Sometimes a recipe so good comes along that it threatens to blow everything else you've ever eaten clean out of the water. Melissa Clark's chicken curry is that recipe.
I don't even know what else to say! That's how good it is.
Okay, here's something: It is a measure of my wifely devotion that after I made it last week, I actually put some aside for my husband to have when he came home on Friday night. Forget being the sole caretaker of our child five days a week, 24 hours a day. Giving up a portion of this delicious-beyond-words curry was the real sacrifice.
Now, Melissa paired the recipe with a very convincing argument that, when in the mood for chicken, one should always buy a whole animal and break it down ourselves. And that's usually what I do. But the day I wanted to make this, I passed by a butcher at the market who happened to be selling whole chicken legs, and since I like dark meat best anyway, I decided to buy three of those and have the butcher cut them into two pieces each, drumstick and thigh.
What's important here is that you use bone-in chicken, between six and eight pieces of it. It's also important that you use a real Thai curry paste. I bought Mae Ploy and am currently taking suggestions on how to use the rest of it up, please and thank you very much.
For the curry, you make a wonderfully aromatic base, after browning the chicken pieces on both sides, with scallions and ginger and garlic and chiles (I used just one jalapeño and the curry nearly blew Max's head off, so proceed with caution if you want more) and curry paste. Then you chop in a couple sweet potatoes and put the browned chicken on top. In goes a little water and then, once the pot is boiling, you put the whole thing in the oven. Yay! I love recipes like that. Then I get to clean everything up and I don't have to worry about stirring or things boiling over or anything else.
Once the chicken is done, there are really only a few things left to do.
A. You must reduce the sauce until it's creamy and, er, sauce-like. (Removing the chicken and potatoes beforehand so they don't overcook and fall apart.)
B. You must be sure to toast coconut and mustard seeds and not let them burn. Please, whatever you do, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. (Forgive the yelling, people! It's just that this topping totally completes me and the dish!)
C. You must be sure to have a few wedges of lime around. You must! In a pinch, you may use lemon, I guess. But skip either and YOU MIGHT AS WELL SKIP THE ENTIRE RECIPE! (I'm sorry, I really am. But I'm kind of worked up about this right now?)
D. And you must have some cilantro on hand. (Even if you hate it, like me! You need it here. Promise me?)
Ooh, now's the best part. Pour the reduced sauce over the chicken and potatoes. Then sprinkle the toasted coconut and mustard seed mixture over the serving dish (or, if you have guests, you could have them do this to their own portions). Squeeze lime on top, add the cilantro, and then help yourself and start eating. Just try and see if you can stop at only one serving.
Then, once you've done that, please tell me what words you would use to describe the dish because, honestly, nothing I can come up with seems close to doing it justice right now.
Okay, one last try:
Best thing I've eaten all year!
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 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 (15.5-ounce) can coconut milk
2 medium sweet potatoes (1 pound), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
3/4 cup coconut flakes
1 tablespoon black or brown mustard seeds
Fresh cilantro leaves
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. 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 saucelike consistency, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour over chicken and potatoes. Sprinkle with the coconut and mustard seed mixture and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing.