100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 43, Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Troy Fields Smooth and creamy with a rush of spice, this curry is good enough to eat without any accompaniments.
I love all curries.
I love Indian curry, the thick, ruddy stuff so complex in its flavor profile. I love its British counterpart, slightly creamier and less spicy. I love Malaysian rendang, Ethiopian wat and Mexican mole, all curry-like in their temperament. But my favorite is Thai curry, the thin, coconut-scented sauce that at times makes me grab wildly for a glass of water in an attempt to extinguish the heat building in my sinuses.
One my my favorite Thai curries in town is at a small Thai restaurant in a largely empty shopping center at Braeswood and Kirby. There you'll find red curry with juicy duck meat with pineapple and whole tomatoes stewed in a velvety broth of coconut milk and aromatic spices. And you'll find some of the best Thai curry Houston has to offer.
Morningside Thai's red curry is richer, silkier and more dimensional than any I've had elsewhere in Houston. The piquant mixture of herbs and spices and coconut milk is dotted with chunks of chewy pineapple and softened tomatoes and long strands of wilted green basil leaves that sneak up on you with a rush of herbal heat every other bite.
Photo by Troy Fields Rice is completely unnecessary. All you need is a spoon (and maybe a glass of water).
It isn't so spicy hot that I can no longer discern the individual flavors of fresh red chiles, tomato puree and lemongrass, but it packs enough heat that no additional spices are needed to make my cheeks flush and cool my sinuses. It's hot with the dull burn of smoked chile paste and ground coriander, and it's sweet and creamy with rich coconut milk, fragrant cardamom and shrimp paste.
The addition of duck is not traditional in Thailand except for very special occasions, but it's become popular on menus in the U.S., and it's clear why. Sweet, fatty duck meat lends itself to fragrant red curry better than any other protein I can imagine.
Traditionally, curry is served over rice, or it at least comes with a bowl of rice so you can cut the heat a little with some plain, sticky carbs that won't affect the flavor. But this curry ... this is too pungent and, simultaneously, too delicate to mix with rice, the afterthought of the curry platter.
True, making proper rice can be a feat all on its own, but nothing should come between you and that subtly alluring bright, red-orange curry. Nothing.
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