Thai Coconut Chicken Curry

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coconut chicken curry in a bowl on a grey countertop

This weeknight-friendly Thai Coconut Chicken Curry is filled with tender bites of chicken in creamy, rich, coconut curry broth. Customize with any vegetables you have on hand. This recipe includes instructions for the stovetop and Instant Pot.

When Frank and I were living in Thailand, my greatest food-related education was in the great wide world of curry. It takes a visit to Thailand to even scratch the surface on the incredible depth of this genre of Thai food. From melt-your-face off heat to mild, creamy varieties, they come in every color under the sun. And because curry paste has been around for centuries, many Thai families have their own unique methods and recipes. 

The good news is, as deep as you can dive into the world of Thai curry, there are many very simple ways to recreate this delicious dish in your own home kitchen. Simple enough that Thai Coconut Curry is actually a totally manageable and relatively easy weeknight meal. And if you fall in love with curry like me, be sure to check out other curry recipes on the site like Instant Pot Thai Curry and Thai Yellow Curry.

The only “secret” is the technique. Any store-bought curry paste can make a good curry, but you want to coax out all of its herb flavors as it cooks. Here’s how to do it!

coconut curry in a black dutch oven

Ingredients

  • Coconut Milk – Use regular (not light) coconut milk. You’ll use some of the coconut milk to cook the curry paste in at the beginning and some will be added later to simmer all of the ingredients together.
  • Thai Curry Paste – This firm paste gives the curry tons of flavor. See below for more details.
  • Fresh Ginger and Ground Coriander – Even though the curry gets most of its flavor from curry paste, I like to add fresh ginger and ground coriander to boost those flavors even more.  
  • Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken breast stays tender as it simmers in the flavorful coconut broth. 
  • Bell Pepper and Baby Spinach – These are my go-to ingredients for adding vegetables to a weeknight curry. Bell pepper adds some crunch and baby spinach gets greens into the dish without the need for any chopping.
  • Water or Stock – In addition to coconut milk, water or stock rounds out the base of the curry. You’ll get a bit more flavor if you use store-bought chicken or vegetable stock, but water works fine in a pinch.
  • Fish Sauce, Brown Sugar, Lime – These are key flavors in many Thai dishes, and they can alway be adjusted to customize the dish to your preference. Add fish sauce for more salty / savory flavor, brown sugar for more sweetness (or to balance the heat), and lime to brighten the flavors.

Choosing Thai Curry Paste

Most Thai curry paste is interchangeable with any recipe for Thai curry.  The most widely available store-bought curry pastes are red, panang, green, and yellow. Be sure to use Thai-style curry paste that comes from the international aisle, not curry powder which is usually found with the other dried spices. You can always adjust the amount of curry paste you use in any recipe to give your dish more flavor and / or more heat.

Use more or less depending on your spice preference. American-made Thai curry paste like Thai Kitchen can be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores and tend to be more mild than the Thai imports that are found at international / Asian grocery stores, so keep that in mind as you are estimating how much curry paste is right for you. 

stirring curry in a cast iron skillet

“Breaking” Coconut Milk for Thai Curry

If you’re looking to master one skill when it comes to making authentic Thai curry at home, this is it. “Breaking” the coconut milk is the first step in making Thai curry, and it’s super simple. 

This step separates out the natural oils in the coconut milk and is the reason that many Thai curries have small drops of oil on the top. This surface oil is usually a sign that the curry has been prepared correctly. To break the coconut milk, add a small amount of coconut milk to a hot pan. Cook the coconut milk until the natural oils in the coconut milk start to separate out, 3 to 4 minutes. Then add curry paste to this oily coconut mixture and carry on with the recipe. 

It’s a similar idea as sautéing aromatics in oil for Western-style recipes to draw out their flavors before adding other ingredients. 

If you are making Thai curry and the coconut milk does not break within the first 5 minutes of cooking, don’t worry! Just proceed with the recipe as written. You’ll still get a delicious curry.

How to Make Thai Coconut Chicken Curry

  1. Cook ¾ cup coconut milk on the stovetop or bowl of an Instant pot for about 5 minutes, until the milk cooks way down and you see signs of it “breaking” with oil separating out. 
  2. Stir in curry paste, fresh ginger, and coriander powder and cook until fragrant, ~1 minute.
  3. Stir in chicken (or other protein) and bell peppers (or other vegetables) to coat in curry paste. 
  4. Add water, more coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar.
  5. Cover and simmer on the stovetop (10 minutes) or in the Instant Pot (5 minutes at high pressure; with a 5 minute natural release).
  6. Stir in baby spinach until wilted.
  7. Add lime juice. 
  8. Serve over rice with some lime wedges and cilantro. Enjoy!

