basil chicken in coconut curry sauce with stir-fry baby bokchoy

When a dish “needs something” the cooks in my family (the Jamaican side, that is) always say, “Put  a country pepper in-a de pot!” When I tried this dish from Simply Recipes for dinner, I thought it was light and delicious, but it definitely needed a country pepper. What we call a country pepper is also called a Scotch Bonnet. Its close relative is the Habañero. I took the last Habañero out of  the freezer and put that into the sauce. Now a Scotch Bonnet/Habañero will add some heat but mostly it will add flavor to the dish.

You can tell I’m so used to the vivid flavors of Jamaica and Thailand, and even though I added the country pepper,  I still wasn’t happy with the sauce.  I could hear a voice in my head say “sai nam pla!” So I added some fish sauce to the curry. Fish sauce or nam pla is pungent but it  adds saltiness and flavor without changing the color of the sauce, thus making it ideal for this light curry.

Some compromises in favor of “lite” cooking. To lighten the calorie load of this dish I used “lite” coconut milk. White rice is best to serve with curry sauces because it soaks up the sauce. However, brown rice won’t do this.  So instead of a traditional white rice accompaniment to this curry dish, I made a medley; a mix of white Thai jasmine (hom mali) rice and brown basmati. Both were the long grain varieties. The ratio is 1 cup white to 2 cups brown rice.

Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce

INGREDIENTS

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breast (2 thighs or 1 large breast)

1 large red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large whole country pepper (Scotch Bonnet or Habañero) (2 jalapeño peppers in original recipe)
2 Tablespoons olive oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil
1 14-oz can lite coconut milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce, to taste
3 Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

Hot cooked rice

METHOD

1 In a small bowl, mix together the salt, ground coriander, cumin, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground cardamom, black pepper, chili powder, and turmeric. Set aside.

2 Rinse chicken, pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Put into a bowl and sprinkle the spice mix over all the pieces. Coat well and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

3 In a large skillet heat 1 Tablespoon oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and country pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the onions, pepper and garlic from the pan and put into a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Use the same pan for the next step.

4 Add 1 Tablespoon oil to the skillet and heat on medium high heat. Add one half of the chicken pieces, spreading them out on the pan so they are not crowded. Brown for a few minutes on each side. When the chicken pieces are cooked through, and no pink remains, remove from pan, add to the bowl with the onions. Cook the second batch of chicken pieces the same way. Remove from pan, add to bowl with onions.

5 Add the coconut milk, minus a couple tablespoons, to the skillet. In a small bowl, mix the remaining coconut with the corn starch to dissolve the corn starch. Add the corn starch mixture back to the skillet with the coconut milk. Cook on medium heat and stir till thick and bubbly. Mix in the fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Add chicken mixture, basil, and ginger. Cook 2 minutes more to cook through.

Serve over rice. Serves 4.

I served basil chicken in coconut curry sauce with Stir-Fry Baby Bok Choy from about.com. Baby bok choy is sweeter and the stems thinner than the adult variety.

Stir-Fry Baby Bok Choy

Ingredients:

4 bunches baby bok choy (basically, 1 bunch per person)
2 slices ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 cup water
A few drops sesame oil, optional
1 tablespoon vegetable oil for stir-frying

Preparation:

Wash the baby bok choy and drain. Separate the stalks and leaves. Cut the stalk diagonally and cut the leaves across.Trim the tips and the ends.

Heat wok and add oil. When oil is ready, add ginger and stir-fry briefly, for about 30 seconds, until the ginger is aromatic. Add the bok choy, adding the stalks first, and then the leaves. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar, and salt, and stir-fry1 on high heat for 1 minute.

Add the water, cover the wok and simmer for about 2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and serve. Serves 4.

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