~ Creamy Coconut & Spicy Jamaican Curry Chicken ~
My favorite curry is the one I am eating at any given time. That said, the world is full of curries, they are all different, and, it's almost impossible to prepare an authentic curry outside of the region it's prepared in, within its country of origin. Why? Because outside of the United States, curry is not a store-bought dried spice blend or wet paste that produces a predictable end result. They're hand-made, mortar-and-pestle pulverized, dry or pasty concoctions of spices or herbs, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook -- on a daily basis.
"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as Africa and the Caribbean. Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made only of vegetables (vegetarian). Some curries cook quickly, others cook slowly, some are thick, some are thin, many are economical weeknight meals, while others are expensive and reserved for celebrations. Most curries are cooked in large shallow skillets or woks with lids, and, most curries are paired with some type of white rice.
Curries can be "wet" or "dry". What is common to wet curries is the use of cream, coconut milk or yogurt, and occasionally stock, to prepare the sauce ("kari" is the Indian word for "sauce"). They don't tend to be overly-thickened (gravylike), and, they aren't spicy hot (although they can be). This evolved out of necessity. Water was often scarce and/or its use in cooking had to be avoided, so, the "creamers" were used as a silky, rich, substitution for water, not as a thickener. Dry curries are cooked in very little liquid in sealed pots. Almost all of the liquid evaporates during the lengthy cooking process, leaving the ingredients heavily coated in the spice mixture.
There are kitchen decisions that only the cook can make, and, in the American kitchen, for the average American cook, convenience typically triumphs over authenticity. That said, it's not because the average American cook is lazy or uncreative. In my case, I purchase high-quality blends or pastes because, on any given day, all the ingredients necessary to make a dry blend or a wet paste are not always available at the same time. There's more. Some concoctions contain ten or more ingredients, which when mixed together, do not have a long shelf life, so, a portion of my hard work can end up being thrown away because I only make curry a few times a year.
Curry blends and pastes are not created equal. For example: When I make curry, sometimes I make Thai curry (which requires green, red or yellow paste), sometimes I make Indian curry (which relies on garam masala), and, sometimes I make Jamaican curry, which has its own flavor profile. Know the country of the curry you're preparing and don't substitute one type for another.
Jamaican-Style Curry Powder.
Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not. Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not. All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do. Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.
Tonight, creamy, spicy Jamaican curry is what I am craving:
This four-season recipe makes a good-sized quantity, twelve dinner-sized servings (or sixteen+ luncheon-sized servings). That sounds like a lot, but, leftovers reheat perfectly, so the little bit of extra slicing and dicing is worth the extra effort -- plus it freezes well too. There's more. Like many stews, it tastes even better the second day, so, it can be made ahead and served with freshly-steamed rice without compromise -- which is convenient if you're entertaining. That said, if you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half (and prepare it in a smaller skillet).
2 cups each: 1/2" diced green and red bell pepper
1-1 1/2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves + plus additional leaves for garnish
2 14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, well-drained
6 tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder
2 teaspoons garlic paste
2 teaspoons ginger paste
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon habanero powder (Note: Jamaicans typically use fresh Scotch Bonnet chilies for heat, which I don't always have access too, but, the slightly-citrusy flavor of incendiary habanero powder, which I keep on my spice rack, is a marvelous substitute.)
2 14-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or stirred prior to using
4 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet
4-5 cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 8-10 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note: I use an electric rice steamer, and, I steam the rice just before I start the cooking process.)
~Step 1. Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion and cilantro as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work. Using a large spoon, stir to combine. Dice the chicken as directed, placing it in the bowl with the vegetables as you work. Stir again. Add the diced tomatoes, curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and sea salt. Start until all ingredients are evenly coated. Add the coconut milk and stir again, to thoroughly combine. Set aside, 15-30 minutes, to give all the flavors a bit of time to marry and penetrate the chicken.
~ Step 2. Heat oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat. Add all of the curry mixture to pan, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Once simmering, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 10-12 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through (this will depend upon the size of the dice). Turn heat off, cover pan, and allow the curry to rest on the warm stovetop for 5-6 more minutes.
Spoon chicken curry over freshly-steamed rice:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)
Cook's Note: To learn about Thai curries, which rely on pastes and shouldn't be confused with Indian or Jamaican curries, read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries: Green, Red & Yellow ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)