Recipe: Salmon in sweet red curry (Panang pla salmon)

Note: In August, staff writer Barbara Hansen wrote about Timothy M. Evans, who has two great passions: Thai food and wine. Two years ago he founded the Amador County winery Clos du Lac Cellars with the mission of encouraging wine-lovers to think beyond the usual choices for matching wine with Thai food. To show how well Thai food and wine can mix, he hosted a dinner where his wines were paired with food made by Evans and Thai chef Stapron Nilluang. Our favorite dish from that dinner was Salmon in Sweet Red Curry.

Hansen wrote, "You would think that a curry as sumptuous as this would be difficult to prepare, but that isn't so. Once you accumulate the ingredients, this recipe is easy, even if you have never tried Thai cooking before. Evans uses homemade red curry paste, but canned paste from a Thai market will do, and you can substitute regular basil for Thai basil."

Active Work Time and Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes

1 (19-ounce) can coconut milk

4 to 5 tablespoons red curry paste

1 tablespoon fish sauce plus more if needed

1 tablespoon sugar plus more if needed

4 Thai (kaffir) lime leaves, torn into small pieces

2 (4- to 6-inch) center-cut salmon fillets, about 1 1/2 pounds

Olive oil

1 tablespoon Cognac

8 to 10 Thai basil leaves

* Remove thick layer of cream from top of unshaken coconut milk can and set aside half. Heat remaining half of coconut cream in skillet and stir in curry paste. Saute until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/4 of coconut milk (thinner layer) to mixture, heat to boiling and stir until red oil appears at edges. Add another 1/4 of coconut milk and repeat boiling until oil appears. Repeat with another 1/4 of coconut milk. When red oil appears, add 2 tablespoons coconut milk, reserving rest to add later.

* Add fish sauce, sugar and lime leaves. Taste and adjust fish sauce and sugar if needed. Boil until little red-colored oil appears. Remove from heat and strain through coarse sieve. Push as much of solids through as possible. Discard residue. Return strained mixture to skillet and set aside.

* Remove any bones from salmon with fish pliers or tweezers and coat fish with olive oil. If grilling outdoors, place in oiled fish basket. Grill, skin side up, over high heat, ideally over smoking alder wood chips, or on stove-top grill pan, 3 to 4 minutes on flesh side. Turn and grill 5 minutes more. Remove from fish basket if using and keep warm.

* Add remaining coconut milk to sauce and heat, stirring, over medium to medium-high heat, until smooth sauce consistency, 1 to 3 minutes. Add Cognac and boil to evaporate alcohol, about 2 minutes.

* Pour sauce onto heated platter. Place basil around edges, then place grilled salmon on top and sprinkle with basil leaves. Place reserved coconut cream in small plastic bag with tip of 1 corner cut off and pipe onto salmon and sauce in decorative manner, or spoon over fish.

4 servings. Each serving: 559 calories; 523 mg sodium; 53 mg cholesterol; 44 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams protein; 2.94 grams fiber.

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