If you have ever questioned or just not understood the importance of aroma in food, this dish will be your moment of epiphany.
If you ever wondered why some people react to smells and tastes as if someone was whispering wanton words in their ear, you’ll understand when you make and eat this dish.
Thai food is deeply sensual and nothing captures it better, in my opinion, than this quintessential Thai dish: green curry plus [fill in the blank].
If you’re thinking “I don’t like curry” or “I don’t like Indian food” or “I don’t like spicy food,” keep reading. The use of the word “curry” only has parallels with the country on the other other side of the Indian ocean insofar as they’re both “spice mixtures.” What’s in these spice mixtures is not at all the same so forget the name and just try it. The other big difference between Indian and Thai curries is that Thai curry comes in a paste form that includes yellow, red … and green curry pastes.
You’ll find a variety of dishes made with green curry on any Thai menu, so it doesn’t really matter what you put in the dish, but in this combination I present here, I have found something that warms my cockles through and through and which makes me serenely happy. However, this dish can be made with anything from pork to tofu to fish to chicken to all of the above. If you don’t like fish or shrimp, omit it and put in extra chicken. Don’t like pineapple? Put in baby corn and a bit more honey. Before you know it, you’ll be a green-curry-whiz-making-machine with students lined up down the block begging to lick your pans (trust me — it’s that good … just scroll to the bottom of this recipe to see the proof).
What makes this an even better dish is that you can go from “Hmmm? What should I make for dinner?” to “OMG” in less than an hour … that’s assuming you have the ingredients in your house. However, once you make this first time, I dare you not to keep your pantry properly stocked to make this at any time and any season. In terms of cooking tips, here’s a few. The only semi-exotic things you might not keep fresh in your fridge/pantry are the Kaffir lime leaves and the lemongrass — however, you can substitute lime and lemon peel/zest for either … or, you can do what I recently did and buy frozen lime leaves and portion them up so you always have some on hand in your own freezer. For about $2, I got enough lime leaves to last me a year … which I only happened upon because my grocer was out of fresh leaves (god forbid) but kindly told me that he had frozen. Fact is, they worked perfectly. It’s worth noting you can also freeze the leftover green curry paste you don’t use (which has a short shelf life once opened) and simply pull it out when you need it as well.
I highly highly recommend you also use Thai basil (vs. Italian basil) because the flavours are certainly different and make a difference in taste (Thai basil — aka “holy basil” — has a purple stem, smaller more angular leaves, and is stronger in flavour, a bit more ‘spicy’: overall, it’s complex and special). Fresh pineapple is better than canned pineapple, but in a pinch you can substitute, just be aware that the the canned will be much higher in water/syrup, sweeter, and softer.
Finally, choose your coconut milk very carefully. “Coconut milk” is not all created equally — far from it. Here are two high quality products, but even they aren’t equal. What to look for? FIrst, make sure water is either not an ingredient or is at the end of the list. Second, avoid added things like guar gum and carrageen: while both are natural ingredients, they’re only being added to make the milk thicker … which is a way to hide the fact you’re getting more water and less coconut. Beyond the ingredient list, however, the best way I’ve been able to discern quality on these cans is to look at the calorie count. The secret: more calories means more coconut fat which means more coconut and coconut flavour. Simple. And before you run screaming from this blog thinking I’m trying to kill you, do some research yourself about the healthy properties of real coconut and coconut fat. Not only is it not bad, it’s actually good.
What makes this dish sing? Well, you can apply all the substitutions I describe and still make a very good dish … or you can go after the right ingredients, the freshest ingredients, and the best quality ingredients, and you’ll see this dish quickly become incredible. That … and the fact that in an experiment last year, I added a few tablespoons of concentrated “creamed coconut” (which comes as a hard block or frozen) and this dish changed from something that had coconut milk in it, into “coconut shrimp.”
When it’s all said and done, this is a perfect dish because it is comforting, sensuous, healthy, and damn easy to make … and any dish that quite honestly has your dinner guests licking the bowl has to be a good thing.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Thai Green Curry Chicken with Coconut Shrimp
- 2 tablespoons avocado or peanut oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup of mild pepper (e.g. Shishito or red bell), thinly julienned
- 2-3 medium-sized chicken breasts, sliced in half and then on bias into strips
- 1 lb (450g) uncooked shrimp, peeled/deveined but tail on
→ frozen shrimp are fine, just make sure they’re thawed and minimally 30/lb
- 3 tablespoons ginger root, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, white part plus an inch, sliced in half
- 8 medium-sized Kaffir lime leaves (fresh or frozen)
→ if unable to find lime leaves, substitute zest of one lime, finely grated
- 1 cup of fresh pineapple, cut into ‘cubes’
- 1/2 cup of Thai basil, chopped chiffonade (plus extra for garnish)
→ Keep basil stems
- 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
- 28 ounces (2 cans) high-quaity Thai coconut milk (see Tips above)
- 2 ounces (55g) creamed coconut
- 1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste, depending on taste and how hot you want
- 1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup (to taste)
Optional: Serve over steamed Jasmine rice.
- Prepare your shrimp — if they need preparing. If using frozen shrimp, defrost in cold water for 30 minutes or in your fridge overnight. If using fresh, peel and devein while leaving tails on for flavour and presentation.
- Complete all the rest of your prep following directions in Ingredients above and set aside. When preparing lemongrass, remove top from 1-inch above the white and discard but keep the ‘tough’ tail attached so that the stalk doesn’t totally come undone. Slice the the stalk in half lengthwise and then slice each length in half (see below). Also, keep the basil stems for extra flavour.
- Wash and pat dry chick breasts and, at the thickest end, slice the flat chicken in half to ensure evenness, and then slice on the bias to create 1/2-inch (1-cm) strips.
- Optional: If serving with rice, put rice on to cook now following instructions as most white rices will be done, from beginning to end, in under 30 minutes and will keep warm much longer.
- Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan (or wok) over medium heat and add tasteless oil with a high smoke point (e.g. avocado or peanut oil). Add onions and fry for 5 minutes until slightly golden.
Then add the julienned peppers and continue to stir-fry for 2 more minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high and add chicken — stir-fry for about 5 minutes more until it loses its pinkness and starts to brown.
→ Add more oil if necessary to prevent chicken from sticking.
- Make sure shrimp are well drained and then add them to the pan and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
- Add garlic and ginger and cook another 2 minutes until pan becomes deeply aromatic and until shrimp becomes opaque. DON’T overcook.
- Add lime leaves, lemon grass, and basil stems to the pan and stir in.
Add some of the liquid of one can of coconut milk (not the thick coconut cream) and, if necessary, deglaze the pan. Then add the remaining coconut from both cans and the fish sauce.
Break up the coconut cream with a knife and add it to the sauce as well.
Add the pineapple and basil now and stir in.
Add a single tablespoon of green curry paste to the sauce now and taste for heat before adding extra in ¼-tablespoon increments.
→ BE CAREFUL — you can’t undo too much curry but you can always add more at any point.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste for sweetness and add agave/honey if necessary; taste for heat and add more curry if desired.
- Serve in bowls or plates with steamed Jasmine rice and garnish with fresh lime and sprigs of basil.
PS … and don’t be shy. Lick the bowl, pan, chopsticks or even the face of the person across from you. It’s that good. See?