The one and only time I attempted to serve Indian take-out to the family, my oldest son ran from the table in tears. Actually tears would be an understatement but if I said “hysterics” he’d be mortified, so let’s just leave it at tears.
I’m not sure what sent him over the edge. It could have been the vibrant color of the Chicken Tikka Masala. Or possibly, the wafting aromas of cardamom, cumin and turmeric. Or maybe, it was just the fact that nothing was familiar. Regardless, rather than retreat back into the safe world of breaded chicken, buttered pasta and sliced cucumbers, I took this as a cue that my children needed greater exposure to exotic spices. More specifically, they needed to understand that spice did not necessarily equate to heat (or spicy food) but that spice meant flavor.
I embarked on a personal mission to broaden my children’s spice exposure. Sure, there would be some flavors that they didn’t love but wouldn’t there be more that they do? I decided to start with a Basic Chicken Curry and my strategy was to get my son to “buy in” to the curry concept before I set to the stove. I had him smell curry spice from the jar and admit that it “didn’t smell bad, but maybe a little strong.” I agreed not to go overboard and explained that the coconut milk would mellow out the flavor. “Trust me,” I said with more confidence that I actually felt.
There are millions–literally, millions–of curry recipes out there but I settled on the Coconut Chicken Curry from Keepers by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion. Since their recipes are meant to be served to families, by home cooks on any given weeknight, I figured that I was starting from a place of “yes.”
With that slight vote of confidence I started browning my chicken. Next came the sautéed onions with garlic and ginger. My daughter wandered over to my sauté pan wondering what smelled so good. Yes! I added the curry powder and my youngest came into the kitchen offering to set the table. Seriously, this is too good to be true.
I followed the recipe and tasted. You know that you are supposed to taste, right? My daughter tasted and I told her that it needed some sweetness. I begged her not to judge and made a minor adjustment. I tasted, adjusted, and tasted again. She tasted and we agreed, Voila!
My daughter is the easy one though, so I carefully dished basmati rice into three bowls and topped them with some chicken and a small amount of curry sauce. I offered up some toasted coconut to sprinkle on top and would have offered raisins if any of my kids liked them.
I held my breath…
“This is great!” they remarked in unison. Not really. It doesn’t actually happen that way around our dinner table but they all actually liked it and even asked for seconds. My toughest critic of all, the “table runner,” he was happily eating and chatting away. Eureka!
Well this is just the beginning. My spice shelves are over-flowing with smoked paprika, caraway, fenugreek, nutmeg, and more. Doors have opened and dare I say, angels are singing? Times, they are a changin’.
- 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces and patted dry
- sprinkle of kosher salt, plus 1 tsp
- 2 Tbls vegetable oil
- 1 Tbls unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbls minced peeled fresh ginger
- 2 Tbls mild curry powder
- One 14-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
- 1 Tbls brown sugar
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut, optional
- Steamed basmati rice
- Season chicken with salt. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned, flipping the pieces over a few times, about 6 -8 minutes total. Transfer the browned chicken pieces to a bowl.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter. Cook, swirling the pan until it's melted and golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the coconut milk and broth and stir to combine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Add the brown sugar, 1 tsp salt and browned chicken, along with any accumulated juices, and simmer, stirring occasionally until cooked through, about 5 minutes mo. Add the lime juice. Check the seasonings, adding a little more salt or sugar, if desired. Serve the curry over steamed rice.
- I added sriracha and another pinch of salt to the grown-up servings. I also roasted some grape tomatoes and quartered mushrooms and added them to the curry, along with a handful of arugula, for my own vegetarian version.