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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Spice of Life: Thai Green Curry Chicken

Thai Green Curry Chicken

Another thick blanket of snow covers the garden. Though Spring is here on the calendar, the teasing glimpses of bare muddy ground, covered the next day in white bring me back to reality. In truth, Spring in the north woods is more an idea than a season. It will be May before pots of Pansies will sit on the porch steps here; another 5 weeks or more to go and snow is not unheard of, even then. But the days are brighter now as the sun continues to climb higher into the sky. 

Chamomile in the herb garden

This is the time of year that I pour over seed catalogs and read through page after page on the Friends School Plant Sale website. This is the largest plant sale in the Midwest, held every Mother's Day weekend on the state fairgrounds in St. Paul. Looking over the online catalog, I swoon at descriptions of Vietnamese Coriander and Thai Basil, Lemon Verbena and Winter Savory. I can almost smell their heady fragrance as I warm my chilly fingers, curling them around a second cup of coffee. Living in a small northern Minnesota town where such flavors may as well come from the moon, the prospect of planting 'exotic' herbs in my own garden this spring is no small excitement. In the mean time, I look to my pantry for inspiration.

I rarely use prepared ingredients when I cook, but there are some things that are so foreign to this part of the world that the procurement of the fresh ingredients to make them would be a formidable task. Mae Ploy Thai Curry Paste is one of the items in my refrigerator that give me an instant burst of flavor and warmth whenever I reach for it.

In Minnesota there is a level of spiciness that I call “Minnesota Hot”. It is any degree of even the most minor of heat in food. Freshly ground Black Pepper falls into this category for some of our citizens. Therefore, if you are not a fan of hot food, be warned. Thai red and green curries tend to be very hot even to practiced tastes. If you like some degree of heat, add a little curry paste and taste it. As for any seasoning or spice, you can always add more but you cannot take away once it is in the dish. Alternately, try a different paste such as Panaeng curry paste, generally much milder than green curry, but the same rules apply. 

Though there are a half dozen or more different kinds of curry in Thai cuisine (red, yellow and panaeng curry are just a few examples) my favorite is the citrusy-sweet-hot flavor of green curry. When I need a burst of spice in my life to warm up both body and soul, this quick curry is one of my favorites. It can also be made in an astonishingly short amount of time.

Thai Green Curry Chicken
This is an Americanized version of a traditional Thai dish. This type of curry is usually served with rice. If you can find fresh Thai Basil, it is a marvelous addition.

1 can Coconut Milk
1 cup low sodium Chicken Stock
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp Mae Ploy brand Green Curry Paste
½ tsp Lemongrass puree, if desired
2 Chicken Thighs, skinned, boned and cut into bite size pieces
1 Carrot, split lengthwise and bias cut
Handful of Snow Peas, fresh or frozen
½ Red Pepper, julienne cut
½ Yellow Onion, julienne cut
1 cup Fresh or Frozen Peas
Kosher Salt, to taste

Jasmine Rice

If you are serving rice, start your rice cooking first. The curry cooks very quickly and will likely be finished before the rice. 1½ cups of water to ¾ cup of rice should be ample quantity for 4 people. If you dislike starchy rice, rinse the dry rice until the water runs clear before cooking.

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk and the chicken stock over medium high heat. Add the curry paste and lemongrass, if using, and stir well to dissolve into the liquid. If you are making this for the first time, start with a small amount of curry paste, taste the mixture and add more until the desired heat level is reached.

Add the chicken to the coconut milk mixture and simmer a few minutes. Add vegetables, hardest texture to softest, a few minutes apart as the curry simmers. Cook until vegetables are crisp-tender. Season with salt to taste. The entire cooking process will take only about 15 minutes. Serves 4.

Recipe Notes:
  • I have used generally available local organic vegetables in this curry along with homemade chicken stock. Play with the ingredients as you wish.
  • Cutting the vegetables into approximately equal thickness looks great and allows them to cook at a relatively even rate.
  • Jasmine Rice is my preference for this dish. It is beautifully fragrant and pairs well with the curry.
  • You can find Mae Ploy curry pastes online, or at Asian and specialty groceries.
  • Chicken thigh meat lends itself much more to spice than does breast meat. It also has a more pleasing texture in soups. Buy bone in thighs, trim them and add the bones to the 'future stock' container in your freezer. Not only will you save money per pound on the chicken, once you have enough bones, carrot, onion and celery trimmings you are ready to make stock – for free.

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