Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Milk

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Rarely do I cook a meal for myself when I'm eating alone.  Instead, I'll have a piece of cheese, a few olives, perhaps some leftovers, or maybe some frozen peas (I adore frozen peas and am known and ridiculed for bringing them to work for lunch).  I can't really be bothered with purposeful cooking when it is just me eating.

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Last weekend, Rob was in Boston and I was home alone.  I'd seen Melissa Clark's recipe for Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Coconut the day we returned from Southeast Asia.  It sounded delicious, but we were coming off of 19 days of curries, coconut milk, ginger, and so much rice.  We were craving salads, spaghetti, sandwiches, and cheese.  I won't even tell you where we ate our last meal in Thailand because it is so embarrassing... but we'd reached the point at which we just wanted something familiar (and, frankly, some air conditioning).

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The food really was one of the highlights of our trip.  Everything we ate was delicious (well, there was a Northern Thai speciality involving congealed chicken blood in a soup that we didn't love, but we probably would have enjoyed that, too, had the ingredients not been identified) and neither of us could get enough of the coconut and tamarind, the fresh dragon fruit and pineapple, the Vietnamese iced coffee (totally genius to put sweetened condensed milk in iced coffee), and the green papaya salad (my personal favorite).  And by last weekend, I was ready to try Melissa Clark's recipe, even if just for myself.

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This dish is delicious.  It would be perfect for a dinner party because it cooks in the oven for about 40 minutes, allowing you time to prep the rice and a simple salad to serve alongside.  The aromas of ginger, coconut, and red curry will waft through your kitchen... and when you toast the coconut and the mustard seeds to sprinkle on top the dish, your kitchen will smell even more amazing and the seeds will make an electric sound as they heat up.  Don't skip making the topping as the crispy texture and the coconut-mustard flavor really complements the curry and makes all the difference in the dish.  More importantly, don't skip making this - you won't be disappointed.

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Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Coconut

Recipe from Melissa Clark for the New York Times

Total Time = 1 hour 20 minutes

Yield = 4 servings 

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds of skin-on breasts, thighs and drumsticks or 1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
  • Black pepper, as needed
  • 2 tablespoons peanut, safflower or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallion
  • 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño or Serrano chiles, to taste, seeded and finely chopped (I used 1.5 jalapeño chiles)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons red curry paste (the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, but I wanted a strong curry flavor)
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can coconut milk (I used light)
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (1 pound), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or threads
  • 1 tablespoon black, brown or yellow mustard seeds (I could only find yellow at my grocery store)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Lime wedges

Preparation

1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

2.  Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil. Brown chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, until golden all over, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to a plate.

3.  Add a little oil to the Dutch oven and stir scallion, ginger, garlic and chiles into pot and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in curry paste and cook 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and sweet potatoes. Arrange chicken pieces on top of potatoes, placing breast meat on top. Pour in enough water to come halfway up the sides of chicken (about 1/2 cup). Bring to a boil. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, in a large dry skillet over medium heat, toast coconut flakes until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mustard seeds and toast until they begin to pop, 1 minute more.  Transfer to a bowl and season with a pinch of salt.

5.  Transfer chicken and sweet potatoes to a platter. Return Dutch oven to the stove and simmer over medium-high heat until cooking liquid has thickened to a sauce-like consistency, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour over chicken and potatoes. Sprinkle with the coconut and mustard seed mixture. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing and cilantro for a garnish.

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