James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Improvisation. An adventure in cooking.

Thai Green Curry Chicken thighs
Green Curry Chicken Thighs in Coconut Milk

I have often said that a recipe is a guide. It’s a road map to success just so long as you follow the described path. When baking, sticking to amounts and methods, especially if it’s the first time you’re making a recipe, is essential.

But savory recipes are an exception to the rule. Here’s my story. At a dear relative’s home I decided to cook chicken thighs in some kind of sauce with some kind of flavor. But what? I happened to see an email from seriouseats.com in my mailbox: a pressure cooker recipe for Thai chicken curry with eggplant and kabocha squash. I had no pressure cooker and no eggplant and no kabocha squash. I also didn’t have Thai green bird’s eye chiles, fish sauce, spinach, cilantro, basil and lime. But I did have coconut milk and yellow onions.

Thai ingredients for chicken thighs
Thai green curry, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, and salt

So here’s what I did. I finely chopped 4 garlic cloves with a 2-inch piece of peeled ginger and mixed them with about 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste, 1 teaspoon sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin, and cardamom, and stirred in a tablespoon or so of sunflower oil to make a thick paste. I spread thin layers of the paste on both sides of 6 chicken thighs–using all the paste–and dumped the chicken in a bowl to marinate while I attended to a couple of onions. I peeled and sliced 2 medium-large yellow onions, heated a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan, and stirred in the onions. I cooked the onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until they browned evenly and were tender. I preheated an oven to 400 degrees.

I removed the onions from the pan and added about 2 tablespoons olive oil. I put the pan over medium heat, and when the oil was hot, added the chicken thighs. They fit snugly in the pan in a single layer. I browned both sides slightly, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Then I added a can of unsweetened coconut milk–low fat or full-fat (I used low-fat), the cooked onions, and brought everything to the boil. I put the pan in the oven and baked the dish, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The sauce needed thickening, so I set the pan over medium heat on the stove-top and boiled the pan juices for about 10 minutes until bubbly and thickened. Then I tasted carefully and added a tad more salt. Fish sauce would have been ideal. And the dish was done. I put small sprigs of fresh thyme onto each thigh and served the chicken over cooked rice accompanied with barely cooked sugar snap peas, roasted cauliflower, and heated naan bread.

Here’s the finished dish. You can see how nice and thick the sauce is. If you have lime, squeeze some juice onto the chicken. That hit of acid will be terrific. Remember to improvise! Happy baking!

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