24-Hour Chicken Matsaman Curry | Kaeng Matsaman Kai
I often tell people that the only curry that tastes better than the best curry is the best curry that has been sitting for a day. My family’s favorite chicken matsaman curry, which we intentionally make twenty-four hours in advance, is proof of this claim. The recipe calls for sixteen chicken thighs— and no, that’s not a typo. I invested in a fifteen-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for this reason, although a stockpot will also work here.
This recipe does not scale down well; piling chicken thighs high in a pot and stewing them long and slow yields a succulent, flavorful curry that you won’t get if you cook a smaller portion. Deep-frying the skin side of the chicken thighs before they go into the big pot turns the skins almost spongy as they soak up the flavorful sauce.
Dishes of Muslim origin are often associated with southern Thailand, where a large number of Thai Muslims reside. However, history shows that the south is not the sole region from which many Thai Muslim dishes or dishes of South Asian origins currently enjoyed in Bangkok have emerged. Early visitors from South Asia—my paternal ancestors among them—and the Middle East, especially Persia (Iran) came to the central plain and settled in the area that later became Bangkok, establishing communities and food traditions that are distinctly Bangkokian. This recipe follows one such tradition.
Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand
by Leela Punyaratabandhu
Rub the chicken thighs with the salt, being careful to keep the skin intact. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
To make the curry paste, meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, and cardamom pods in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar, add the peppercorns, and grind to a fine powder. (This step can also be done in a spice grinder or a coffee grinder reserved for spices.) One at a time, add the remaining curry paste ingredients—chiles, salt, galangal, lemongrass, lime rind, shrimp paste, cilantro roots, garlic, and shallots—grinding to a smooth paste after each addition. (Alternatively, you can grind everything all at once in a food processor.) Stir in the coconut oil and transfer the curry paste to a covered container and refrigerate for now.
To make the sachet, cut an 8-inch square of cheesecloth. Using the same small frying pan you used for the curry paste, toast all of the spices over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Pour the spices onto the center of the cheesecloth square, bring up the corners to form a purse, and tie securely with kitchen string. Set aside.
Place a large platter next to the stove. Pour the vegetable oil to a depth of 1 inch in a wok or Dutch oven and heat to 350°F. Working in batches to avoid crowding, lay the chicken, skin side down, into the hot oil and fry until the skin is medium brown, about 4 minutes, leaving the flesh side uncooked. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the platter. Repeat until all of the chicken is fried.
To make the curry, put the curry paste and 2 cups of the coconut cream in a 15-quart Dutch oven (best) or stockpot (acceptable), place over medium- high heat, and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Layer the chicken in the pot, stir in the remaining 2 cups coconut cream along with the coconut milk, sugar, tamarind, and fish sauce, and then drop in the cinnamon sticks and spice sachet. If necessary, add water so the liquid is flush with the top of the chicken pile, making sure the spice sachet is fully submerged. Cover and bring to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, undisturbed, for 2 hours.
During this time, quarter the onions lengthwise through the core, so the core holds the onion layers together; set aside. Put the potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan, add water to cover along with the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately lower the heat to simmer and cook the potatoes for only 5 minutes. Drain into a colander, rinse under cold running water to cool, shake off the excess water, and spread on a tray or sheet pan in a single layer to dry.
After 2 hours have passed, uncover the pot and add the onions, pushing them down gently so they wedge themselves among the chicken pieces and are fully submerged. If they are not submerged, add just enough water to make that happen. Re-cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat (you want it to heat up slowly). By the time the pot comes to a boil over such moderate heat, 7 to 8 minutes, the chicken and onions should be ready. You don’t want the chicken to be soft, mealy, and falling apart into shreds. You want it to be fork-tender yet juicy and firm. The onions should be soft and translucent and not falling apart. Add the potatoes to the pot, pushing them down gently until they’re fully submerged (if not, add just enough water to come flush with the solids). Turn off the heat, uncover the pot, and stir in the peanuts, orange juice, and orange zest. Taste for seasoning; aim for equally salty, sour, and sweet (all in all, strong enough to flavor the bland rice with which the curry will be eaten). Once everything tastes good, leave the curry to cool completely with the spice sachet and cinnamon in it, then refrigerate for 24 hours.
Take the pot straight from the refrigerator to the stove and set it on medium heat to bring it slowly to a boil undisturbed. Once the curry boils, turn off the heat. Fish out and discard the spice sachet and cinnamon sticks before serving with rice.
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Excerpted from Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand by Leela Punyaratabandhu. Copyright 2017 Ten Speed Press.