Chicken in Creamed Coconut Sauce

Posted by    |  January 27, 2010  |  Filed under: Recipes

Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sahni

Julie’s recipe stresses the importance of making your own coconut milk for the overall quality of this finished dish.  “Why not?” I thought, “I’ve never tried that before.”  Okay, never mind the difficulty of actually opening the coconut.  The real b*#$h was finding a non-rancid coconut in the middle of winter in the Midwest.  I opened three rancid coconuts- from three separate shopping trips- before I finally acquired a fresh one.  Let me tell you:  rancid coconut is incredibly nasty, smelly stuff- and as a mother of four I have smelled some incredible funk.  In the end I successfully produced my own coconut milk for the recipe.  I then concluded that the effort wasn’t at all worth it because the spices overpower its charms.

The whole spices in this dish aren’t really meant to be eaten.  I use chopsticks to pick most of them out before serving and then warn diners of the possible presence of the rest.  They won’t really hurt you if you eat them, they’re just not so great to bite into.

Finally, this is a dish that really benefits from time.  The flavors need time to infuse the dish, making it the ideal make-ahead dish.

2 ½ pounds bone in, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large) OR 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

¼ cup cooking oil
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 generous tablespoon garlic, finely chopped or mashed into a paste
1 generous tablespoon fresh ginger, minced OR 1 tablespoon grated
8 cardamom pods
12 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon (approximately 3” long)
2 tablespoons almonds, ground into powder

To Simmer
1 ½ cups coconut milk  I’d really encourage the full-fat stuff here.  It makes a huge difference on the finished flavor of the dish.
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon red pepper (cayenne), or to taste
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped


Prepare the chicken

  1. Cut chicken breasts into 4 pieces each, taking care to try to make all the pieces roughly the same size.

Saute the aromatics and chicken

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet.  Cast iron would be a good choice.
  2. Add the onions, garlic and ginger.  Cook about 5 minutes, until they are pale and limp, taking care that the garlic doesn’t burn.
  3. Add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and cook for about another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the almond powder and cook, stirring continuously for about another 2 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken pieces in one layer.  Cook just until they turn white.  You may crowd them .  You are not trying to brown them.  You are just starting the cooking process.

I almost always do this sort of dish with a whole chicken that I've butchered into parts. Why bother? The best chickens are only available whole. Bottom line: Use any parts you like in this dish.

Simmer the dish

  1. Add the coconut milk, turmeric, red pepper and salt.  Bring just to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer (a bubble escaping to the surface every few seconds).
  2. Simmer until cooked and tender, about 30 minutes.  Take care not to let simmering liquid evaporate.
  3. Remove from heat.  Stir in the cream and allow the dish to rest for at least one hour.
  4. Rewarm over low heat and finish with the fresh cilantro.

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