We celebrated my son's sixth birthday this week. Normally we just have a small family affair, but this year we did a big party with friends. He had a great time and I'm so glad, but I was so consumed with party planning that I've done nothing about getting ready for Thanksgiving. No planning, no shopping, no preparation whatsoever. It's a good thing they'll only be six of us this year.
Before I get knee deep into all the Thanksgiving preparations I thought I'd take a minute to change gears and make something a little different. I've had a jar of red curry paste in my pantry for the better part of a year now. I've really been wanting to use it and was so happy when I spotted this recipe for Red Chicken Curry. Better yet, I had all the ingredients on hand. Love it when that happens.
This is a simple curry dish with very few ingredients and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Let me just go ahead and say that the aromas while this cooked were so beautifully fragrant. Cubes of chicken are cooked in wonderfully fragrant coconut milk until tender. The scent immediately grabbed my attention. I knew that I was going to love this dish. Next, I went ahead and (rather innocently I might add) stir-fried a few tablespoons of the thick coconut cream along with several tablespoons of the red curry paste. Once those two ingredients hit the pan I eagerly started to anticipate eating this meal. What a beautiful bouquet of aromas.
It was love at first bite. The chicken is very tender and the sauce is beautifully aromatic, creamy, complex, and yet delicate. There is a little bit of heat from the red curry paste, but it's beautifully balanced by the coconut milk. This is a dish that feels comforting and satisfying in so many ways. Madhur Jaffrey hails this curry as the very best of the Thai curries and I can understand why. If you're looking for something a little bit different please give this a try.
Red Chicken Curry
(Kaeng Pet Kai)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Step-by-Step Cooking
1-1/4 cups coconut milk
1-1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs (or breasts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons red curry paste
1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves*
15 to 20 fresh sweet basil leaves
Whether using fresh or canned coconut milk, let stand until the cream rises to the top, then skim off 4 tablespoons of the thick cream and set it aside for use later. Stir the rest of the milk to mix.
Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch cubes. Pour the thin coconut milk into a medium frying pan. Sprinkle in the salt. Now put in the chicken pieces and bring the milk to a boil. Simmer on a medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes (mine took only 12-15) until the chicken is just cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat the oil and reserved coconut cream in a heavy wok or wide heavy pan until bubbling. Add the curry paste and stir-fry on medium-high heat until the oil separates and the paste is lightly browned. Lower the heat and stir in the fish sauce (or soy sauce) and sugar.
Add the chicken, together with its cooking liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer over a low heat for 1 minute. (The curry can be prepared to this stage several hours ahead of time.)
When you are ready to serve, remove the central vein from kaffir lime leaves, then cut the leaves crosswise into very fine strips. Reheat the curry if necessary. *If fresh kaffir lime leaves are not available, use dried ones, pre-soaking them in a little water for 30 minutes . Alternatively, you could use 2 teaspoons finely shredded lime or lemon zest.
Put the hot curry into a serving dish. Scatter the basil leaves over the chicken and, with the back of the spoon, submerge them slightly in the sauce. Scatter the kaffir lime leaves over the top.
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