A Bit Off the Curry Trail


Curries of varying sorts are prevalent in the Southeast Asian kitchen, testament to the cultural influence India has had in the region.  However, not so much in Vietnam, which borrows more heavily from the Chinese, before adding its own unique twist.  Every once in a while, though, curry finds its way into Vietnam’s kitchens.

Today’s entry is one such exception, as Chicken Stir-Fried with Lemongrass and Chile takes its striking flavor not just from copious amounts of the grass (a whole stalk-worth!), but from the curry powder that gives the marinade intensity.  Indeed, it was precisely these big flavors that recommended the recipe when Andrea Nguyen featured it in her book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.

With such assertive tastes at play, cooks ought to find balance.  It’s the Asian way, after all.  Fortunately,  coconut milk smooths things out nicely, providing a sweet, silky, creamy blanket that takes the edge off the lemongrass and curry, while retaining and even accentuating their spirit.

Indeed, all these wonderful flavors make for a spectacularly fragrant sauce in which the chicken cooks.  Better yet, when the stir-fry is served with rice, as in today’s entry, the rich nectar soaks into the grains, imparting a flavor that complements the bird nicely.  In fact, the tasty rice is nearly as much a draw as is the “main” course.

Even more satisfying knowing the lemongrass was harvested from last summer’s exuberant crop:Lemongrass

The lemongrass gods have smiled upon us, no?

The Vietnamese have created, and inspired, one of the world’s foremost cuisines.  Largely, they’ve done so without curry, but when the powder does find its way into dishes, it plays a leading part.  In fact, this is one Vietnamese dish that Thai and Indonesian cuisine has influenced, proving the curry trail crosses the Mekong.

*****

Gà Xào Xả Ớt

(Chicken Stir-Fry with Lemongrass and Chile)

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar (*1)
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil (*2)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 Thai chiles, finely chopped (*3)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch squares
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 3 or 4 cilantro sprigs, chopped coarsely

In a large bowl combine the chicken, salt, sugar, curry powder and fish sauce.  Toss until chicken is well-coated, then leave at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, up to an hour, tossing occasionally.

Place a wok over a high flame, then pour in the oil.  When it shimmers, add the shallots, chiles and lemongrass and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.  Add the chicken and the bell pepper, continuing to stir constantly to ensure everything is well-combined.  After a minute of this,  let the chicken cook undisturbed for another two minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk and lower the flame to medium, so the sauce just simmers.  Cook thusly for eight minutes, until most of the sauce is absorbed.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with cilantro.

NOTES:

1 – Use palm sugar if you have it, else light brown sugar is a good substitute.

2 – As is my preference for East Asian cooking, peanut oil works best.

3 – If you can’t find Thai chiles, serrano chiles are a good replacent.

61 thoughts on “A Bit Off the Curry Trail

  1. I recently became a HUGE fan of curries. For some reason I had never tried Indian food until last year when they opened a small place close to my daughters’ dance school. Since her school is quite the commute I usually wait for her outside so I had a good to hours to myself and I was like.. FINALLY… nothing will get in the way now! I tried it and I was like.. OH WOW! now… I LOVE CURRY! and adding lemongrass and chile sounds like a great idea. Especially if the lemongrass comes from such a handsome plant! so you are ALSO a gifted gardener huh??? Not surprised at all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much obliged, Mar.

      I love your story too, about discovering curry! As you waited for your daughter, you could’ve done nothing, and remained bored and hungry. Yet you took action and opened unimagined happiness. Wise choice, allowing curry to change your life for the better.

      Though I’ve met quite a few curries in my day, and I’ve liked them all, I’m partial to those farther east. Those that enliven Thai, Khmer and Indonesian dishes. Vietnamese too sometimes, as you read. Curry was invented in India, but it was perfected in Southeast Asia’s kitchens.

