To the uninitiated, “curry” means spicy, bold, loud flavors. Sure, there are plenty of curries out there that fit that bill, but saying all curries taste like that is like saying all soup tastes like tomatoes or that all tea is bitter and black. It simply isn’t true. “Curry” is simply an English term usually ascribed to a wide variety of Indian and South/Southeast Asian dishes and, to a lesser extent, to some Caribbean and South American foods.
This curry is a great gateway curry that I like to serve, specifically to people who say they don’t like curry without ever having tried it. Though the spice list seems potent, the coconut milk drastically tones things down, resulting in a mild yet warmly spiced chicken and broth just begging to be ladled over some jasmine rice. Use freshly ground spices if at all possible- it makes a world of a difference.
1 3.5 lb chicken
1 large sweet onion, cut in half from root to tip, peeled, and then sliced into thin half moons
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp allspice
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 fat cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 (14 0z.) cans coconut milk*
1-3 small dried Thai chiles (1 will be barely noticeable, so if your dinner crowd is heat-averse, go with that)
Fresh mint, cilantro, or Thai basil, for serving (optional)**
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large Dutch oven or other oven-safe, heavy lidded pot, melt enough coconut oil over medium high heat to lightly coat the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, then remove to a plate.
2. Turn the heat down to medium/ medium low and add the onion to the pot with a few healthy pinches of salt. Cook until golden, making sure not to brown the onions.
3. While the onions are cooking, mix the coriander, cumin, salt, turmeric, cinnamon, peppercorns, and allspice together in a small bowl. Once the onions are golden, add the ginger and garlic. Cook for an additional minute, then add the spice mixture and cook for another two minutes.
4. Add the chicken back to the pot, nestling it into the onions, then pour the coconut milk into the pot. Add the chiles, then use a flexible spatula to stir the onions a bit, incorporating the spices into the coconut milk, making sure to lift the chicken a bit and let some coconut milk run under it. Bring the pot to a simmer, cover, then place in the oven until the chicken is cooked through (roughly an hour). Remove from the oven and let stand for 20 minutes before serving.
*Use unsweetened coconut milk here, and don’t be tempted to use lite or fat free coconut milk. Try to find a brand that only lists coconut and water in the ingredients; anything with thickeners (guar gum, for example) isn’t worth using.
** Thai basil has a different flavor than its Italian counterpart. Don’t swap them in this recipe, or your final dish will taste very confused.