Hey, remember when I used to cook? Ah, those were the days ...
Actually, although my regular full-time job has stepped firmly in place of my regular full-time life lately, I'm pretty sure that it's still possible to, if one has a shred of commitment and discipline, cook a hot dinner for oneself each and every night, regardless of time, energy, or desire.
Unfortunately I lack both willpower and non-whininess.
And it's unfortunate, too, that I managed to pick a hobby (one that I am, full disclosure, supremely passionate about) that's, well ... a little cost-ineffective. Particularly if you have a tendency to grocery shop with the attention span of a walnut.
At those moments it's easy to forget that you can cook a dinner for four for $50 (and much, much less I'm sure, but ... walnut), and that that's still less than picking up dinner at the local Thai place for $15 per person.
The flip side, of course, is that the Thai place makes it for you, which is certainly a powerfully tempting notion. I also suffer from the rather guilty feeling (third-world problems) that takeout and delivery just aren't as GOOD. And take a gander at the floating wasteland inside the styrofoam box the next time you order Mexican food to go—it's still all gooey and cheesy and spicy, but there's just something sad and wilted about it.
I wanted to create a version of my local Thai place's chicken panang. And while I'd been vaguely trolling the Internets for a suitable recipe, I found that the spectrum was a short trip from "buy prepared panang curry" to "make panang curry from thousands of unpronounceable ingredients." The former isn't an option available in this city, and the latter made me tired just to think about.
So this became my attempt. I know that I've said some unkind things about poached chicken before, but I have found the answer, my friends: coconut milk. This chicken came out tender and flavorful, without the limp blandness that I usually cry about with your average poached chicken. Curry is a matter of personal taste, and can be adjusted accordingly. I call for two tablespoons in this recipe, but they were heapingly generous in my case. You can adjust the amount of sriracha to your taste, too. This is really a time to err on the side of gluttony, and that includes the garlic and ginger—there's endless flavor to be squeezed out of both. Any vegetable will do here, but red bell pepper is the way my Thai place does it, and the sweetness is a lovely balance. I added the cucumber as an homage to the restaurant version, too, but I could not extend myself so far as to carve any flowers out of carrots.
I have standards.
Red Curry Chicken and Rice
2 (15-ounce) cans light coconut milk
3 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons (or more to taste) red curry paste
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) sriracha
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
4 cups hot cooked basmati rice
Garnish: sliced cucumbers, chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a large, deep skillet. Add chicken; heat over medium heat until coconut milk simmers, and cook 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pan, and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Add curry paste, sriracha, and bell pepper to coconut milk in pan, and continue to cook over medium heat until bell peppers are tender and coconut milk has reduced to desired thickness.
3. Slice chicken into strips; add to coconut milk mixture, stirring just until chicken is heated through. Serve chicken, peppers, and sauce over hot cooked rice. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.