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Feb 02

Gaeng Hang Lay Moo Curry – Northern Thai Pork Belly Curry Recipe

Hanglay Mu or Gaeng Hang Lay. A Norther Thai Pork Belly Curry recipe.

Of all the curries in Thailand, this Northern Thai pork belly curry called Gaeng Hang Lay Moo must be the most decadent and moreish of all. It’s a red curry on spice steroids and the extra kick and spice, as well as the richness of the pork belly, make this one of my favourite Thai curries and the one I’ve been cooking this week for our Year of Asian Cookbooks project.

The geographic origin of Gaeng Hang Lay Moo — in its Thai form — is the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, beloved by Thais for its laidback atmosphere, arty vibe and fiery food. This, combined with its cooler weather and nearby mountains, has seen Chiang Mai become a popular retreat for well-off Thais and a home for Bangkok creative types seeking a tree-change.

However, it’s the earlier arrival of Indian traders bearing spices that is of interest here. Initially arriving in Chain Mai to trade textiles, their need for the classic Indian spices to satisfy a curry craving saw spices such as turmeric, fennel and cardamom become more commonly used in local Thai cooking.

With the use of these extra spices on top of a classic base red curry mix, there are many parallels with southern Thailand’s Massaman curry. Although the Hang Lay Moo recipe I am using here, by Bangkok-based Thai Chef Ian Kittichai of Issaya Siamese Club, does not contain mace, cinnamon and fenugreek, other dried spices that often appear in southern Massaman curries.

While the spices convey the influence of India and Malaysia, the origins perhaps are closer to the northern Thai border in Myanmar, where a pork curry called wet tha hin lay includes a sour component, just as the Thai version includes tamarind.

While there’s plenty of heat from the chillies in the curry mix, there’s also the added bite of the ginger — not normally an ingredient in Thai curries, where it’s lookalike, galangal, predominantly features.

Like many Thai curries, Gaeng Hang Lay Moo is a dish that was traditionally shared on special occasions due to the expense and time-consuming nature of making the recipe. Today it’s seen everywhere in Chiang Mai, in varying degrees of quality and numerous permutations when it comes to the spices used in the dish.

Like the best of the food from Northern Thailand, this dish packs an initial punch and lures you in after your taste buds have recovered from the first mouthful. Make a big batch, because it’s true that, like a Massaman curry, Gaeng Hang Lay Moo just tastes better on the second day.

Of interest in Chef Kittichai’s dish is the ingredient ma-khwaen or, more commonly, makhwaen. It’s a speciality of Chiang Rai, and is also found in the rest of Northern Thailand and Laos, where we had it in a jaow (dip). Its pods, used fresh and dry, are from a species of prickly ash trees.

Its botanical name, Zanthoxylum limonella, gives a hint that it has citrus notes, and the genus Zanthoxylum is the parent to the several varieties of trees that produce Sichuan pepper. While it doesn’t have that numbing effect so particular to Sichuan pepper, it packs a real peppery punch, cooled with those citrus notes.

In Chef Kittichai’s recipe it’s clearly used dried and you can find it in Bangkok as well as speciality stores outside Thailand that stock Thai, and specifically Northern Thai, ingredients. While you could substitute it for Sichuan pepper, the latter is such a distinct ingredient it may affect the balance of the dish.

During my research I found that there were many far simpler recipes of the dish and out of curiosity I made a couple of versions (the one pictured is one of them) but Chef Kittichai’s is far superior in flavour complexity. Although I do like to cook the pork out a lot more (two hours plus) than what the chef does in his recipe below.

The chef’s recipe only just cooks the pork out, but I found that giving the pork a really good sear and cooking it for at least three hours gave the best result, so that the pork had that fall-apart-with-a-fork quality. Because it’s pork belly, I found the meat still moist and delicious after a good four hours cooking. Really sublime flavours are generated using this method.

Also during my research, I noticed that many Gaeng Hang Lay Moo recipes — even those with an exhaustive list of ingredients — suggest making the curry paste in a food processor without even a passing reference to a mortar and pestle.

I’m not going to carry on about this in every curry or relish recipe this year, but as Chef David Thompson says in his Thai cooking tome Thai Food, making curry pastes in a mortar as pestle is “onerous and messy, but the result is quite superior”. See this post on how to use a mortar and pestle.

If you insist on taking the 120/240 volt route, a good tip from Chef Thompson is to use a blender, not a food processor. The narrow well of a blender is better suited to the paste coming together and the fact it has four blades makes it more efficient than ingredients being flung around in a wide-based food processor.

With the dried spices, if you’re not going to use a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder or, obviously, a spice grinder, will do the trick.

