Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vietnamese chicken curry - ca ri ga (see notes for vegetarian version)

Thanks to the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program and Lactaid, I am posting my first ever video clip on A Little Bit Burnt and making a Vietnamese chicken curry, or ca ri ga, with Lactaid lactose-free milk. The video clip is a quick run through of making the curry - this post and recipe will have much more detail and notes on variations. This is a traditional Vietnamese curry made with chicken.  I have also included notes for making a vegetarian version.  You can also use turkey instead of chicken, or even a beef version by swapping out the chicken broth for beef broth, and beef for chicken.

The key to Vietnamese curry is the curry powder itself. You have to use a Vietnamese curry powder blend, which is different from a typical curry powder blend you're going to find in the spice section of a regular grocery store.  Vietnamese curry blends are a little hot, more savory than a typical Thai curry.  You might find the curry powder in a package like the picture here, in a jar, or there are also some curry pastes in a jar.  They will say "ca ri ni an do" which means Madras curry, though I don't think the blend is the same as a typical Madras curry - just look for a curry blend that is written in Vietnamese and you should get the right flavors.  Some of the curry powder blends have whole bay leaves in the jar.  You can also sometimes find Vietnamese curry pastes in a jar. 

Ca ri ga, or Vietnamese chicken curry, is more of a soupy chicken stew rather than a thick curry.  Some people like a stronger, richer coconut flavor, but my mother always made it with a mixture of regular skim milk and coconut milk, partly to cut down on the fat but also so the coconut flavor isn't so strong.  It's often served with a nice, crusty baguette or french bread, or over rice noodles.  At family parties, my mom often just leaves the pot on the stove and offers both rice noodles and bread, and everyone can just serve themselves.  You could serve it with rice but it's not typical.  If you have a Vietnamese bakery in your area, try picking up bread from there, but if you can't find any, a nice french baguette or loaf works just fine.


Makes about 8 servings
  • 1 x 2-1/2 - 3 lb. chicken, cut up or you can buy pre-cut pieces at the store. Or if you prefer, use all breasts or thighs depending on your preference.  You can also include a few sliced up boneless breasts or thighs to add towards the end if you want to increase the protein and have some boneless bites for everyone.  (For a vegetarian version, use 1 or 2 tubs of firm tofu - see notes below)
  • 7-8 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into about 2" lengths
  • 6 small russet potatoes, peeled and cut into about 2" large pieces, with larger pieces cut in half
  • 4 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into similar 2" large pieces
  • 1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 3-4"piece of ginger, bruised with the back of your knife
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 x 32 oz. carton, or 4 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, or homemade (For a vegetarian version, you can use veggie stock or just water - you may then end up increasing your salt a little bit)
  • 2 cups Lactaid milk, fat free and calcium-enriched, or milk of your preference
  • 1 x 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp. Vietnamese curry powder
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt, more to salt and pepper the chicken pieces
  • 1 - 2 tsp. sugar
  • Cooked rice noodles or baguette or french bread for serving
Beginning prep:

1.  Break down your chicken into 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks and 2 wings,  and then break everything down a little further.  Cut each breast through the bone into thirds, each thigh in half, each drumstick in half, and then divide each wing at the joints.  This is best done with with a big cleaver, but if you don't have one, it's probably best to leave the drumsticks and thighs whole as the bones are bigger and thicker.  If you are adding a few additional boneless thighs or breasts, slice them into bite-sized pieces and set aside until later in the cooking process.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

2.  Prep all your vegetables as described above in the ingredient list.

Making the curry:

3.  In a large pot or dutch oven, drizzle a little canola or vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat.  Add sliced shallots and garlic and saute for a minute or so until fragrant.  Add 2 Tbsp. curry powder and saute for about 30 seconds.

4.  Push everything to the side and add the chicken pieces and brown for a few minutes on each side in two batches.  Set the chicken aside for now.

5.  Add the sliced onions to the pot and saute for a minute, and then add the chicken broth, add the chicken pieces back to the pot, the piece of bruised ginger, the coconut milk and let it all come to a gentle boil.

6.  Add fish sauce and 1 Tbsp. salt, the potatoes, carrots and coconut milk and turn the heat down to medium and bring everything to a simmer.  Let everything simmer for about 10 minutes.

7.  Taste the curry and if you want a stronger curry flavor, add a little more, up to another tablespoon.  Add 1 tsp. of the sugar for now. Don't worry if it tastes a little spicy yet as you'll add a little milk at the end still.  Add the sweet potatoes and let everything simmer for another 10 minutes.

8.  Turn the heat down to low to a very gentle, low simmer, and add the milk and stir well. Let everything simmer on low heat for another couple of minutes or so.   If you like, add another teaspoon sugar or more fish sauce to balance the flavors to your liking.  The chicken should be fall-apart tender, and the vegetables should be soft and tender, though should hopefully still be retaining their shape.

Serve with Vietnamese french bread, a piece of baguette or french bread, or over rice noodles.  When serving, make sure each diner has a little bit of everything, or let everyone serve themselves.  As with most soups, stews and curries, this tastes even better the next day.  Reheat gently over medium to medium low heat.

For a vegetarian version:

If you want to make this vegetarian, you can add cubes of pan-fried tofu.  Remove the tofu from the package and let it sit in a colander for a while and drain.  Dry it off as much as possible with paper towels. Slice into smaller pieces - thirds or quarters depending on the size of your tofu. Heat about an inch of oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat or even a pot to reduce oil splatter.  Once it's hot (try the chopstick method - put the tip of a chopstick into the oil and if bubbles gather around it, it's ready), add the slices of tofu and brown on all sides and set aside over a rack to drain off any excess oil.  Then slice into large cubes.  If you have an Asian grocery store in your area, you can probably find pre-fried tofu, which is great because it makes things a little easier.  

Follow steps 1 through 3, omit step 4, and pick up with step 5 again.  Replace chicken broth with veggie stock or just water, and omit fish sauce.  You may end up increasing the curry powder or salt a little to make up for the fish sauce.  Add the tofu cubes with the sweet potatoes in step 7.


  1. Congrats on your first video! I love it!

  2. I'm reading this blog on an iPad and can't see the video, darn! But anyway the recipe looks great. I really, really like East Asian (or in this case Southeast Asian) curries. Not too strong but really savory. For me, it's wonderful comfort food. (PS: I'm definitely a thigh man when it comes to chicken.)

  3. Hi Frank - the video is pretty basic so you're probably not missing too much :) Let me know how you like it if you give it a try!

  4. that huge pot of curry looks very any left overs?:)

  5. Tam, I am so glad I saw this. Today I bought a pack of curry powder at my local Vietmanese shop. I was waiting to try it to see if it was different or the same as other curry powders. Your recipe looks and sounds so good. I love that it's served with bread, that sounds delish. Great video too. I'll be getting back to you once I try it :)

  6. @Spicie Foodie - what perfect timing! Look forward to hearing how you like it - and yes, it's really perfect with a nice baguette or crusty bread to soak up all the curry. Gotta love the French influence on Vietnamese food :)

  7. Hi Tam,
    O-M-G! Your curry recipe is awesome. I made it last night, and my husband wanted me to tell you "this curry rocks!" Obviously we loved it. So much in fact that I had cut your recipe in half for the 2 of us thinking that we would have left overs for lunch. We were 2 little piggies and ate all of it, wait I think there was a carrot left:) Thank you so much for sharing your recipe. It will be going into my rotation. Now I got myself craving more.

  8. @Spicie Foodie - so happy you and your husband liked it! Thanks for letting me know - love hearing about it!