When I was first learning to cook, I took a lot of pride in preparing even the simplest recipes. I was of the persuasion that cooking was magic, so even if all I had to do was boil something in water (I was so proud of my first St. Patrick’s Day corned beef, for which you do exactly that) I felt like I was on Emeril Live!. You see, prior to discovering Food Network, I didn’t know you could make your own pudding (except for rice pudding, which my parents loved but struck me as distinctly different from pudding pudding), or what tiramisu was, or how on earth to cut any vegetable into uniform pieces. I had followed a few recipes in my time and created edible food but mostly under duress–like that time my mom had to work Thanksgiving so Dad did the turkey and I made the sides. I don’t know if it was any good, either, because that was before I learned to like Thanksgiving food, so I didn’t eat much of it except pumpkin pie, which was overcooked and soggy-bottomed, but I loved it because I’d never had it any other way. (Sorry, Mom.)
Anyhow. It was in this phase of life, learning to cook and all, that I found a recipe online for chicken panang curry. A really simple recipe, which was perfect for me–I’d never even had Thai curry before. And really, this is very loosely Thai, especially with the tweaks I’ve made to the recipe over the years (I use yellow onions because they’re easier to keep on hand than green; I use lime zest instead of kaffir lime leaves for the same reason; I often use a simmer sauce method rather than sauteing the meat)–Thaimerican I guess. But I made it and it was delicious and I felt so proud of myself because I had cooked chicken! And I didn’t die!
I still feel a little bit of that pride when I make this dish, even though it’s super easy. I think that’s one of the great things about cooking: it provides such sense memory. The smell of that curry sauce brings me back to my apartment kitchen, cooking it in my discount nonstick pan, and so many dinners sharing it with my husband and now my children (who actually like it!). And because it’s a beginner recipe, it’s easy enough to whip up on even a busy weeknight, especially since I’ve tailored it to use ingredients that are easy to keep on hand.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup peanut sauce
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 can light coconut milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (fresh or frozen)
In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and cook the onions for about two minutes, until they start to soften and become slightly translucent.
Add the curry powder.
Saute the onion and curry powder together for another two minutes, until toasty and aromatic.
Add the peanut sauce.
Add the lime zest.
And the coconut milk
And the juice of the lime.
And the brown sugar. Mix well and bring to a boil.
Nestle the chicken into the sauce (I usually use frozen chicken–that’s why I’ve turned this into a simmer sauce. I often forget to buy fresh or to thaw what I have in the freezer and this method works very well for thawing and cooking all in one go). Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook about fifteen to twenty minutes, until the chicken is mostly cooked (time will vary for fresh chicken).
Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm; simmer the sauce until it’s reduced by about half and is lovely, saucy consistency. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.
Return the chicken to the pan and cook five minutes or so, until it’s cooked through.
Serve with broccoli or cauliflower and rice. Try not to overcook the broccoli like I did–but if you have kids and they have a toilet emergency when you’re trying to make dinner, sometimes you get called away from the stove while the broccoli’s cooking and that’s okay, mushy broccoli is still edible.