I mention that this was how we cooked the dish in Chiang Mai for context. The truth is, there is more than one way to cook curry in Thailand, and chicken is not always the main protein in the dish. Aside from the usual labels (yellow, red or green curry depending on the spices used), curry in the north is not the same as curry in other parts of the country.
In this recipe, fresh herbs, spices and lime zest are ground to make the curry paste. Kaffir lime was used in the Chiang Mai cooking school. We have a kaffir lime tree in our garden so we have a steady supple of kaffir limes. If unavailable, use regular limes. The rest of the ingredients are ginger, galangal, garlic, shallots, cilantro, chilies and lemongrass.
If some of the herbs and spices are unavailable, I really suggest that you just get ready-to-use good quality Thai curry paste. You will get better flavors that way instead of cooking the dish with incomplete ingredients. The downside, of course, is that there’s no way to control the level of heat. Use less curry paste to dilute the heat and you dilute the flavors of the rest of the ingredients in the paste.
Whether you’re making the curry paste from scratch or using store-bought paste, you will need to saute it to release the flavors and allow those flavors to deepen. Sauteeing the curry paste also gives the dish a richer color.
When the solids separate from the oil, that means you’ve sauteed the curry paste sufficiently. Pour in coconut cream, allow the mixture to boil then add the chicken, and stir in palm sugar, fish sauce and a stick of cinnamon.
You will notice that there’s not enough liquid to cook the chicken in so you mix coconut milk with broth and pour the mixture into the pan. The rest is a matter of patience. Leave the chicken to cook in the rich sauce, tasting the sauce a few times during cooking and adjusting the seasonings, if needed.
Full recipe below
Thai chicken curry
- 2 stalks lemongrass - white portion only, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 shallots - peeled and quartered
- 4 cloves garlic - peeled
- 1 one-inch knob ginger - thinly sliced
- 1 one-inch knob galangal - thinly sliced
- 1 one-inch knob turmeric - thinly sliced
- 4 stalks cilantro - (reserved the top leaves for garnish)
- zest of one kaffir lime
- 2 bird's eye chilies - stems discarded
To complete the dish
- lime slices
- cilantro leaves
- Using a mortar and pestle (or a mini food processor), grind all the ingredients for the curry paste.
- Heat the cooking oil in a thick-bottomed pan.
- Add the curry paste and saute (medium heat, of course), stirring often, until the solids start to separate from the oil.
- Pour in the coconut cream and heat until bubbly.
- Dump the chicken into the pan and stir to coat each piece with the curry sauce.
- Stir in the palm sugar, a tablespoon of fish sauce and the cinnamon stick.
- Mix the coconut milk with the chicken broth and pour into the pan.
- When the sauce boils, set the heat to low, cover the pan and cook the chicken in the sauce for 30 to 40 minutes with occasional stirring, depending on how large the chicken pieces are.
- Twice or thrice during cooking, taste the sauce and add more fish sauce, as needed.
- Serve your Thai chicken curry topped with cilantro leaves and lime slices or wedges on the side.