Start to finish: 35 minutes, plus marinating / Servings: 4
Curry was brought to Vietnam by Indian immigrants who arrived in the country in the 19th century, while both Indochina and the port of Pondicherry, India, were under French rule. Lemon grass, fish sauce and star anise were introduced to the dish to adapt the flavors to local palates.
As a result, Vietnamese curry has a uniquely bright, yet deeply savory taste and aroma. Though many versions of cà ri gà, or chicken curry, call for store-bought curry powder, we prefer to mix our own spices so we can control the seasoning. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Don’t underblend the spice mixture. Make sure it’s perfectly smooth, without any fibrousness or tough bits from the lemon grass and ginger. Also, don’t use chicken breasts in place of the chicken thighs. Breast meat is delicate and mild; it will wind up overcooked and the curry will lack flavor.
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 stalks lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1- to 1½-inch pieces
5 star anise pods
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons fish sauce
¼ cup lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro, to serve
1. In a blender, combine the oil, garlic, ginger, onion, lemon grass, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, ½ cup water and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Blend until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the blender jar as needed. Transfer the puree to a medium bowl, add the chicken and stir until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
2. In a 12-inch skillet, combine the chicken and all of the marinade, the star anise and carrots. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the marinade begins to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in ⅓ cup water and the fish sauce. Return to a simmer, then cover, reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens enough to cling to the chicken, about another 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Remove and discard the star anise, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro.