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:
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.
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.