I love curry dishes. SOOO very much. Especially when they contain coconut milk and chicken. It’s one of my all-time favorite combinations. I first fell in love with this tantalizing culinary delight at a small restaurant out here in Buffalo called Star of India. I was hesitant to try it but I have no idea why because I was instantly hooked. Fast-forward 10 years and nothing about that has changed. I don’t eat it as often as I would like but now that I’m learning to cook it, hopefully that will change. That was an Indian curry dish as opposed to the one outlined in this post which is considered a Thai curry.
If you remember back to my Chicken Kafta Masala post, you will note that that is basically a curry as well, even though it goes by the name “masala”. It all gets a bit confusing when you ponder the differences bewtween a masala and a curry. I am FAR from an expert but from what I’ve read a masala is what is added to a curry (considering curry as the overall stew or dish) to give it flavor. According to WiKi, “Curry is the gravy which is eaten with bread. Masala, on the other hand, is the mixture of spices which is used to make the curry. For example, Tandoori Chicken Masala is added to make Chicken Tikka Masala (the curry). Masala is a mixture of spices finely ground together, which gives curry its taste.” Sometimes dishes are called a “curry” or a “masala” but they are very similar types of dishes, although the flavors can vary quite a bit depending on what spices, herbs, etc. are added.
Another important note is that an Indian curry and a Thai curry start off with difference bases. The focus of a Thai curry, like the one in this post, is more on the herbs and fresh ingredients. They start with a base of lemongrass, chilies and a handful of other flavorful herbs and spices while Indian curries begin with a “heartier” base of things like onion. Thai curries also tend to be thinner and more soup-like, while Indian curries are typically “chunkier”. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. I like both quite a bit and would be hard-pressed to “pick a side” so I won’t!
I do know that this red curry is delicious. I was inspired to make it by a recent dining experience at another Buffalo restaurant called Sun Burmese and Thai Cuisine. My dish arrived and I was at once nervous that it was going to be too spicy due to it’s vibrant red color. My first bite proved me wrong and I was impressed with the mildness of the dish. Don’t get me wrong, I like spicy food but in the case of curries I prefer for them to be on the mild side so that I can really appreciate all of the flavors at work in the dish. The recipe I made at home produced a far less vibrant looking sauce but still amazingly delicious, still with the right amount of spice.
The use of dried red chilies in this recipe I think could get me to the vibrant red of the Sun dish if that was something I was going to get hung up on. Today I’m not, but in theory if you soak the chilies after toasting, stemming and seeding them you would mellow out their flavor even more. This would allow you to increase the number of chilies you use in the curry without adding too much heat. This, I am sure, would also darken the pigment of the sauce. When I toasted my chilies and split them open I could at once smell the familiar smell of the dish at Sun so they must have used a greater number of chilies in their curry than I did. Next time I make this, which won’t be far off based on our inhalation of it this time, I might try this technique with the chilies. I am hesitant to mess with it too much because it was just so darn good. Troy was literally licking his plate like I haven’t seen him do in a while. That’s always the best compliment.
I got to use lemongrass for the first time making this which was exciting. I leanred that you only use the bottom 5-inches of the stalk and peel off the tough outer layer before splitting the stalk lengthwise and thinly slicing. The smell and taste of the fresh lemongrass was extremely fresh and vibrant. It was floral and citrus at once with a hint of ginger and yes, lemon. Awesome. It definitely is a contributing flavor in this dish.
Another ingredient I used for the first time making this was coconut palm sugar. OMG. This stuff is yummy! I am dreaming about dolloping it in oatmeal, greek yogurt and on pancakes… It is paste-like compared to brown sugar (which is was what was originally called for in the recipe from Cook’s I adapted the following from) and has a caramel-taste which is lovely. It is not as powerfully sweet as brown sugar. I bought a small tub of it at Wegman’s and inside was a plastic pouch of the sugar. I squeezed the sugar into the tub itself and am now storing it in the fridge. I added it to pancake batter this morning. Really, I couldn’t help it…
So yea, give this curry a try. I added zucchini to it, which wasn’t called for in the original recipe either but it was awesome. If I had thought to buy them I would’ve added some sugar snap peas as well. I went with chicken thighs instead of chicken breast (again deviated from the original recipe) because they are so tender and flavorful. That was a good life choice. The chicken in this dish is perfect. And shredded is the way to go instead of chopped because it really gets itself nicely coated with this craveable sauce. Serve it with some basmati or jasmine rice and some naan bread and you are good to go.
Like many Thai, Indian and Asian dishes, the prep-time for this meal is longer than the actually cooking time, especially for me since I was working with some new ingredients! You can make the curry paste the night before if you wish and then it would be a very quick meal to throw together on a busy weeknight. I can’t wait to have my leftovers for lunch today!
Red Thai Curry with Chicken (Gaeng Ped Gai)
(Adapted from “Red Thai Curry with Chicken” in The Best International Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated)
Ingredients for Curry Paste:
- 8 dried red chilies (Thai, japones or de arbol)
- 1/3 cup water
- 4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
- 2 stalks lemon grass, bottom 5 inches only, end trimmed, outer tough layer peeled off, and sliced thin
- 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 1 medium red jalapeno chili, seeds and ribs removed
- 2 tbsp. minced cilantro stems
- 2 tbsp. vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp. grated zest from 1 lime
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
Ingredients for Chicken and Sauce:
- 1 ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 tbsp. palm coconut sugar (may substitute light brown sugar)
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
- 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (full-fat or lite)
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into ¼-inch thick half-moons, optional
- ¼ lb. sugar snap peas, strings removed, optional
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves (or regular basil leaves), chiffonade
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, lightly chopped
- 2 tbsp. juice from 1 lime
- Basmati Rice to serve curry with, optional
Directions for the Curry Paste:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the center position. Cook the dried red chilies on a sheet pan in oven until fragrant and puffed, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven, allow chilies to cool for a few minutes, seed and stem them and then break into small pieces. Place in the bowl of a small food processor.
- Blend the chili pieces with the remaining curry paste ingredients to a fine paste, about 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed
Directions for the Chicken and Sauce:
- Cook the curry paste in a nonstick, 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often until the paste begins to sizzle and is very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the water, fish sauce and palm coconut sugar to combine
- Add the chicken, placing each thigh piece flat in the pan, and return to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, flip the chicken over, cover and cook until cooked through (temperature registers 160 degrees F with an instant-read thermometer), about 15 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the skillet and place on a plate to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred with two-forks (or your hands) into bite-sized pieces
- Meanwhile, stir the coconut milk into the skillet, return to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the coconut milk is fully incorporated (if will often be partially solid out of the can if using full-fat, allow to melt), about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the zucchini and sugar snap peas, if using, and allow to cook in the sauce until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. If not using veggies, cook the sauce for an additional 5 minutes on its own until thickened.
- Return the chicken to the skillet and cook until the chicken is warmed through and coated in the thickened sauce, about 2 minutes.
- Remove skillet from the heat and stir in the basil, cilantro and lime juice.
- Serve immediately, with Basmati Rice if desired.