Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ca ri ga...Vietnamese chicken curry

And to think I used to have to go to a great Vietnamese restaurant to have something this good! If I ever needed a rationalization for this whole food obsession I'm afflicted with, being able to cook, then eat, something this complex and satisfying at home would be right up there near the top of the list. For me, one of the biggest rewards to this cooking learning curve I'll more than likely always be climbing is knowing I can take seemingly complicated recipes, from a country whose cooking has always been an unexplored part of my personal cooking world, look at them, break it down, and find it really isn't that difficult. And it can be REALLY delicious.

I was looking up recipes at epicurious because I wanted to whip up something new with chicken thighs, my favorite part of the bird. I find the chicken breast is so white bread and boring, the leg so fifth grade and KFC. The thigh though is meaty, flavorful, and meant for braising. Which is what this recipe basically is...a quick, easy, and very rewarding braise. I love playing with unfamiliar ingredients, and just knowing I now have a jar of Thai red chili paste in the fridge is exciting. Or that I'm banging on lemongrass stalks with the side my knife to bring out their flavor is pretty darn satisfying! We had this with a side of rice to help soak up all the delicious sauce, and as further reward there's leftovers for tonight!!
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Ca ri ga (Chicken curry with sweet potatoes)
adapted from epicurious:
The recipe and introductory text below are excerpted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham:
"True to the Vietnamese style of curry-making, this recipe is milder and lighter than Indian or Thai curries. You can make this with chicken stock, but the coconut milk adds body and enhances the overall flavor. Depending on my mood and the time of year, I sometimes serve this with a warmed baguette (a French influence) instead of steamed rice. Other times, I just make the curry with more broth and serve it with rice noodles. Like other curries, it's delicious the next day."

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Three Golden Bells brand
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 to 3 teaspoons ground chili paste (or dried chili flakes), or to taste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 lemongrass stalks, cut into 3-inch pieces and bruised with the flat side of a knife
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled, cut into 3 slices and bruised with the flat side of a knife
1 cup fresh chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled, cut on the diagonal into 2/3-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 yellow onion, cut into wedges
1 medium sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup Asian basil leaves, cut in half
8 sprigs cilantro, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 scallions, chopped

1. Combine 2 tablespoons of the curry powder and the salt in a bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat the meat evenly. Set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add the shallot, garlic, chili paste and the remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder, and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the chicken and cook until the edges of the pieces are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, ginger and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Add the carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, onion and sweet potato and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with Asian basil, cilantro and scallions, and serve.

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