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quick & dirty Thai coconut curry

I need a method for a quick Thai-type curry. I just made one and the sauce separated into watery and grainy and so I'm obviously doing something wrong. Keep in mind, I don't want anything time-consuming and complicated; I'm looking for something I can throw together quickly, and in this instance authenticity is not a priority.

Here's what I did: fried some Thai curry paste in a bit of the coconut cream from the top of the coconut milk can. then I stirred in the rest of the coconut milk, and added some brown sugar, salt, and a dash of fish sauce. The sauce was creamy and delicious.

Then I added some chicken, let it come to a boil, turned it down and covered it and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. When I came back to it, the chicken was cooked and the sauce had separated.

It still tastes okay but the texture is awful. Where did I go wrong?

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  1. what was "grainy"? the sauce was creamy until you added the chicken and boiled it? your fat separated out from the solids in the coconut milk & cream when you boiled it with the chicken protein. was it skin-on chicken? what happened when you stirred the sauce? did it appear to re-emulsify to any extent?

    i'm not having any great insight, but just trying to think. even with indian curries, oil separation is desired (or looked for as a sign of doneness). but there is no "graininess."

    1. Don't add the coconut cream or milk until last (when the chicken is cooked). Use a little chicken stock initially instead of the cream. I make a similar version this all of the time, but I did find that the coconut milk will separate if you heat it for too long.

      1. If you're okay with cooking in the microwave, I've been really happy with this recipe from "Ham on the Street" on Food Network:


        Only change I'd recommend is only cooking the oil and curry for one minute to start with instead of the three minutes the recipe suggests.

        1. I do this kind of curry exactly as you described pretty frequently and it has never split. A couple of small differences in my prep are that I sear the chicken in a separate pan and keep it to the side and add it in to the curry at the very end to finish cooking it thru. I also stir fry the paste, then when the oil separates from that, add in the coconut cream, then when the oil rises from that, the milk and veggies, allow to come to boil once, then simmer on low heat till veggies are done, add in chicken in last few minutes.

          1. It seems you have the basic idea down. I have some thoughts about what the grainy/separating problem is.

            First, I think you need to keep stirring the curry as it cooks -- not constantly, but regularly. I would leave uncovered, and add some stock, so there is plenty of liquid to reduce as it cooks.
            Also, your brown sugar could be the cause of the graininess -- I suggest regular or palm sugar instead. In any event if you do use brown sugar, you'll need to stir well to be sure it dissolves. Good luck next time, and let us know!

            1. I used to have this same problem every time I made Thai curry. The secret - add coconut milk at the end, and let it just come to a boil then simmer ONLY. The other secret - if you add lime juice and holy basil leaves, add it after the curry has come off the stove.

              With pre-made curry paste, you need to chop and assemble all ingredients first, then you should be able cook a Thai curry in less than 15 minutes. I had to spend some time in Thailand before I got my curries just right! If you're interested, I've got a full write-up for my own version of making your own curry paste, as well as how to cook it thereafter, at http://seattleyummystuff.blogspot.com...

              Good luck!

              1. I'd modify your method a bit - add the chicken when you're frying the curry paste and coconut curry. Cook for a bit until the outside looks done (I have to assume you're using chunks considering the quickness of the cooking time), and then add the rest of the ingredents. Don't bring it to a boil, just leave to simmer for 15 minutes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ali

                  I slice my chicken (breast) across the grain for long, medium-thickness, strips. I would not suggest simmering the curry after putting in the lime juice - completely loses the brightness of flavor, and makes it taste 'off'.

                  In agreement with alkapal, some degree of the oil separating from the curry is desired in Thailand, but not the grainy separation smittys spoke of. If you initially fry the curry paste & coconut milk until it 'cracks' (separates), you will get the full depth of the flavor Thais generally strive for (but I must admit I like mine more integrated).

                2. When I have used my coconut milk early and added stock to thin or anything acid I have had separation. Now I fry my curry in the cream of the coconut milk after cooking my vegetables then add the coconut milk last and cook. I have held it on the stove for an hour or two and up to a boil with no separation.

                  1. I agree with some of the others here. There is no special technique or magic stirring configuration involved... you simply added the ingredients in the wrong order. Coconut goes in LAST! And by last, that means simply add it so that it warms up but does not boil - there's no reason to boil it, you just want it warm.

                    1. Thanks so much, everyone. This is really helpful!