Coconut milk and curry paste take chicken to new heights

This Jan. 1, 2018, photo shows a Thai chicken coconut curry in Bethesda, Md. This dish is from a recipe by Melissa d'Arabian. (Melissa d'Arabian via AP)

Melissa d'Arabian

Boneless skinless chicken breasts save the day for so many busy folks who want to get a lean, protein-filled, affordable dinner on the table in a hurry.

I always have a package or two in my freezer - I buy them when they are on super-sale (which they are once every 4-6 weeks in my experience) and freeze them, a strategy even more helpful if you seek out the pricier organic or free-range versions.

Even if I forget to pop the frozen chicken in the fridge to thaw the night before I need it, I can always do a quick-thaw in a big bowl of cold water, and still get dinner on the table quickly.

This ubiquitous cut of meat is chock-full of lean protein - a 4-ounce serving is only 125 calories, and has about 26 grams of protein, plus a smattering of minerals and B vitamins, and only a gram or two of fat.

The downside to the boneless skinless chicken breast is that the flavor is a little lackluster. But what some call bland, I call a blank slate! And with so little fat in the meat, you have a little wiggle room to indulge a bit with other ingredients.

In my Weeknight Thai Curry Chicken recipe, for instance, I use full-fat coconut milk - a mere half cup for six servings of chicken is enough to create a luxurious mouth-feel without adding more than a few grams of fat per serving.

In this quick weeknight-friendly recipe, I use fragrant Thai curry paste as a rub right on thin chicken cutlets, infusing them with a ton of flavor, and I serve the sauce as an accompaniment, rather than having the chicken swim in it.

A quick saute gives the chicken just the right amount of char (don't overcook), and the coconut sauce is made flavorful with fresh basil, green onion, and garlic and quick - just a few pulses in a blender and a few minutes stovetop. Dinner in about 20 minutes will prove that weeknight cooking need never be boring.

WEEKNIGHT THAI CHICKEN CURRY

Servings: 6

Start to finish: 20 minutes

6 chicken breast cutlets, about 4 ounces each

2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste

1 teaspoon neutral oil

Sauce:

1/2 cup coconut milk (canned)

1/2 cup chicken broth

2/3 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed (about 10 large or 20 small leaves)

3 cloves garlic, chopped or passed through a garlic press

3 green onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups of cooked brown rice, for serving

Lightly pound or press the chicken breasts so that they are no thicker than 3/4 of an inch. Coat each cutlet with a teaspoon of the curry paste. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, brush the oil to coat the whole pan.

Place the chicken cutlets in the pan, smooth side of the cutlet down. Turn the heat slightly down to medium, and cover the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, uncover, and flip the chicken using a spatula. (If the chicken is stuck to the pan, let it cook for another minute or two and then flip.)

Let the chicken cook on the second side, uncovered, for another 5 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 160 F. Remove from heat and set on cooked brown rice on plate or platter to serve. Meanwhile, place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and pulse just enough to mix, leaving some of the basil in flecks. Pour the sauce into a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Spoon a few tablespoons of sauce over the chicken and rice.

Chef's Note: I used full fat coconut milk for unctuous texture since the quantity is relatively low, but you may substitute low-fat version.

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Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories; 79 calories from fat; 9 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 86 mg cholesterol; 602 mg sodium; 26 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 30 g protein.

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Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy."

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Online: http://www.melissadarabian.net

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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