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Coconut milk, coriander create 'chicken wonder'

Strategizing for a serviceable pantry, I’ve been stocking more coconut milk than usual.

If we’re running low on fresh proteins and produce, I figure I can always pull off a coconut milk curry with just about any vegetable, served over rice. In the absence of meat, mushrooms and nuts can carry off the dish, enlivened with fresh mint and scallions from the garden.

While the format is flexible, the flavor profile is fairly consistent. I prefer Thai green curry paste with coconut milk curry, which is starting to seem a bit bland as months of fewer trips to the grocery store and pantry-staple meals persist.

Then I saw this recipe for a coconut-based sauce with chicken and some flavors in common with Thai and Indian curries. The primary distinction of Kenyan Coconut Chicken, so far as I can tell, is lemon juice. The dish, according to Tribune News Service, is a variation of the popular “kuku paka” and has roots in the coastal city of Mombasa. “Kuku” means “chicken” in Swahili, and it can be grilled before being added to the sauce or braised in the sauce.

Calling this dish a “chicken wonder,” recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caution against overcooking the garlic, ginger and ground coriander in the beginning or they will lose their “oomph” at the end.

Kenyan Coconut Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, halved and patted dry

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons neutral oil

4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated, fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add half of seasoned chicken and brown without disturbing for 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining chicken.

To skillet, add the garlic, jalapeno chilies, ginger and ground coriander. Cook, stirring, until fragrant for 30 to 60 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes with juices, scraping up any browned bits. Then stir in the coconut milk and 1/2 cup water. Add chicken and any juices and cook uncovered, stirring and flipping occasionally, until a skewer inserted into largest piece meets no resistance, for 20 to 25 minutes.

Turn off heat and stir in the lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine (January-February 2020).

Tribune News Service photo