      Thanks for the compliment on the lemongrass. That picture was taken last summer, obviously. The image remains, though, as a memory of what once was and, more important, as an inspiration for sunny days ahead. May is on its way!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While the very best thing you can do with a curry is to eat it, it can also be quite fun to discuss it with people. I’ve known people from the Caribbean islands who believe that curry is theirs alone simple because they believe they’ve learned to perfect it. Of course, a great many people here in America associate curry with curry powder and thus consider it a spice. I always thought this until some Indian friends informed me that curry was not a spice but a dish more along the lines of what we might think of as a “stew.” They used a lot of coconut milk in their dishes and it was just delicious by the way. They were from Calcutta and considered themselves Bengali. I mention this because I had other Indian friends from South India who refused to even consider the addition of coconut milk to a standard curry. They might allow it in specific dishes like Tikki Masala… well, I like to think I’ve taken benefit from all of this by being able to try a lot of different kinds of “curries” however they are interpreted to be!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great lesson, JoAnn – thanks for sharing what you’ve learned!

      I only can imagine which school of thought you appreciate more. Sorry, I’ve got to go with coconuts on this one.

      That’s probably why I have a personal preference for the curries developed in Thai kitchens and environs. There, coconut isn’t just an option, it’s ubiquitous. Seems the farther east you travel, the bigger a part coconuts play.

      Count me among those who thought of curry, originally at least, as being a spice, and relatively one-note at that. Then my culinary world opened, and I discovered the dazzling truth. You mentioned curries are so much more than a mere condiment, they’re a whole class of dishes. Have you ever wondered how many different types of curry have been developed on the subcontinent alone?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I forgot about Thai food. Love Thai curry and I’m very much in flavor… I mean favor… of adding the coconut milk! Just too delicious! Curries are a very important part of many cuisines… as is food itself of course. How can one truly define a region without talking about food. Philly cheesesteaks, New York style pizza (and all the fabulous bakeries, which I miss terribly)… thank you to Italy for all those wonderful Italian dishes… and France… the kings and queens of decadent… tacos, fried rice, tempura… one could go on and on!! So glad we have it all!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As am I. my friend!

        Actually, a while back, I despaired of gathering recipes sufficient to sustain the blog. Then along came COVID.

        Certainly, it’s difficult for the virus situation to claim any compensations, but one advantage to a year’s lockdown, is that quarantine has provided ample opportunity to scour magazines, cookbooks and the internet. Now, I’m supplied with ideas through spring of 2025. Those are just the OMG-I-Have-to-Make-This-!!!! ideas, too. All 200-some of them.

        I’m serious – just you watch!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 2025! I venture to say that you are perpared and set for delicious content of the future. I might have mentioned before that I used to collect cookbooks and had many foodie magazines as well. I used to love looking through them and getting ideas! So, I can relate.

        There have been some positives of the Covid crisis… sometimes it’s difficult to see them but they are there.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s true, my friend. COVID buried us in lemons. Well, the pitcher’s right here, along with a ton of glasses. With a seemingly unending supply of material, the stand will stay open to 2025 (at least). Longer, if you like the blend currently in development.

        Your earlier foodiness isn’t surprising, given the ease with which you take up conversations. If we generate enough enthusiasm, perhaps your heart will flutter again someday for creating. Someday. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get cooking…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Check the spice aisle. McCormick bottles at least two or three different varieties. These usually are to the side of where you’ll find the mass market spices, such as garlic powder and dried oregano. Instead, they’re among McCormick’s “gourmet” or “specialty” seasonings.

      Beyond that, there’s always our generation’s standby – Amazon!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. McCormick’s location in a neighboring state (in suburban Baltimore specifically) provides a glancing familiarity. “McCormick” is a family name, going back to its foundation around the turn of the (last) century. In fact, if memory serves, its CEO still is a McCormick.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Coconut milk, lemongrass, and curry powder, huh? Interesting mix. I don’t believe I’ve ever actually had coconut milk… but with “sweet, silky, creamy” for epithets, I suspect it could well be my next favorite thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely Rachel, that’s my hunch too.

