If you’re looking for an easy dinner that’s full of flavor, this Thai curry stir fry recipe (kua kling) from Jitlada is just the thing. It’s super spicy, comes together in 15 minutes, and welcomes any ground meat you have in the fridge.
To the untrained eye, kua kling appears to be a tame dish. But don’t let this turmeric-tinted ground meat mixture fool you; one bite of this complex southern Thai dry curry will blow your taste buds away. Kua kling is spicy. Like, really spicy. Even in southern Thailand—where the spiciest foods in the world can be found—kua kling is sometimes ordered as a dare. It’s possible to tone down the spice, but it’s the heat that makes for an intensely balanced blend of sweet, spicy, and savory flavors.
Chef Sarintip Singsanong (a.k.a., chef Jazz) grew up in Amphur Pakpanag, in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Province of southern Thailand. After moving to Los Angeles, chef Jazz opened up Jitlada Original Southern Thai with her brother, chef Tui in 2006. Their Thai SELECT Certified restaurant was one of the first in America to serve authentic southern Thai food, and is likely the reason kua kling has become such a cult favorite among fans of Thai food in the states.
What Is Kua Kling & How Do You Make It?
“Kua kling is originally from the south where I’m from,” chef Jazz explains. “This dish is a staple in the kitchen in my household and we eat it almost every day. It is the dish that comforts my soul, although a lot of people may think it’s too spicy. We usually eat it with steamed jasmine rice and chilled cucumber to cool it down.”
Related Reading: The Best Rice Cookers of 2020
Kua is a southern word for stir fried, and kling means to stir until dried, so kua kling quite literally translates to a dry stir-fry. Like many other Thai stir-fry dishes, kua kling comes together fast, and can be on the plate just five minutes after it first hits the wok. The prep work can be done in advance, and chef Jazz recommends making up a homemade kua kling curry paste to have on hand for quick access. She advises it should last in the freezer for six months, or a week in the fridge.
Kanokwan Kua Kling Stir Fry Curry Paste, (3-Pack), $16 from Amazon
If you want to save even more time, try this store-bought paste.
Fresh herbs are what makes all the difference in chef Jazz’s kua kling paste, where she pounds the fresh ingredients like galangal and lemongrass together with a mortar and pestle before adding in fresh and dried chile peppers, turmeric, and shrimp paste. She saves the sliced makrut lime (also known as kaffir lime) skins as the final ingredient for the paste to ensure the consistency is just right before adding the bright fragrance of the citrus.
“Fresh, not frozen, lemongrass is always preferable of course,” she adds, “because the frozen ones lose the aromatic and the oil in the herb. At most Asian grocery stores, you will find fresh lemongrass in stalks, and you can cut the stalks into big pieces and smash them for the aroma of the oil into your dish, but for this curry paste you will need to slice them thin for pounding in the paste.”
Once the paste is prepared, it’s just a matter of choosing your protein, as any ground meat will do. “I prefer ground pork for this dish as it’s the most traditional way to eat,” says chef Jazz. “The fact that it’s ground meat means that the curry paste can mix in really well in every bite. At Jitlada, customers can also ask for other kinds of meat, shrimp, or fish as well, but the heat, the spiciness, and the full flavor of kua kling paste still remains.”
A quality Thai fish sauce and a carbon steel wok add the finishing touches to this spicy dish that’s best served on a bed of jasmine rice, but make sure to keep slices of cooled cucumber on hand to help offset the heat…or a cold beer!
Blue Carbon Steel Wok, $99 from Made In
Wok this way.
“This is one of the spiciest dishes in Thailand in my opinion,” chef Jazz admits. “If you love spicy, this is the dish you must try. But be prepared for the spice and the heat from it!”
Chef Jazz’s Kua Kling Recipe
If you want to save more time, make the paste up to six months ahead (the max amount of time Chef Jazz suggests storing it in the freezer; you can store it in the fridge for a week).
Kua Kling Paste
- ½ tablespoon galangal, julienned
- ½ tablespoon lemongrass, sliced
- 8 hot chiles
- 1 tablespoon dried chile
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 9 tablespoons turmeric powder
- ½ tablespoon shrimp paste
- 9 tablespoons kaffir lime skin, sliced
- First pound galangal and lemongrass in a mortar and pestle. Add fresh and dried chile pepper, turmeric, and shrimp paste, then pound thoroughly. Add kaffir lime leaves to the mortar and pound them until well mixed.
- Use right away, or store in an airtight container for up to one week in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer.
If you don’t have ground chicken, you can use ground turkey, pork, or beef, or even swap in crumbled tofu, TVP, or another plant-based ground meat—but the recipe does contain fish sauce and shrimp paste, so will not be vegan. You can also use quick-cooking seafood like shrimp for the protein.
- 250 grams minced chicken (or other protein; see note above)
- 1 ½ tablespoons kua kling paste
- 3 tablespoon of cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (as needed)
- 1 tablespoon kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 large red chile pepper, chopped
- Set the pan on high heat. When the pan is hot, add cooking oil and curry paste. Stir fry until well mixed, and when the scent of the curry paste becomes fragrant.
- Add minced chicken or other protein. Stir the chicken into the curry paste. When the ingredients are well mixed, add fish sauce. Stir well. Add kaffir lime leaves and red chile. Continue stirring until the chicken is cooked.
- Garnish with red bell peppers and kaffir lime leaves. Serve with vegetables (such as cucumbers, Thai eggplant, lettuce) and a side of steamed jasmine rice.
Header image courtesy of Thai Select USA