Thai-Inspired Curry Paste Gives Chicken Dinner a Fresh, Exciting Flavor

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We feel lucky to live in an urban area with grocery stores that stock ingredients for cuisines from around the world. A nice supply of these items helps keep our cooking fresh and exciting.

Condiments in all flavors and forms, including pastes and sauces, find their way into my cooking on a weekly basis. Small jars of red chile-laced, spicy, Thai-inspired curry paste form the basis of bowls of curried vegetables and stir-fries. They also pack a punch suitable for marinades and grill sauces.

Stir a spoonful or two of the paste into unsweetened coconut milk along with spices and refrigerated lemongrass puree for a marinade for boneless skinless chicken. A few hours in the refrigerator yields tender chicken that cooks quickly on a grill or broiler pan. Choose boneless skinless chicken thighs for maximum chicken flavor. The thighs can linger in the marinade for as long as overnight.

For leaner chicken breasts, use chicken cutlets or slice chicken breasts horizontally in half so each piece is less than 1 inch thick. Chicken tenders can also be used. For both chicken breast and tenders, shorten the marinade to 1 or 2 hours.

Serve the spicy grilled chicken with a Thai-inspired curried peanut sauce. I like to tuck the hot chicken into lettuce leaves with rice noodles. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice just before biting into the fresh packet. A fresh cucumber salad keeps dinner tasting renewed.

Grilled Chicken with Curried Peanut Sauce

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Note: If using chicken breasts or tenders, reduce marinating time to 1 or 2 hours. Reduce cooking time for chicken breast cutlets or tenders by 3 or 4 minutes.


  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Thai-style red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or sugar
  • 1 tablespoon refrigerated lemongrass puree
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 8 to 12 boneless skinless small chicken thighs, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds total
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts (unsalted if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste or 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, optional
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Romaine lettuce leaves, for serving
  • Cooked wide rice noodles, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Spicy cucumber salad, see recipe


1. Pour 1/2 of the can of coconut milk into a large non-aluminum bowl. Stir in soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the curry paste, agave syrup, lemongrass puree and 2 teaspoons of the turmeric powder until smooth. Add chicken thighs and stir gently to be sure chicken is coated on all sides. Refrigerate covered at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

2. Meanwhile, for sauce, put peanuts into a blender and process until powdered. Add remaining 1/2 can of coconut milk, remaining 2 teaspoons curry paste, remaining 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, tamarind paste (or lime juice) and ground coriander. Blend smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan. Heat over low until hot and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Sauce can be refrigerated in a covered container for a few days. Serve slightly warmed or at room temperature.

3. Prepare a charcoal grill and let coals heat until they are covered with white ash. Spread coals in an even layer. Or preheat a gas grill to medium-high heat (400 degrees on grill thermometer). Let cooking grates heat for 5 minutes.

4. Use tongs to arrange chicken thighs in a single, uncrowded layer directly over the heat source. Cover grill and cook without turning for 5 minutes. Thighs should be nicely marked and golden on the side touching the grill grates. Use tongs to flip thighs over. Cover grill and cook until opaque in center, 5 to 7 more minutes. Remove to a cutting board.

5. Sprinkle chicken with cilantro. Serve chicken if desired, wrapped in lettuce leaves with a few noodles. Pass lime wedges for squeezing over. Dollop with peanut sauce. Pass cucumber salad.

Spicy Cucumber Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings


  • 2 medium-size seedless cucumbers
  • 1 large shallot, peeled or 1/4 of a small red onion
  • 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 or 2 small skinny red or green hot peppers, very thinly sliced


1. Use a fork to score the length of the cucumber skin on all sides. Use a very sharp knife to slice the cucumber on an angle into the thinnest slices possible. Very thinly slice the shallot and rinse the slices in a colander under cool running water. Drain well.

2. Mix vinegar and salt in the bottom of a glass bowl until the salt dissolves. Stir in cucumbers, shallot slices and hot peppers. Let stand, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or so. Serve at room temperature. (Salad can be refrigerated for a day or so.)

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