Poulet à la citronnelle façon Thaï

chicken lemongrass1

Chicken with lemongrass, Thai style

This recipe is for people who love Thai flavors but do not have access to hard-to-find ingredients like galangal or kaffir lime leaves. You may need to do a little shopping, but ingredients like fresh lemongrass, green chilis and Asian fish sauce, known here in France as nuoc mam (from Vietnamese), can be found in high-quality supermarkets these days.

How spicy, or not, to make this dish is up to you. The green chili will make it mildly spicy, a crushed cayenne pepper will turn up the heat, and for true fire you can add a red bird’s eye pepper. Alternatively, chop a bird’s eye pepper finely and bring it to the table in a small dish, as they often do at Thai restaurants.

As for the lemongrass, it is less like a grass than a stalk, and the tough outer layer needs to be peeled away. Then it needs to be minced very finely.

2 boneless chicken breasts, skin removed
2 spring onions or scallions
1 large or 2 medium shallots
a 2-inch (5-cm) piece of lemongrass
1/2 green chili pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable oil (sunflower, safflower, etc.)
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp. fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1 lime
1 tbsp. sugar, preferably cassonnade or demerara
1 dried cayenne pepper or 1 bird’s eye (small) red chili pepper
3/4 cup (200 ml) coconut milk
1/2 tsp. hot curry powder (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise and then into thin slices crosswise. Set aside.

Finely chop the green onions and scallions. Remove the seeds from the green chili pepper and chop finely.

Peel away and discard the hard outer leaf of the lemongrass. Slice it in half lengthwise and then very finely crosswise into paper-thin slices.

Heat the oil to sizzling in a large skillet or wok. Add the chicken pieces and stir fry about 1 minute over high heat. Add the chopped onions, chili and lemongrass, and stir fry for another minute or so, until the chicken loses its pink color and the veggies are wilted.

Add the water and stir. Add the fish sauce. Cut the lime in half and squeeze in the juice. Add the sugar. Stir.

Crush the cayenne pepper or chop it finely, being careful to protect your hands. For extra fire, use a finely sliced bird’s eye pepper instead.

Allow the mixture to boil for about a minute, then add the coconut milk and turn down the heat. Cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. If you would like to add a curry flavor, add the hot curry powder now.

Shortly before serving, stir in half of the chopped cilantro, reserving the rest to sprinkle on top for garnish.

Serve with steamed rice or sticky rice. Serves 2.

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