Have you ever had Vietnamese chicken curry, or cà ri gà?
I broke out my Dutch oven again last week to make this a sublime dish of braised chicken in a mild curry with carrots and potatoes. Curry is a lesser-known part of Vietnamese cuisine than it is in Thai cuisine, but restaurants really should highlight it more in their menus. It’s hard not to love a dish that’s a natural amalgam of 3 distinct cultures. Curry traveled Vietnam from India. (Cà ri is Vietnamese for curry, and gà means chicken.) Over time, cooks in Vietnam adapted the dish to use local ingredients and to suit local palates, such as adding fish sauce, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaf. And of the long-standing French influence, a warm crusty baguette became the de facto side. (Though rice also works.)
Although not as fiery as Indian or Thai curries, cà ri gà is by no means bland. It’s aromatic with coconut milk, lemongrass, and kaffir lime, and the generous amount of fish sauce means that no table salt is needed. And you can improvise with this recipe. Use a bay leaf if you can’t find kaffir lime leaves. To kick up the heat, feel free to add some dried red chili flakes. You can also substitute sweet potatoes or taro for the potatoes.
What you really shouldn’t do, though, is hover over the stove in the last 10 minutes of cooking with your baguette, ripping off pieces and dipping them into the curry “just to taste”. Because one bite will turn into 20. And because the pieces will get larger and larger, until half that wonderful loaf is gone before you even put anything on the table. Trust me on this.
And you want to save your appetite for the finished thing, right?
Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Cà ri gà)
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, preferably with skin
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 can (about 14 ounces) coconut milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 carrot, peeled and cut into large bite-sized pieces
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite-sized pieces
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes (optional)
- 1 kaffir lime leaf or bay leaf
- Cilantro or Thai basil for garnish
- Remove the hard end and outer layer of the lemongrass stalk. Bruise the white ends of your stalks with the blunt edge of a large knife (it helps release the lemongrass “juices”), then thinly slice and mince. You should end up with about 1 tablespoon of minced lemongrass. Discard the green tops.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. This will help with searing.
- Heat a wok, Dutch oven, or deep skillet over high heat. Once the oil is hot, sear the chicken skin-side down for for about 2 to 3 minutes, until it is golden brown. Flip the chicken over and sear on the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, until the onions become translucent. Add the chicken back in. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, curry powder, red chili flakes, and kaffir lime leaf or bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the carrots and potatoes. Cook uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender and the liquid reduces by half.
- Transfer to a deep serving dish. Serve warm with crusty French bread or rice.