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FEATUE: COOKING LOCAL Coconut Chicken Yellow Curry

December 04, 2009


       Welcome back to the kitchen. This week I need something bright and spicy to cut through the dark winter blues. I find myself craving sunny, citrusy, and warm foods this time of year, and sometimes longing to be far away from the cold. So recently I ended up with some nice organic chicken thighs and a can of pineapple, wondering what to cook. I still have plenty of wonderful Indian yellow curry powder in the pantry, which is flavorful and complex. And I’ve got a bunch of veggies in the fridge. So with a can of coconut milk and some spices, we’ve got an awesome coconut chicken yellow curry in the works.
       I’m basing this recipe mostly on mouth memory and intuition, and not exactly following an Indian, Thai, or other specific recipe. I tried this recipe and loved how it came out, but there is always room for change and refinement. So feel free to make substitutions, fiddle with ratios, and otherwise make this curry your own.
       Loyal listeners might point out that we’ve done curries in the past. But I would respond that each curry is different, and it is fun to explore similar but distinctly different dishes. If you would like to incorporate local ingredients, look for garlic, onions, and carrots from a root cellar or local farmer with cold storage. And for vegetarians, try adding in tofu if you’d like or substitute potatoes and squash instead, which can also be hunted down locally all year.
But for my most recent version of this Pinapple Coconut Chicken Curry dish we will need:
-1 pound chicken thighs or other bone-in cut of mean, preferably skin-on
-One large onion, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
-1 or two carrots, sliced into ½” chunks
-1 green or red bell pepper
-1 stalk celery
-1/2 pound green peens, with stems snapped off
-1 can crushed pineapple, including juice
-1 can full fat coconut milk (don’t mess around with the flavorless light stuff)
-4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
-About 2-3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped very fine (I think it is hard to overdo the ginger and garlic in this recipe)
-The juice of 1/2 lime, plus a teaspoon of grated lime zest (the juice adds tartness, the zest has the essential oils and holds up well to the heat of cooking)
-1-2 tablespoons spicy yellow curry powder (I am still using the special village blend I brought back from South India in 2005. Thankfully customs didn’t ask about the kilo of powder bundled up into little packets! I recommend finding a finer blend than generic big box store curry powder. Try ordering online or finding a specialty spice shop for the really good stuff.)
-1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
-1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
-1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (these are the fruits of the cilantro plant)
-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or you could go for basil if you prefer that Thai curry style. It is also ok to leave both fresh herbs out)
-1 red chili pepper, chopped up fine (optional)
-a small splash of fish sauce (optional but awesome, adds a distinctively Asian flavor)
-a pinch of salt or a splash of soy sauce, to taste
-2 tablespoons cooking oil
       OK, let’s take out a nice, big, high walled frying pan or pot and get cooking! To start a proper curry, at least the Indian way, we will toast the chili pepper with whole seed spices in oil over a fairly high flame until they sputter and jump, popping open from the heat. Next, add in the chopped onion and continue to cook over a high heat. Clear a space in the onions and lay in your chicken pieces skin side down.
       We want to sear the chicken a bit, but we aren’t trying to cook it all the way through. So let it brown on each side, turning as needed. Once it has a nice crust all over, remove the chicken and onions and set aside.
Now pour in some of the fat from the can of coconut milk, and about 1/3 of the can of milk as well. Heat this over a medium heat and simmer the minced garlic and ginger. After that has cooked for a few minutes, stirring continually, add in the celery and carrots to sauté. Wait a little while before adding the peppers, because they won’t take as long to cook. And we will save the green beans until the very end, so they have some crunch when we serve the curry.
When the veggies have simmered for about 5 minutes and softened a bit, add back the chicken and onions and pour over the rest of the coconut milk. Now stir in the curry powder and turmeric, which might actually be easier before you add the chicken. Finally, add the can of crushed pineapple and the fish sauce, along with a little salt or soy sauce if needed. Oh, and I really like some extra tanginess to cut through the sweet, so I’ll add lime juice and some zest. If you think the pineapple is tart enough, trust your tongue.
Stir everything together. This looks bright and colorful and smells incredible! The liquid should almost comer over the chicken entirely. If it does not, feel free to add in some water to the pan. Bring the liquid up almost to a boil, then reduce it down to a low simmer. We are cooking chicken with the bone in, which will fall apart into succulent pieces if we cook it low and slow. So I’d recommend just forgetting the curry and letting it cook for an hour or so, or until everything is tender. Just turn over the chicken every 20 minutes or so.
About 10 minutes before you are ready to eat, remove the chicken from the curry. Add in the green beans so they get a chance to wilt. Also stir in the chopped cilantro. Now, using two forks, pull all the chicken meat off of the bones. Discard the bones, skin, and gristle. This step is optional, but it will make the curry much easier to eat and I like the presentation better. Add the meat back to the pot and stir.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that you should make a big batch of jasmine rice while the curry is simmering. I am a big fan of the rice maker. This cheap appliance makes perfect rice every time, and is surprisingly convenient.
Once the green beans are cooked just barely al dente, serve up heaping bowls of this sweet/spicy coconut chicken curry over rice. Add a bit more chopped cilantro on top for a colorful presentation, and a dollop of plain yogurt if you need to cut the heat of the dish.
Nice work everyone! This meal is an amalgamation of wonderful southeast Asian flavors. It is spicy, but also wonderfully creamy and sweet. It is definitely my American take on curry, but I think you’ll find it transports your tongue far away. I’d love to hear what recipes you’ve picked up on your travels. Email me at Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.



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