      Still, let’s lift the chilly fog that fell this morning with suspicion and speculation. Time to know for sure. Partake of the tropics and bask in coconut milk’s warm glow.

      In fact, “warming” is the word of the day. The milk’s satiny sweetness will soothe first your palate, then the rest of you. You’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good decision, Rachel!

        If you’ll accept advice from one who’s been there, first try a spoonful, straight-up. If you love it, which I absolutely 100% guarantee, stir a little into tomato soup. I don’t know, maybe two tablespoons for an average bowl, three if you really enjoy tomato soup. You’ll REALLY enjoy it after that.

        From there, there are plenty of ideas here on the site, and infinitely more on the web beyond. We’re here to make your journey a pleasant one. 🥥

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yes, Rachel. It’s quite the combination, really, as the milk’s sweetness enrobes the tomatoes’ bite. Plus, a little extra bit of creaminess never hurt anything. Reminds me, actually, of a Thai Tomato Soup I made once, long before I started blogging!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, Rache, when you consider the tomato was lost in the Andes before the Spanish introduced it to the broader world in the 16th century, there wasn’t always a Thai tomato soup. However, in the centuries since, people in Thailand used the discovery to their advantage.

        Sure, very broadly speaking, the Thai version is somewhat like what you’d find in the can Andy Warhol drew, in the same way a wagyu filet mignon is similar to a Whopper. Hey, coconut milk makes the difference. Along with the ginger (or, better still, the galangal) and the Thai Basil.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That sounds eerily close to self-deprecation, Keith. Perhaps that’s my own turn of mind playing tricks on me… But I’ll point out that there’s a difference between having humor and being a joke.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. A difference I often fail to negotiate, sadly.

        Oh Rachel, you have no monopoly on self-deprecation. Consider where I started – where you are now, and then some. …and then a whole lot, truth be told.

        That’s why I think we understand each other so well – because in you I recognize many of the same things that once bestirred me. Still do, at some level.

        I also saw my way out from…there, and I’m glad to let you borrow the guidebook.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Sadly indeed. I may not have a monopoly on self-deprecation — yet — but I would very much like to if it would spare others from it. You in particular, I think, have come too far to not go further. So I’ll be happy to read the maps of roads you’ve traveled — so long as you keep walking. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with self-deprecation, Rachel. It shows a healthy lack of taking oneself too seriously. It signifies a mature understanding of the whole picture – the good and the bad – that gives each of us individual worth.

        Now, self-negation is another story. If there’s nothing but a steady stream of doubts and criticisms directed inward, there’s a problem.

        For what it’s worth, Rachel, I count you among the former group (the self-deprecators) and not the latter (the self-negaters). Oh, absolutely. You have too balanced a sense of your own writing talents, and too much curiousness about (and inclination to try) new things in the kitchen, for you to veer into the other camp.

        Self-deprecation doesn’t mean you hate yourself. On the contrary it’s your tacit observation that, “Still, despite that, I remain pretty good at….”

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I see what you mean. Perceptive of you to see the difference. You may be wrong about which camp I belong to, though. I’m a mercenary: beholden to neither, but taking up with one or the other depending on my inclination, and the pay.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Interesting way of putting it, Rachel.

        Naturally, though, anyone who’d pay you to be self-negating deserves to lose every last penny of money he’s wasting. To be commissioned for a task, and to be paid well to complete it, involves enough of an ego-boost to make auto-denial impossible from the get-go. Still, I’m sure you’re not all averse to making a fool that much poorer.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Clever way to summarize it, Rachel! Fitting, isn’t it, you’d “reward” the pyrite with your own faked performance?

        Let the fool take a front-row seat in return for his bright shiny things. You’ll tell him you’re through with yourself, and you’ll moan about hope being gone, Meanwhile, those of us who know you, also see your lips upturn slightly beneath the mask, betraying the occasional grin.

        Why not? Life’s tides carry you as they do everyone. When they take you past dark, fathomless depths, we’ll talk about it. Likewise, when they wash you up on a tropical paradise, we also will discuss. Plus you’re not drifting; you’re planning your raft, complete with sail, rudder and emergency provisions of chocolate.

