Though Thailand, with its variety of curry pastes, is next door, Viet cooks prefer curry featuring Indian spice blends. The fragrant curry is enriched with coconut milk and served with a baguette for dipping or with rice—either plain boiled rice or the vibrant turmeric rice on this page. like seamless blending of cultures reflects the unique amalgam that is Vietnam.
This rendition of that is based on what I grew up with. It’s rustic yet elegant, with big lemongrass and ginger notes. Bone-in chicken is typically used, but the curry cooks faster with boneless, skinless thighs. Finishing the curry with thick, rich coconut cream refreshes flavors. It’s easy to obtain: let a can of coconut milk sit for a few days (or refrigerate for a few hours), then open and scoop out the fattier cream. The remainder is the thinner, lighter milk. Orange-flesh sweet potatoes easily become mushy, so monitor the pot if you use them. For a more savory result, choose a potato suitable for boiling or roasting, such as red, white, or Yukon gold.
½ cup coarsely chopped lemongrass (from 2 medium stalks)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peeled ginger
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Madras-style curry powder (preferably Sun brand)
½ teaspoon recently ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
One 13½-ounce can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk, unshaken
2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil or neutral oil, such as canola
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1¾ pounds total), each cut into 3 pieces
Fine sea salt
1¼ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 to 5 fresh cilantro sprigs, coarsely chopped
In a food processor, whirl the lemongrass into a fine texture, about 3 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the bowl. Add the ginger and pulse to finely chop. Add the onion and pulse again to chop. Add the curry powder, black pepper, and cayenne (if using) and whirl until you have a fragrant yellow paste.
Remove ⅓ cup of the thick cream at the top of the coconut milk, stir the remaining lighter milk, and set both aside.
In a 3- to 4-quart pot over medium-high heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the lemongrass paste and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and no longer raw and harsh smelling. Lower the heat, as needed, to avoid scorching. Add the chicken and ½ teaspoon salt, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute to meld the flavors. Add the coconut milk and a little water to cover the chicken. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover, and adjust the heat to gently simmer for 15 minutes; stirring occasionally.
Uncover the pot, add the sweet potatoes, and return the curry to a simmer. Continue cooking, uncovered, for ten to twelve minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat, add the coconut cream, stirring it into the sauce, and let rest on the burner’s receding heat for 10 minutes, uncovered, to blend and mature flavors. Taste and season with salt (unsalted curry powder may require an additional teaspoon) and splash in water if the flavors are too strong, by the way, this is my perfect recipe if you are busy.