“Curry” is a generic word typically used to describe a tasty stew of meat and vegetable. But in fact, it is a blend of spices — cumin, coriander, turmeric, clove and cinnamon being the most common. There are as many varieties of curry as there are cuisines. Most people are familiar with Indian and Thai curries, and maybe can tell the difference between the two. Thai curries come in “shades of hot”, as I call it, but the heat factor is not necessarily accurate as it also depends a great deal on the labels. Red, yellow, green curries all refer to the type of pepper that is used in the mixture. Indian curries tend to be the most prolific in term of varieties, each region claiming its own special blend, with madras and masala being the most well-known. Panang-style curry is also gaining popularity in the US as I have seen it listed in a few restaurants. It is typically beef (or goat in Malaysia), and is quite hot. I can still remember sitting in a small neighborhood restaurant in Panang, eating a bowl of this tasty stew (more water, please), in between hiccups (I get them when the food is really spicy hot). By the way, water does not really work. You need to drink something hot (like hot tea) to remove the pepper oils.
Now that I’m older and a little less adventurous, I have developed a few favorites that I’ll go back to time and again. I still like Grandma’s Vietnamese Chicken Curry the best, although I still can’t quite duplicate it exactly the same. In addition to sweet potato, she used this small dense root vegetable (cassava? taro?) that adds a nice starchy texture to the stew. Regardless, the recipe below is quite tasty, and is pretty easy to make. Traditional recipe calls for chicken thighs, but you can use chicken breast to cut back on the calories. Because it simmers in the sauce for a while, the breast does not come out dry and chewy. In Vietnam, we eat this dish with sliced warm fluffy french bread. Try that or serve with steamed rice.
A note on the curry blend: We used to be able to get the 3 Golden Bells label, but I haven’t been able to find it in a while. The closest one I could find is the 4 Elephant brand. Whole Foods has several blends as well — I’m not as fond of them as the Asian ones. You can experiment with different types until you find one that you like. But stick with the yellow curry powder. And if you get overwhelmed by an Asian market, any madras curry will do.
This recipe makes a LOT of chicken curry — but we usually make a big batch and freeze for lunches. (I still love my Food Saver!) Cut the recipe by half for 4 servings.
3 pounds skinned chicken (bone-in for added flavor)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 large carrots, sliced diagonally (about an inch thick)
2 small onions, cut into wedges
1/2 cup or so curry powder
3 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lemongrass stalks (mostly white and pale green parts), cut into 3″ lengths and bruised
2″ piece of ginger, bruised, peeled and sliced thickly
4 cups of chicken stock (or Trader Joe’s sweet potato soup)
1 can of coconut milk
4 tbs of fish sauce (more or less to taste)
salt to taste
cilantro for garnish
Put the curry powder on a flat plate, and coat the chicken evenly on both sides. Use your fingertips to “massage” the curry powder into the chicken. Put aside for 30 minutes.
In a big skillet, add a tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, shallots, garlic and stir until fragrant — 10 seconds or so. Add the chicken and brown both sides. Add lemongrass and ginger. Pour on top the chicken stock (or sweet potato soup), and bring to a slow boil. Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the garnish), cover and simmer for a half hour. Discard lemongrass stalks before serving.
Ingredients I usually leave out are 3 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of red chile flakes. I figure it’s already hot and sweet enough, but add them to your taste.