Diane Cu’s family fled Saigon in 1975 when she was a child, and the family was raised in the Los Angeles area. Diane went on to become one half of the White on Rice Couple, with her husband, Todd Porter. Together they travel the world, teach photography and videography, blog about it, and write and photograph beautiful cookbooks. I really like and admire their work.
I asked if Diane could create a recipe that represented her Vietnamese childhood, and she sent this adaptation of her family’s curry. It’s fabulous and clean, heavy on the lemongrass. I love it for its simplicity—it calls for water only, no coconut milk (as is often the case in the North, she said), and chicken drumsticks, their knob ends cut off for easy eating. (See the Note for using a whole chicken instead of drumsticks.) It’s dead easy to prepare.
“Mom loves using drumsticks because they’re quick cooking and because she loves brown meat,” Diane wrote to me when she sent me this recipe. “Our family hails from Northern and Central Vietnam. Grandma never used coconut milk in her chicken curry, and this method has been passed down to Mom. She always cuts her drumsticks in half, crosswise, for easier handling with chopsticks. Chicken thighs are a great option, too, but expect more fat from the skin if you’re using skin-on. Mom knows how much I love lemongrass, so she never fails to remind me that she added extra fresh lemongrass from her garden when she brings Todd and me a batch.”
Using a cleaver or heavy knife, chop the drumsticks in half to separate the knob end from the meat end. You will use both parts—the knob ends will give the sauce flavor and body, and the meat will bunch up at the top of the drumstick when cooked.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sear all sides of the chicken until the skin is crisp and brown. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger to the same pan and cook the aromatics until they’re fragrant and translucent. The moisture they release should be enough to deglaze the pan. Scrape up any browned bits. Add the curry powder and lemongrass and cook for about 30 seconds.
Add the water, fish sauce, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are super tender. Stir the pot occasionally, making sure the chicken is fully submerged in the delicious broth. Add more water if you think it needs it.
Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper if needed. If you want to thicken the sauce—it’s fine if you’re happy to leave the sauces thin—rewhisk the cornstarch and water to remove all lumps. Add this slurry to the pot and quickly stir. Allow the curry to cook for another minute for the sauce to thicken.
Top with the scallions, cilantro, and fresh chiles (if using). Serve with baguette, rice noodles, or rice.
© 2019 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.