Vietnamese Chicken Curry

The Thunks, my softball team of years ago, used to meet for a ritual lunch on game day at Banh's kitchen, a greasy pair of chopsticks on the Drag. The event was known as the Thunks Training Table, or alternatively as Winghs at Noonh. Banh's was best know for its spicy and sticky-sweet chicken wings, but I preferred the chicken curry, which I've attempted to recreate here. I use about ten Thai chiles, which makes for a spicier version than the one I remember.

  • 1 4-5-pound chicken
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 3 large carrots
  • 2 large onions
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • Several sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbs of choice
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 3 stalks lemon grass
  • 2 large shallots
  • Thai chiles to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sause
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil

Cut the chicken into small pieces, removing the back, the wing tips, any excess fat, and any skin that is not firmly attached. Put the back, wing tips, heart, neck, and gizzard in a pot with the bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley, herbs, celery, 2 cloves of garlic, one carrot, and half an onion. Cover with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for an hour or more, until reduced by half.

Meanwhile, remove the outer leaves and the top half of each lemon grass stalk and mince the remaining portions. Chop the shallots, the chiles, and the remaining garlic. Place all of these in the bowl of a food processor with the cumin, coriander, turmeric, sugar, and fish sauce. Puree the mixture, adding enough oil to make a smooth paste. Mix the paste with the chicken pieces in a bowl and allow to sit for an hour while the stock is reducing.

Heat three tablespoons of oil in a wide pan over high heat. Remove and reserve the excess paste from the chicken, brown the chicken on all sides, and remove to a Dutch oven. Add the paste to the pan, cook for a minute, and add the onions, tomatoes, and remaining carrots, roughly chopped. Cook for a few minutes more and add the stock and salt. Empty the contents of the pan into the Dutch oven and mix with the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for an hour or so, until the chicken is tender.

While the chicken is cooking, peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in the pan over high heat. Add the potatoes and stir until nearly tender and lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

When the chicken is done, mix the coconut milk with the corn starch and add to the pot with the potatoes, mix thoroughly, and top with the basil. Continue cooking over low heat for fifteen minutes. Serve with steamed rice.