For January’s Bon Appétit recipe test, we were drawn in by two offerings in the “Fast, Easy, Fresh” section of the magazine. It came down to the Thai Chicken Curry and the Flounder Poached in Fennel-Tomato Sauce. Laura was very tempted to start tackling her fish cooking resolution with the flounder, but was a little scared. Jessica sensed her hesitation and encouraged the curry choice. The result was a flavorful, veggie-packed dinner we were both happy to eat again as leftovers.
Laura’s Take: First and foremost, yellow curry paste is not something readily available in northwest D.C. Admittedly, my Whole Foods has the maddening habit of running out of very basic things like onions and table salt, but even the well-stocked Safeway down the street didn’t sell any such thing as yellow curry paste, only red and green. My friend Rachel couldn’t find it in her suburban Maryland grocery store, either (nor could Dinner a Love Story find it in its Hometown, USA). Rachel used green curry paste instead of yellow and was disappointed in the flavors. Turns out green curry probably isn’t bold enough to stand up to the other flavors in this dish. I was determined to follow this recipe to the letter, so Ed and I took a field trip to the Eden Center in Falls Church, which has an Asian market and tons of tasty-looking Asian restaurants. The main grocery store there had rows and rows of authentic ingredients, including curry pastes in every shade. I grabbed as many yellows as I could carry.
It’s not exactly true that I was determined to follow this recipe to the letter. I knew from the get-go that I would be using breasts instead of thighs, as Ed is not a fan of dark meat. If you are similarly inclined, be sure to shorten your chicken cooking time. I made the rookie mistake of letting my inch-thick cubes of chicken breast cook for more than 20 minutes in the simmering sauce. The meat was edible, but too dry. I also felt that the sauce was a little bit gritty from the spices in the paste and the bell peppers were too soft. The flavors were very promising, though, which gave me a hunch this dish had potential if I made a few small tweaks.
Luckily, I still had 38 ounces of curry paste in my larder (the recipe calls for only 4 ounces), so I whipped up another batch about a week later. I knocked it out of the park this time. First, I gave the paste a few grinds with a pestle to minimize the grit problem. I also tried to coax out more flavor by letting the paste cook for three or four minutes in oil by itself (recipe calls for one minute). For the chicken, I pounded breast cutlets until they were a quarter inch thick, cut them into squares, and tossed them into the simmering stew for just ten minutes. As for the bell peppers, I threw those in for the last five minutes. The results were notably better than the first run. The dish had tons of flavor, moist chicken, and crunchy peppers. We served it take-out style over Thai Jasmine rice. Ed absolutely adored this dish and has requested that it become part of our regular rotation. Seeing how I have enough yellow curry paste to last until the middle of the next decade, I’m happy to oblige.
Jessica’s Take: I totally expected to prove NYC/BK’s grocery store supremacy with this recipe, and find yellow curry on every shelf. Nope. I’m sure I could have found it, but searches on two different school nights spanning several grocery stores and several false starts with curry sauce meant I gave up and went for red. I’ve decided to believe this is a good thing–the person I was sharing dinner with is a big spicy food fan, and I think red curry paste is spicier than yellow (right?). And this way Laura and I got to experiment with the recipe a little more. I still want to try it with yellow (got any to spare, La?), and I’d love to know what she and Ed think of the red.
Laura had given me many of her tips before I got started–add the chicken in later than called for (I was going for white meat too), add the peppers even later than that–and I was ready to follow her lead…until I basically forgot. I was chatting and cooking, often my downfall, and just started following the recipe as written, throwing the chicken in with the potatoes. I didn’t find that this made the chicken too dry, but I will definitely try it Laura’s way next time. I did remember to reduce the peppers’ cooking time, and was glad I did. In looking back at the original instructions, it seems so odd to me that you’re meant to add the peppers ten minutes before the potatoes. For my money, you want that nice soft starch with a little crisp pepper contrast.
This is maybe a silly observation, but curry paste is kind of amazing. I had texted Laura as we planned for this meal about my worry that it wouldn’t be flavorful enough: it seemed so odd to me to have an ingredient list with no spices to measure, and no salt and pepper to add. But here’s the (totally and completely obvious) secret: all the spice and flavor and tasty taste you need really is in that paste. As soon as it hit the oil and started heating up my whole kitchen smelled amazing (and I may have gotten a little curry draft up my nose–worth it), so much so that I also let it cook for an extra minute or two, just to enjoy the smell. The sweetness of the carrots and peppers balances so well with the curry spice, and a sprinkle of cilantro and basil on top brighten everything up beautifully. I served the curry over couscous, which I definitely recommend.
Final Thoughts: This is a keeper. It’s a good choice for a weeknight, as there’s minimal clean-up (cutting board, a pan for rice, and a dutch oven are all you’ll use…unless you’re Laura and have to put everything in its own prep bowl). The leftovers are delicious and ample. The recipe says it serves 4, but if you serve it with rice, you can get 6 or more servings out of a batch.
You can find the recipe on the Bon‘s website or in the January 2013 issue of the magazine.