What is Green Curry?
Green curry is a classic Thai curry (แกงเขียวหวานไก่ - gaeng kiew wan gai) that gets its name from the creamy green color of the sauce. The color predominantly comes from the use of green chilies in the curry paste, but green herbs such as kaffir limes, and Thai basil can also contribute to the verdant color. The curry paste is cooked together with a protein such as meat or fish, and vegetables with coconut milk to make for a mildly spicy curry that's usually served with rice.
Ingredients for Green Curry Chicken
Green Curry Paste
Green curry paste is a blend of chilies, spices, herbs and aromatic that gives the curry it's dominant flavor as well is its color. It's made by pounding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle until it forms a smooth paste. You can find it canned or jarred in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores, but if you have access to the fresh ingredients, I recommend making your own curry paste. The difference in taste is like the difference between fresh green beans and canned green beans, and although it does take a lot of effort, it can be made in large batches and frozen, so it's ready to use when you need it. You can check out my Green Curry Paste recipe for more details on how it's made.
Green curry gets its creamy flavor from coconut milk, but adding it too soon will cause the emulsion to break, and you'll end up with an oil slick on top of your curry. That's why I like to cook the protein in either water or stock until it's tender and then add the coconut milk towards the end. If you're using a protein without much flavor, using vegetable stock is a good way to add umami to the curry.
Traditional Green Curry recipes use a whole chicken that's chopped up, but I like using boneless skin-on chicken thighs because they strike a good balance between convenience (who has a cleaver to hack up a whole chicken?), and flavor. You can also use breast meat if you prefer, but breast meat does not have as much flavor as thigh meat, and it is easily dried out, so if you do decide to use breast meat, I recommend adding it to the curry after the vegetables.
You can also make this with just about any other meat or seafood, including pork, salmon, and shrimp. Each of these is going to have different cooking times, though, so be sure to add the protein at the appropriate time relative to the time it will take you to cook your vegetables.
If you want to make this vegan, you can substitute any plant-based protein, such as fried tofu, seitan, tempeh, or texturized vegetable protein. Because you're not going to get much flavor from the protein, I would recommend using vegetable stock instead of water. For the fish sauce, you can substitute white soy sauce, which has a similar color and gives the curry more umami than simply using salt.
There is no standard set of vegetables for an authentic green curry, and the vegetables that get added in Thailand depend on the region and season you're in. I've prepared this one using Thai green eggplants, bamboo shoots, baby corn, and red chili peppers, but there's a lot of room for improvisation here, and I've used vegetables ranging from pumpkin, to potatoes, to kohlrabi to cauliflower in my green curry in the past. One thing you'll want to think about though is how long the vegetables take to cook, adding them in order so that you don't end up with some of the vegetables overcooked and some of them undercooked.
How to make Green Curry
Once you have green curry paste, there isn't much involved in making green curry other than adding the ingredients into the pot by order of how long they take to cook.
I like to start by frying the curry paste in oil which helps release the flavors of the spices and herbs while caramelizing the aromatics. Then depending on the protein, I'm using I'll add it in, along with some water to cook it through until tender. Most western stews will have you brown meats before adding a liquid, but in the case of chicken, I find the meat tends to get tough if you brown it first, which is why I like to add it straight into the liquid.
As for the vegetables, they go in the order they take to cook. For this recipe, the eggplant takes about 10 minutes to cook through, and the rest of the veggies are not easily overcooked, so I add them in at the same time.
Finally, the coconut milk gets added in towards the end and allowed to cook just long enough for the flavors to meld together (about 10 minutes) once you've added the coconut milk, don't let the curry boil, or the fat can separate, leaving you with a pool of oil on top of your curry.
What to serve with Green Curry
I love serving this Green Curry Chicken with Riceberry. In addition to being loaded with nutrients and fiber, Riceberry has a purplish hue that makes for a stunning contrast to the green curry. You can read more about the benefits of Riceberry here.
If you're planning to do a whole Thai Feast, try serving this with some Larb Mu (Ground Pork Salad), Chicken Satay, and Green Papaya Salad. I also love this paired with a piquant yet refreshing smashed cucumber salad.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons green curry paste
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 5 kaffir lime leaves
- 550 grams boneless skin-on chicken thighs (cut into bite-size pieces)
- 200 grams Thai green eggplant (trimmed and quartered)
- 140 grams bamboo shoots (julienned)
- 80 grams baby corn
- 2 red chili peppers (or ¼ red bell pepper sliced)
- 1 ½ cups coconut milk
- 25 grams Thai basil (leaves picked from stems)
- Heat the vegetable oil in a pot over medium-high heat and fry the green curry paste until it's relatively dry and very fragrant. Keep it moving around the pot to ensure it doesn't burn.
- Add the water, fish sauce, coconut sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and chicken. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer until the chicken is almost tender (about 15 minutes).
- Add the eggplant, bamboo, baby corn, chili peppers, and coconut milk and cook until the eggplant is tender (about 10 minutes).
- Taste and adjust the fish sauce and coconut sugar to taste.
- Finish by adding the basil to the green curry just before serving.
I really like the fact of how you explained the dos and donts of adding a certain ingredient before or after. Good read!
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Sam, when cooking I find it's always helpful to have the context of why you do something which is why I have such detailed headnotes. I'm so glad to hear you found them helpful, thanks for stopping by to let me know!
Love the recipe Marc. The flavours of Thai curry pastes are amazing. My downfall with Thai food is I don't enjoy coconut milk at all which greatly limits my choices in a Thai place. Would cream be a possible substitute to approximate a green curry giving the awesome spice flavours without the inedible (to me) coconut milk?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi FoodJunkie, I'm going to assume that your aversion to coconut milk is the taste, and not the creaminess. Cream could work as a substitute, but it's a little richer than coconut milk so you may want to reduce the amount. The other option is to use raw cashew nuts pureed in water. I think this will get you closer to the plant-based richness of coconut milk and it even has the mild sweetness of coconut milk, without the coconut taste.
Thanks Marc. I appreciate the suggestions. Substitution is harder for ingredients you don't normally work with as you don't know precisely what you are trying to match. And it is the taste, I can eat it but I don't enjoy it - not even a little.
Marc Matsumoto says
Yea, I know exactly what you mean. I find cooking with cream can make things cloying rich, which is why I usually use regular milk instead of cream (even in cream sauces for pasta). You can check out my Butter Chicken recipe for how I use cashew nuts to add richness to that particular curry (https://norecipes.com/butter-chicken-recipe/) using cashew nuts and water.