        We’ll help you, and we just ask the same in return.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Perfect! Now, if you’d just sign here….and here…and initial there. That should do it.

        Much as your dining on board, before rescue, will focus on seafood – including lobster, at last! – we still will need something to whip up some Devil’s Food Cake, Blackout Cupcakes,, Chocolate Mousse and, of course, Death by Chocolate. While we’re a-surf, we might as well stop by Tahiti too, for some first-class vanilla and coconuts. After all, man (and woman) doesn’t live on chocolate alone.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Nelson Poindexter, though nobody’s heard from him since he got lost in the Hershey’s plant.

        Meanwhile, all that chocolate will give your excursion a nice buzz. To the point you just might wave off the first three or four rescue ships you encounter, because you’re “not ready yet.”

        Liked by 1 person

      13. Nope, Captain. Sorry. Radio the next ship, would you, to stop by for me?

        I mean, can’t you smell what’s in the oven right now? Sachertorte! Don’t you agree this is a dash-inconvenient time to be rescued?

        Naturally, we equipped your life raft with a full kitchen, complete with a well-stocked pantry. Dining room table, linens, and fine china, too. Just the necessities, you understand.

        Liked by 1 person

      14. That’s awfully generous of you, but the pantry onboard holds only so much. Definitely sufficient to keep you fed exquisitely for months, but cross wakes with a cruise ship, and the storeroom could be empty in just one evening.

        That’s why, sometimes, you just need to take evasive action.

        Liked by 1 person

      15. Exactly.

        Sure, being rescued would be swell, but only after the larder dwindles to two or three days’-worth of Barry Callebaut, Godiva or Valrhona.

        Better yet, wait until all that’s left is that stuff you found at Dollar General (“That’s odd. I didn’t think there were three “T”s in “chocolate”).

        This way, you can reward the crew’s gallantry by throwing open the pantry doors while you enjoy dinner at the Captain’s table. “Here you go, boys. Um…enjoy?”

        Liked by 1 person

      16. Ha! Good strategy!

        Naturally, you’ll try the honied words first. If they’re not up to the task (and they nearly always are), gunpowder will do your talking for you. Fortunately, the Dollar General…chocolate (so-described) is much more useful as an explosive that it is as an “edible.”

        Hey, the stuff runs five cents per ton. What do you expect? God save those ornery souls who don’t consider the lessons you learned as part of Rosy’s crew!

        Liked by 1 person

      17. If it’s any good, Rachel, I can assure you it won’t have a chance to melt.

        Oh, by the way, I took advantage of Amazon Prime Day, and bought some really good cocoa powder (among many, many other things). It arrived today! Thus, I foretell these pages will drip soon with something impossibly decadent and chocolatey.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Your mother-in-law is wise, Angela. After all, she raised a son who chose you, didn’t she?

      Then there’s the rice. Much to be said for her priorities, obviously.

      The recipe does speak eloquently of fusion cuisine’s promise, throwing Chinese and Indian ideas in a pot and giving them a good Vietnamese stir. Being where the Spice Road starts also grants the Indochinese familiarity with a stunning array of tastes and textures. An advantage they drew when creating this dish.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Keith, where do you always come up with such lovely words? You are one hell of a generous guy, I promise. And you are of course right about the spice road. No word of yours is disconnected to the story, a skill for sure.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh my, Angela, gorgeous compliment. Thank you so much!

        You figure, my friend, we (humans) have been perfecting countless dishes, and making unnumbered happy discoveries. for thousands of years now. How could such a bountiful endeavor inspire anything other than a fervent enthusiasm?

        In turn, may that benevolence enrobe us all. We’ll take the recipes and the conversations we start here, and we’ll release them to exuberance, One day, perhaps, our descendants will recognize the early 21st century as being the Golden Age of Cooking. Not all pinnacles have passed – some rise as we speak (type)!

        Liked by 1 person

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