This Gaeng Hang Lay Moo recipe may appear laborious, but the results are amazing.

Hanglay Mu (Northern Thai Pork Belly Curry)

Recipe based on Chef Ian Kittichai’s recipe from the Issaya Siamese Club Cookbook, used with permission.

To start this dish, you need to prepare chef’s Thai red curry paste first. Below is the second stage, producing the hanglay curry. I’ve modified the final recipe (bringing the curry and the pork together) for simplicity.

Gaeng (Kaeng) Hanglay Curry
Ingredients
20 g dried red finger chilli peppers
10 g turmeric fresh
10 g coriander seeds
10 g cumin seeds
12 g ma-khwaen (Thai prickly ash, optional)
90 ml vegetable oil
40 g ginger (young)
150 g of red curry paste (see recipe here)
1.5 l water
1 g salt
200 ml tamarind juice
20 ml fish sauce
50 g palm sugar
80 g garlic

Directions
1. In a dry pan, toast chilli peppers, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds and ma-khwaen together on low heat for 10 minutes. Once cooled, finely grind in a mortar or use a food processor to blend smooth.
2. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat oil and sauté the sliced ginger. Add the red curry paste and cook until the oil separates. Add water and ground spices.
3. Bring to a boil. Add salt, tamarind juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and garlic.
4. Simmer for an hour.
5. Curry can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Final Hanglay Mu dish preparation 
Ingredients
150 g Hanglay curry (see above)
200 g taro roots, diced,
200 g lotus roots, sliced
500 g pork belly*
50 g young ginger, julienned
5 g coriander sprigs

Directions
1. Boil taro roots and lotus roots in a pot of water until cooked (about 10 minutes). Drain and set aside.
2. Sear pork belly in a pan at high heat.
3. Pour curry into the pan until meat is covered and simmer on low heat for half an hour.
3. Add cooked roots to curry.
4. Ladle pork belly curry into serving bowls and garnish with coriander sprigs and young ginger.
5. Serve with steamed jasmine rice on the side.

* Chef gives no directions on how it should be sliced. I like to make cubes so each piece has that transition from the rind through the fatty layers through to the meat.

Issaya Siamese Club
Chuea Phloeng Rd
Sathon, Bangkok, Thailand
+66 2 672 9040
www.issaya.com

CORRECTION: The recipe in the cookbook calls for ‘200 ml fish sauce’, which would result in a salty, fishy disaster that even a hungry soi dog would reject. This has been amended to a more human friendly 20 ml. Chef Kittichai has confirmed it’s a typo in the book, but adds that fish sauce should always be added ‘to taste’.

This post is the latest in my Year of Asian Cookbooks project. Next up: a 120 year-old Geng Gari Gai aromatic Chiang Mai chicken curry recipe from Northern Thailand from Chef David Thompson of Nahm restaurant in Bangkok.

10 comments

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  1. Joy @MyTravelingJoys

    Yum! I love curry pastes! I’ve made a Balinese paste a couple times after we went on our Bali vacation 2 years ago. Doubt I’ll find all these ingredients here in Poland, but I’ll definitely give it a go and sub as needed. Thanks! :-)

    1. Terence Carter

      Hi Joy, yes, it could be a bit of a struggle to find all the ingredients, which is why I’m doing this project where I can get them all. Good luck!

  2. Phil

    Thanks for this recipe. Are you sure about the 200ml of fish sauce? I guess you mean 20ml.

    1. Terence Carter

      Thanks Phil, good catch. I had asked the chef about it at the time I was writing it up and he’s just told me it is a typo in the book – but does say they always add fish sauce to taste. Don’t know too many people who could find 200ml in this recipe to their taste! I’ve amended the recipe.

  3. Carolyn Jung

    Curry plus pork belly? What’s not to like? A perfect meal for a wintery day.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Perfect for winter nights! But also pretty good on sultry evenings too, like tonight’s here in Siem Reap. So warm today. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. The Squishy Monster

    What wonderful spices! I will have to try this soon =)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Our kitchen smells of them – it’s heavenly! Do let us know if you try it – would love to see a pic :) Thanks for visiting!

  5. Will

    This looks amazing, I never bothered to sear the meat when I was cooking curries before, but I think it definitely brings a better flavor out of the pork.
    Will

    1. Terence Carter

      Hi Will, for this particular one for sure, it really does. It wouldn’t work for chicken, but beef ribs etc, would certainly benefit from a little pre sear. One of my favourite Massaman curries in Bangkok was a restaurant that marinated lamb in the curry paste overnight and seared it to just pink before adding it to the curry. Definitely not traditional, but a delicious take on an an old recipe.
      Cheers,
      T

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