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~ Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry~

IMG_3692Peanut butter?  Yep.  Pulverized wok-roasted peanuts are commonly served with or in Thai food, and:  Oh my Thai -- if you love Thai food, as I do, you want this recipe in your recipe box.  If you cook Thai food, as I do, even if only on an occasional basis, I'm guessing you already have everything you need in the Asian section of your pantry and refrigerator to make this meal without making a special trip to your local Asian market.  Is this an authentic Thai recipe?  Yes and no. Yes, in that the flavors are authentic Thai.  No, in that I took a few shortcuts (mostly in the form of a can of store-bought red curry paste and some Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter), but, nothing that a Thai cook would call me out on. Ok, perhaps a few Thai cooks would call me out, but, too bad. I'm an American gal in an American kitchen and I love Thai food.  To my Thai friends, be flattered.

IMG_3687In my food world, curries are comfort food.  Served steeping hot over or with freshly-steamed rice, they're perfect for the crisp, cold days of Fall and Winter.  Once the ingredients are prepped, which typically takes me about 30 minutes, Thai curries are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish (never a combination, but, one can be substituted for another, so feel free to do so), and they range in texture from very soupy to very thick and stewlike.  That said, they differ from other curries (like Indian and Jamaican), in that they rely upon a variety of freshly-made pulverized "wet" curry pastes rather than "dry" curry powders.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904d5f8970dNowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red chicken curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic Thai style too.

Two time-savers: canned curry paste & peanut butter:

IMG_36292 1/2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil

2  teaspoons curry powder

1  teaspoon powdered turmeric

1-1 1/2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Use 1 can for less spice, 1 1/2 cans for medium spice, and, 2 cans for a lot of spice.  I use 1 1/2 cans.)

1 1/2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained, 1 generous cup

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce (Note: Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

2  tablespoons Thai palm sugar or light brown sugar 

4  tablespoon crunchy-style peanut butter

3/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts, from 1 cup blanched, unsalted peanuts (Note: See Cook's Note at end of post.

4-6  fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves  (Note:  I keep fresh ones in my freezer and dried ones in my pantry at all times.)

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

6  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_3638 IMG_3640 IMG_3645~ Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of about 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the chicken and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_3652 IMG_3654 IMG_3658 IMG_3661~Step 2.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of sesame oil over 250° (medium-high on the stovetop).  Add the red curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a large nonstick spoon, work the wet curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.  Add chicken/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, scallions and straw mushrooms.  Stir until ingredients are evenly-coated in curry and spices.

Note:  I prefer to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this type of Thai curry dish for my family. Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + enough surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted).

IMG_3665 IMG_3670 IMG_3671 IMG_3684~Step 3.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until chicken is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm or light-brown sugar, peanut butter, kaffir lime leaves and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to simmer gently but steadily, about 220°-225° (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Turn heat off, cover skillet and allow to steep while steaming rice and mincing cilantro garnish. 

"When in Rome."  A bit of Thai-style mealtime etiquette:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1eb32ea970cWe've all heard the saying, "when in Rome, do as the Romans."  It means, when in a foreign country, or, being entertained by foreigners:  respect their customs.  In Thailand, meals are served family-style.  Each dish is served in its own vessel, and, after the food is on the table, everyone sits down together.  The food is passed and it's impolite to take too much of any one item at one time, but, it's very polite to go back for seconds or thirds.  There's more.  Because Thai food is bite-sized (sliced, diced, chopped, or pulverized), you will never find a knife on a Thai table.  For a proper Thai place setting:  a plate and/or bowl, a fork and a spoon, and, a water glass.

Portion some rice in a bowl, top generously w/chicken curry, then, garnish w/a sprinkling of peanuts & cilantro: 

IMG_3686Oh my Thai -- that very first Thai-licious forkful:

IMG_7164Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry:  Recipe yields 9-10 cups thick, hearty, stewlike curry/6-8 servings.  Leftovers freeze, thaw and reheat (in the microwave) really well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 16" electric skillet w/lid or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides on stovetop; large nonstick spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fbcf970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fc13970dCook's Note: To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop the nuts.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)


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