Crowd-pleasing Thai Red Curry with Chicken (Gaeng Ped Gai) is surprisingly easy to make

Crowd-pleasing Thai Red Curry with Chicken (Gaeng Ped Gai) is surprisingly easy to make

This was the dish I taught at my first international cooking class in Atlanta many years ago, for “Evening at Emory.” The curry paste can be homemade (but it’s tedious and requires hard-to-find ingredients), or it can be purchased in cans at Asian food shops. Cooks in Thailand nowadays typically buy their curry pastes fresh from favorite market vendors rather than make them from scratch.

Photo: Maria Dondero; Bowl: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
If you can get the ingredients (at Asian grocery stores, such as Fooks Foods in Athens, GA), making this curry is actually very easy, especially compared to Indian curries. Thai curries generally please American diners, as long as the pepper heat is considerably reduced from what is usual in Thailand.

The recipe will serve eight or more, but leftovers are treasured. Serve with unsalted rice, preferably jasmine rice.

2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 (4-ounce) can (or more) Thai red curry paste (freeze the rest for later use, wrapped in plastic)
1 tablespoon oil or chicken fat
1 can (14-ounce) unsweetened coconut milk (Thai) -- shake well before opening
1 can of water or unseasoned chicken broth
1 (20-ounce, 10-11 ounces drained weight) can shredded bamboo shoots, drained
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce, (available at Asian groceries), or 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 hot red chili pepper for garnish
8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Asian ingredients for curry; Photo: Maria Dondero
Trim chicken of tough or excess fatty portions. Place breasts flat on cutting board and slice cross-wise 1/8-inch thick, using a sharp knife.  

Add a little oil (1-2 teaspoons) or chicken fat to a pot, and over low heat fry the curry paste, stirring very frequently, until fragrant and the oil separates out a little (1-1/2 to 2 minutes). Add half of the coconut milk and stir it in well. When combined and bubbling add remaining coconut milk and let the sauce return to a bubble. Increase heat and add the water or chicken broth. Add the drained bamboo shoots. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add about a tablespoon of fish sauce (or 1 teaspoon salt) plus a third of the chicken. Stir and as soon as color of the meat changes, add another third of the meat and stir. Similarly add the last third of the meat and stir until the color changes. Simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and then add fish sauce or salt until just salty enough. Add sugar. Simmer 2 more minutes (do not overcook or the chicken will become dry). Remove from heat.

Taste the sauce and add a little fish sauce, salt or sugar as needed, making the sauce slightly salty (the chicken will continue to absorb some salt). The sauce should also have a slight sweetness. Let the curry sit at least 20 minutes (better overnight, in refrigerator).

Before serving, reheat gently (microwave or top of stove) with occasional stirring, just until it reaches a boil. Remove from heat.

Serve the curry in an attractive shallow bowl garnished with thinly sliced red chili pepper plus picked-off cilantro leaves.

Accompany with unsalted Jasmine rice (see my blog post on rice) and a stir-fried vegetable dish.

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