Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in recipes. I've got snippets of newspaper all over my desk, binders filled to bursting, and a computer littered with documents of copied-and-pasted recipes. I started this blog, in part (unromantically), as a way of cleaning up this mess, but every time I crumple up one more newspaper clipping after finishing a meal, there's another one to take its place. Maddening, I tell you.
Usually, I don't really mind - the more, the merrier! - but I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed this week. Too overwhelmed for resourceful cooking. Maybe it's the weather? The February doldrums? I don't know. But we have been eating pretty well anyway, so I'm not too fussed. Things will right themselves again. In the meantime: family recipes I know by heart and that Ben loves now, too, a delicious Mexican meal (in New York! I'm in heaven) with these lovely ladies, and an overdue birthday dinner that has me licking my chops in anticipation.
(And then there was Valentine's Day, where we celebrated that most awful of occasions - I refuse to call it a holiday - by eating popcorn at the movie theater where we watched what might possibly be the best German movie I've ever seen. Dessert was leftover pasta back at home. It was the perfect kind of night.)
But because I like to stay focused here and on message, I am here today to tell you about a meal I made over a week ago. Who knows why I've been dragging my feet. It's not like it was terrible - it was actually pretty good. But there were a few things wrong with the recipe and with each passing day I came to dread doing my write-up. Which is silly, really, because those things are so easily correctable. Besides, you'll get to cook with lovely things like kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass tied in a knot, which, if you're anything like me, will be part of the pleasure.
So, without further ado, last week I made Javanese Chicken Curry.
Remember when I made that shrimp in caramel that I really didn't like? Well, this recipe for Javanese Chicken Curry was from the same article - a review of three Asian cookbooks by Julia Moskin. The chicken curry came from the pages of James Oseland's new book, Cradle of Flavor, and sounded so completely alluring to me, what with those kaffir lime leaves and that ginger-shallot-chili paste and those chicken thighs (which are the best part of the chicken, I think).
It also seemed pretty easy. After all, you whirl together most of the ingredients in a food processor until a fragrant paste emerges, before you cook that for a bit and then add the chicken to brown and the coconut milk and aromatics to simmer. What could be less complicated than that?
There are just a few things to note. First of all, when you cook the spice paste in the pot, it absorbs all the oil. Then, when you go to lay down the chicken thighs for browning (which you should do in batches, lest you end up like me, with crowded thighs), the pot is almost dry. So, add more oil, otherwise you'll end up with blackened chicken skin and raw chicken meat.
Second of all, as far as I could tell, coconut and water mixed together and then simmered, even for close to an hour, doesn't really thicken. It reduces a bit and takes on the muddy color of the spice paste and the incredible fragrance of lime leaves and lemongrass and cinnamon, but it remains a thin liquid.
And third of all, since that lovely sauce doesn't really thicken, I didn't see the point in adding almost another cup of coconut milk to a dish that was already drowning in sauce (that sauce is good, for sure! Soak it up with rice, spoon it in for all I care. But you'll still have some leftover.). So I added just a spoonful or two to lighten the flavor and color a bit, and left it at that.
There, that was easy, wasn't it? Sometimes I think I'm a bit too excitable.
We ate our curry over plain white rice and it was lovely - warm and sweet with spices, the comforting coconut gravy lapping at the edges of the plate. If you're into that kind of thing, you could chop some cilantro to sprinkle on top and make your dinner look a little more attractive. But chances are that by the time you've made it to the dinner table, your home will be so entirely filled with the smells of good food, you won't even need to.
Javanese Chicken Curry
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 fresh red Holland or Fresno chili, stemmed and cut into chunks
6 shallots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 piece galangal, about 1½ inches long, peeled and roughly sliced (optional)
1 piece ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and roughly sliced
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 thick stalk lemon grass, stem end and brittle top cut off
2 pieces cinnamon stick
5 kaffir lime leaves
2½ to 3 pounds skin-on chicken legs, thighs or both (if possible, have thighs cut in half and knuckle cut off legs), patted dry
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1. In a small food processor, whirl coriander seeds until finely ground. Add chili, shallots, garlic, galangal and ginger and process to a smooth paste, adding a tablespoon or so of water if needed. (Ingredients can also be chopped finely, then pounded together in mortar and pestle.)
2. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. When oil is hot enough to gently sizzle a pinch of paste, add all the paste and cook, stirring often, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat as needed to prevent browning.
3. Using a heavy object like a glass measuring cup, smash lemon grass stalk, crushing lightly just until bendable. Tie in a knot, pulling gently on both ends. Add to pot with cinnamon and lime leaves. Cook 1 minute more, until cinnamon is fragrant.
4. Scrape paste to one side and add chicken to pot. Raise heat and brown chicken lightly on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Add 1 cup coconut milk, 1¼ cups water and salt, stirring well and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered 40 to 50 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thickened. Do not boil.
5. Add remaining coconut milk and heat through. Taste for salt. Let cool slightly and serve.