Possible Variations

  • Make it vegetarian – For a vegetarian version, try this with cubed sweet potatoes, chopped mushrooms, or canned chickpeas. 
  • Change protein – Instead of chicken, try it with chicken thighs, pork, beef, fish, or tofu. 
  • Change vegetables – This recipe uses bell peppers and spinach, but try it with squash, eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes, or snow peas.

More Thai Curry Recipes

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4.63 from 8 votes

Thai Coconut Chicken Curry

This weeknight-friendly Thai Coconut Chicken Curry is filled with tender bites of chicken in creamy, rich, coconut curry broth. Customize with any vegetables you have on hand and use any color of Thai curry paste you’d like. This recipe includes instructions for the stovetop and Instant Pot.
To adjust the servings in this recipe, click on the number next to servings.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

Equipment

  • Dutch oven, wok, saute pan or Instant Pot

Ingredients 

  • 1 3/4 cups Coconut Milk, divided (regular, not light)
  • 2 Tbsp Thai Curry Paste (see note)
  • 1 tsp grated Fresh Ginger (sub ground ginger)
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, cubed
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1 cup Water or Chicken / Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce (this will give you the most authentic flavor, but you can sub soy sauce or Tamari)
  • 2 tsp Brown Sugar
  • 5 oz Baby Spinach
  • 1 Lime, sliced into wedges
  • Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
  • Rice, for serving

Instructions 

Stovetop:

  • Heat a Dutch oven, wok, or saute pan over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup coconut milk (if using canned coconut milk that has separated, use the top, thicker portion of the milk) to the pan. Add curry paste and cook them together, stirring constantly, until it has reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Stir in ginger and ground coriander and cook for a minute more.
  • Add chicken and bell pepper and stir to coat in curry paste.
  • Pour water, remaining ~1 cup coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar over chicken.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to maintain a low simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until chicken is tender, about 10 minutes. In the last minute of cooking stir in baby spinach until wilted.
  • Remove pan from heat and squeeze lime juice from a few of the wedges into the curry.
  • Serve curry over rice with cilantro on top and extra lime wedges on the side.

Instant Pot:

  • Turn on the pressure cooker’s sauté function to normal / medium. When hot, add 3/4 cup coconut milk (if using canned coconut milk that has separated, use the top, thicker portion of the milk).
  • To coconut milk, add curry paste, ginger, and ground coriander, and simmer, stirring constantly, until thick and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Turn off the simmer function and stir in chicken and bell peppers until coated in curry paste.
  • Add water, remaining ~1 cup coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar.
  • Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan (this is a key step to prevent the burn error).
  • Close and lock the lid. Set steam valve to Sealing. Cook on manual / high for 5 minutes.
  • Let pressure naturally release for 5 minutes and then manually release any remaining pressure.
  • Stir baby spinach into curry until wilted. Squeeze lime juice from a few of the wedges into the curry as well.
  • Serve curry over rice with cilantro on top and extra lime wedges on the side.

Notes

Thai Curry Paste - This recipe works with any type of curry paste - red, panang, green, or yellow. Be sure to use Thai-style curry paste that comes from the international aisle, not curry powder which is usually found with the other dried spices. I find 2 Tbsp of curry paste to make a curry that is noticeably spicy, though tempered by a bit of sugar and the coconut milk in this recipe. Use more or less depending on your spice preference. American-made Thai curry paste like Thai Kitchen can be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores and tend to be more mild than the Thai imports that are found at international / Asian grocery stores, so keep that in mind as you are estimating how much curry paste is right for you. 

Nutrition

Calories: 369kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 73mg | Sodium: 763mg | Potassium: 939mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 5604IU | Vitamin C: 56mg | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $10.00
Calories: 369
Keyword: Chicken Recipe, easy dinner, easy Thai recipe, Thai curry
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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

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2 Comments

  1. 3 stars
    It’s hit or miss with this one, kind of weird how the recipe doesn’t include much seasonings or salt at all. Turned out okay, had to tweak a bunch of the ingredients to get a semi flavorful curry:

    1. Hi Moises – sorry this wasn’t a win for you. I learned to make my Thai curries in Bangkok, and the traditional method doesn’t include salt. The saltiness instead comes from fish sauce. It’s also important to play around with the brand of curry paste that you use as mentioned in the notes. Some curry pastes have a lot more flavor than others, so it’s always a good idea to adjust the amount you use and / or try different brands. I hope that helps if you decide to make it again! – Jess