Red Curry Chicken (Paleo with Whole30 modification)
I don’t remember the first time I had Red Curry Chicken, but I know that I’ve loved it since that first time. I would love to tell you the exotic story of being in Thailand but it was at a strip mall mom and pop Thai place somewhere in the Midwest. Regardless, no matter where I have enjoyed this most likely very Americanized version of a Thai dish, the intermingling of a million different flavors that offer a perfect combination of spice, tart and a little sweetness make it completely addictive.
Red Curry Chicken Ingredients
There are two key ingredients that really set Red Curry apart from any other Asian inspired recipe: coconut milk and the multi-layered red curry paste.
Due to more and more people going dairy free, coconut milk is readily available in almost any grocery store. Here’s the thing, you don’t want to use the refrigerated kind. It will not give you the same flavor and thickness. You want to use full fat coconut milk with as few ingredients in it as you can find; ideally coconut and water, but most brands have some sort of thickener like guar gum. I’ve made my peace with that ingredient and just buy the organic full fat coconut milk at Sprouts.
For the Red Curry paste, you can certainly make your own* and I would recommend it for a cold-weather weekend project especially if you have a good Asian market nearby. But if those two criteria aren’t met at the moment (definitely not here), store-bought red curry pastes are pretty good. My very favorite brand is Mae Ploy which is Whole30 compliant and about as authentic as you can get in the states. It is also a great value at around $4 for a 14 oz tub. Thai Kitchen is more widely available and vegetarian. It is also Whole30 compliant but not quite as good a value at around $3 for 4 oz. Red curry is inherently spicy, so if you don’t like spicy, you can make this exact recipe using yellow curry paste available in both brands and which is typically much milder. Note: My Thai Chicken Satays also use this paste so you can use it for more than one recipe.
While I have made red curry beef and shrimp, the winner in our house is chicken so that’s what I’m focusing on in this post. Whatever you use, you want the pieces to be very small like you would use for stir fry so they soak up all the delicious juices.
My favorite veggie combination is broccoli, red peppers, carrots and red onions, but I’ve also used spinach, green beans and squash (both summer and winter). The key is you want to have more veggies than meat and plenty of the curry sauce for it all to bathe together in a borderline soup. You also want to cut the more tender veggies like summer squash and peppers into larger pieces than the more dense veggies like carrots and broccoli. You don’t want the tender veggies falling apart waiting for the dense veggies to cook.
What to Serve with Red Curry Chicken
If you are doing Whole30, you know the answer…cauliflower rice, right? If not, our go-to is Jasmine Rice. There are lots of reasons I have chosen white over brown, but since this post is about Red Curry Chicken not the pros and cons of white or brown rice, I will save that for another day. But for now, here are my secrets to awesome regular and cauliflower rice.
For Jasmine (or any white rice):
Use 1 1/2 times water for the amount of rice you use. If I make a cup of rice, I use 1 1/2 cups of water. Stir in a little oil and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then cover and lower heat to medium low. Let cook until there is not liquid present in the pan. Remove from heat, lift the lid and drape a clean kitchen towel over the top of the pan then return the lid. Let stand for 5 minutes to absorb excess liquid then fluff with a fork.
Awesome Cauliflower Rice
The secret? Cook it high and don’t stir it. At least don’t stir it until you see that a lot of the liquid has cooked out. I buy the 4 lb bags of frozen cauliflower rice at Costco and dump one pound - carefully - into a large skillet that has about a tablespoon of oil in it with the burner on high. I don’t touch it for at least 5-7 minutes then I stir it and let it sit again. You will notice if you do this that it starts to brown and when that happens, you have turned the corner to cauliflower rice that actual is awesome and not just a ho-hum sub for the real thing.
How to Make Red Curry Chicken
The biggest secret to really great red curry is the order in which you add the ingredients. Traditionally, the chicken is added raw but I like to cook mine first. You can do it either way, but just move the chicken over to the side if you cook it first because you want to slightly toast the red curry paste before stirring in the other ingredients.
Red Curry Chicken
12 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh cut into 1/2” strips
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp red curry paste (3 if you like spicy)
2 cans full fat coconut milk
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tbsp maple syrup (date paste for Whole30)
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp coconut aminos (or use fish sauce, soy or tamari sauce)
1 red or yellow onion, thinly sliced (red onion makes a prettier final product)
6 cups assorted cut vegetables (a bag of fresh broccoli and cauliflower with carrots would be perfect for a quick dinner)
1 cup fresh basil leaves (optional but so very good!)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced green onions and chopped cilantro or basil to garnish
Prepared rice to serve
Season the chicken with sea salt and massage a bit to distribute.
Heat the oil in a very large (12”) skillet then add the chicken and cook until just turning white. Move to the side and add the curry paste to the oil and cook for a minute until it turns a bit darker in color. Add the coconut milk, broth, maple syrup, lime juice and coconut aminos. (Whole30: If using date paste, whisk it into the broth before adding.)
Add the denser veggies (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) to the mixture and stir to coat with the sauce. Let cook for 3-5 minutes until tender then add the onions and any remaining vegetables. Cook for just one minute then add all but a handful of the fresh herbs.
Serve over rice garnished with thinly sliced green onions and remaining fresh herbs.
*Red Curry Paste recipes: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/thai-red-curry-paste-109465 is closer to authentic but with lots of ingredients and this one contains fewer ingredients that are all vegetarian.