On our way home, we stopped at Grandma’s house in Portland for dinner. When she announced she was making curry, I imagined her throwing spices pell-mell into the pan, without any regard for their age or character. But curry for her meant simmering onions, carrots, and chicken in some broth and adding a sauce made from bouillon-style cubes of curry paste. It was to traditional Indian curry what Kraft Mac’n’Cheese is to the homemade kind – perhaps not the most gourmet, but certainly tasty enough and just the right amount of cooking for her.
The whole experience reminded me of my survey from a few months ago. Many respondents mentioned that as much as they’d like to make gourmet ethnic food every night, they just can’t be bothered to buy all the right ingredients. Sometimes pre-fab foreign flavors are they way to go. My brother, who falls into the chasm of cooks caught between laziness and grad school poverty, insists that there should be a need-based guide to seldom-used pantry ingredients like allspice and walnut oil, so that when your recipe calls for, say, rice wine vinegar, you could look up rice wine vinegar in the guide and decide whether buying it will actually prove cost-effective in the long run and really change the flavor of your foods or whether you should just skip it.
Anyway, with my grandmother and my brother (and questions about how to use the Thai chili paste I put in a recipe last week) in mind, I made a dinner that’s pretty cheap, pretty simple, and spicy enough to make you sweat a little.
Recipe for Simple Thai Chicken and Rice
Recipe 50 of 365
Here’s a quick, simple approach to “Thai” food, made with prefab chili paste and not too much else.
As an alternative to mixing the sauce into the rice, you could stir-fry vegetables, mix them with the sauce, and serve them with the chicken over plain white rice.
TIME: 30 minutes, including rice-cooking time
MAKES: 4 servings
1 cup long-grain white rice, such as basmati or jasmine
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon green or red Thai chili paste
2 packed tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced
Begin cooking the rice according to package instructions. About 20 minutes before the rice is done cooking, begin cooking the chicken.
Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken breasts and cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the chicken releases from the pan easily. Flip the chicken over, turn the heat down to medium, and cook another 5 minutes or so on the second side, or until the breasts are well browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add the coconut milk and the chili paste to the pan, whisk until the chili paste has completely dissolved, and increase the heat to high. Simmer the mixture for 3 minutes, then stir in the cilantro and scallions. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce, and skooch the chicken over to one side of the pan. Use a big spoon to scoop as much of the spicy coconut sauce as possible out of the chicken pan and into the rice. Stir the rice to distribute the sauce. Pile the rice onto a serving dish, put the chicken on top, and scrape any remaining sauce on top of the chicken. Serve immediately.