding them and blitzing everything up in a food processor. Know, too, that this recipe makes a double quantity, so you can freeze the other half for a future curry. If you are after a meditative project that requires some prep time but delivers 25-fold on the effort, this is it.

I've found myself doing a lot of meat-led cooking these cold winter weeks, so to switch things up, I made aubergine the star of this show, and it works beautifully, all melting and saturated with flavour. (Note that this recipe is not vegetarian as written because of the fish sauce and shrimp paste, but you can opt for alternatives if you’d like to make it so.)

Speaking of winter favourites: Boxcar Brewery's Double Dark Mild is the beer of my February dreams. A souped-up version of the brewery’s modern classic Dark Mild, Double Dark is everything its name promises: potent, heady, warming, rich and gorgeous with its toffee-hued head and full body. I love dark, roasty beers with curries. There is a connection forged between the brown sugar, the winter spices and the deep dark malt. And even if, at 6.3% ABV, this beer might not quite count as “mild” – then its boldness – like the curry’s – is all the more appreciated, and suited to this present moment.

Aubergine Massaman Curry
Adapted from Diaspora Co.
Serves 6

For the curry paste:
1 ½ tablespoons coriander seeds
1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
8 pods cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-2 teaspoons hot chilli powder, to taste
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 échalion (banana) shallots, roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, outer stalks removed, sliced
1 head garlic (about 15 cloves), peeled and smashed
One 1-inch piece galagal (substitute ginger), peeled and finely grated or minced
40g coriander stems, diced
3-4 makrut lime leaves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon shrimp paste

For the curry:
One 400ml can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated for 2 hours
½ quantity of your massaman curry paste
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
1–3 teaspoons dark brown sugar
Fine sea salt, to taste (optional)
500g baby potatoes, peeled but left whole
4 medium échalion shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 medium aubergines, diced into 1-inch cubes
Jasmine rice, to serve
Whole roasted peanuts, to serve

1. First, make the curry paste. To a small, dry frying pan, add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods. Place over medium heat. Cook, tossing frequently, for 1-2 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant and just beginning to turn golden. Add the ground cinnamon, nutmeg and chilli powder, and toast for about 30 seconds more. Remove from the heat. Using a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder), grind the spices into a fine powder.

2. To a food processor, add the spices and all the remaining curry paste ingredients. Blend on high for 3-4 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides with a spatula, until the curry paste is smooth and uniform (if it is having trouble incorporating, add a small splash of water). This recipe makes a double quantity – you can freeze the remaining half of the paste for another day.

 3. To make the curry, place a Dutch oven or other large, lidded pot over medium-high heat. From the chilled can of coconut milk, spoon out the thickened, solidified cream at the top (roughly ⅓ of the can) and add to the pan. When it starts to melt, add the curry paste and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes, or until oil starts to separate out from the mixture.

 4. Add 300ml water, plus 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, the tamarind paste and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar to the pot. Stir to combine before adding the potatoes and shallots; the potatoes should be mostly covered by the liquid. Raise the heat to high to bring to a boil before turning the heat all the way down to a simmer. Cover and cook, pausing to stir occasionally, for 30 minutes.

 5. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and add the chopped aubergines, mixing so they are thoroughly coated and incorporated into the curry. The aubergines may look too plentiful, but they will shrink and start to collapse as they cook down. That said, if it looks like it needs a bit more liquid, add a splash of water and stir through. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Remove the lid and check the curry: the potatoes should be tender and the aubergines fully softened and saturated in the liquid, which should be creamy and not watery looking. Taste the curry and add additional fish sauce, sugar and/or sea salt, if needed. To serve, divide between bowls with steamed jasmine rice and top each with a small handful of peanuts.

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