There’s nothing innovative, or even creative about this curry, it was just a craving I had one afternoon for something very specific. I suppose most people would go out and buy themselves dinner at a Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant, but I had a pretty good idea about the flavors I was looking for and I had all the ingredients in my pantry already.
I’m not going to try to pin this chicken curry recipe onto a map anywhere, other than to say it was inspired by a rumbling somewhere just south-east of my tummy. Its only claim to authenticity was in its ability to cure my curry craving.
Loaded with umami and full of spices, but neither cloying nor overbearing, it’s a soul satisfying meal when paired with a mound of hot coconut rice. This is one of those dishes that comes together fairly quickly, and yet its ease of preparation belies the many layers of complex flavours constructed by the browned meat, caramelized aromatics, coconut milk, fish sauce and spices.
Going light on the coconut milk and using a lot of lemongrass gives this chicken curry a lightness that makes it perfect for the warmer weather we’ve been having in New York. If I’d had some, I probably would have garnished this with cilantro, but I didn’t, so I just sliced up some scallions to make the colours pop a bit more.
Chicken Curry Recipe
6 whole chicken thighs
5 cloves garlic grated into paste
1″ knob of ginger grated into paste
2 Tbs garam masala
3 medium onions sliced thin across the rings
1/2 stalk lemongrass cut into 3 pieces
1/2 can of coconut milk
1 C water
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2″ piece of cassia bark (aka saigon cinnamon)
1/2 star anise pod
cayenne pepper to taste
Heat a heavy bottomed pot that’s big enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer over medium high heat until it’s hot. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken skin-side down and let some fat render out of the skin. Continue frying undisturbed until the skin is brown and crispy. Flip the thighs over and brown the second side.
Transfer the chicken to a plate then quickly add the garlic, ginger and garam masala and stir to distribute in the oil. You want to fry it just long enough to caramelize the garlic and ginger, but not long enough to burn it. Since the garam masala is brown it’s a bit tricky to tell when it’s done, but I’ve found that the mixture gets sticky when the sugars in the garlic and ginger have caramelized. By this point this mixture will be very fragrant and it’s where this curry gets its base layer of flavor from.
Add the onions and lemongrass to the mixture and fry, stirring occasionally until it’s reduced to about 1/4 of its original volume and takes on a sticky texture (this could take as long as 40 minutes). The caramelized onions give the curry sweetness and depth. By cutting the onion thin, they caramelize faster and by cutting them against the grain (rings), the onions will dissolve into the sauce.
Add the remaining ingredients and return the chicken to the pot. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is very tender and falls off the bone.
Garnish with something green (such as cilantro or scallions) and serve with coconut milk rice.