Taking Sides: Thai panang curry with salmon and red yams

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole

We tend to choose sides when it comes to nature: baby hippo over crocodile, chipmunk over hawk, fiddlehead fern over blackberry, round and furry over slick and scaly. When I’m standing on the edge of our slope with a jar of Roundup in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, I decide who lives. That blackberry whip that wraps around my ankle and bloodies my cheek is an easy target; the slowly unfurling, hesitant fern, wins my protection. We’re always glad to see the chipmunk eating the bird food but I just read an unsettling NextDoor post about a screen door left ajar, an intrusive squirrel, and the ensuing drama. Same with mice, if they keep to themselves, we are at peace. Just stay in your own yard!

I do remember one battle where the good guy/bad guy line was blurry. In the 1980s I stood with the herd of nightly Seattle/Vashon walk-on commuters waiting for the boat to ease into the island’s north end dock. An eagle swooped low over the water right in front of the boat, dipped his talons into the Sound, and snagged a huge salmon. (Now could there be anything more Northwest?) The salmon was having none of it—he flipped, wriggled, and dove deeper in the water taking the eagle with him. The boat’s captain, watching the mashup from behind the wheel, tooted his horn as the boat closed in on the pilings, the eagle, and the salmon. The audience was divided: some cheering for the eagle, some rooting for the salmon, but everyone holding their breath hoping that the deadlocked pair wouldn’t be churned up in the propeller. 

The eagle, wings heaving and straining, gathered all his might and pulled both himself and the salmon out of the water just before the boat leaned into the dock’s timber dolphins. The walk-ons cheered, arms thrust in the air, the captain laid on his horn, the crew, caught up in the drama, hurried to ready the chains for landing. We all watched as the eagle turned sharply in the air with the captive salmon; the big fish gave one last flip and plummeted back into the sound. The eagle looked down, straightened course, and went back to his search for food. I wish there was a picture but, you know, back in the day few of us had a camera at the ready. This one, poached from TripAdvisor, will have to do.

BTW, KOMO news ran a bit the other day about Stephen King commissioning chainsaw sculptor, Josh Landry, to turn a sawed off tree in King’s front yard into an art piece. Traffic along his side street crawls by to have a look. Got a sawed off tree and a chainsaw?

Thai Panang curry with salmon and red yams (the salmon is incidental. The curry is just as good without it.)

  • 4-6 ounces skinned, boned salmon cut in 1” cubes
  • 1/2 peeled red yam (or sweet potato, butternut squash, or pumpkin), peeled and cut into 1” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons Panang red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 can thick coconut milk  (if you use TJ’s coconut milk, you will open the can to a thick, almost solid coconut fat layer on top of the thinner coconut milk. Don’t worry, just remove it all from the can into a bowl and whisk until smooth. You can also blend to smooth.)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Thai basil leaves or sweet basil
  • 1/4 cup finely diced cilantro stems and leaves
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of two limes

Place a Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil. Once the oil melts and shimmers, add the garlic and ginger. Season with sprinkle of salt, sauté 2-3 minutes, add onions. Season with a sprinkle of salt and sauté until onions are translucent. 

 

Move the garlic/ginger/onions to the side of the pan, add the panang red curry paste and peanut butter to the center of the pan. Sauté the paste/peanut butter for 2-3 minutes to intensify the flavor, stirring with a spatula. 

 

Add half of the can of coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer, add sweet potato cubes and remainder of coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt, sugar, curry paste, or lime juice to balance salty/sweet/spicy/tart flavors, simmer 15 minutes, or until sweet potato is soft.

 

Remove from heat and stir in the salmon cubes, turn off the heat, let sit for five minutes. (You can also brown salmon in coconut oil at the beginning of the preparation, reserve until this point, then add to sauce/sweet potato mixture.)

 

Add basil leaves, cilantro, lime zest, and lime juice. Taste for balance.

  

Serve over rice or noodles.

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