This Coconut Milk Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Bell Peppers recipe is a wonderful fusion of Thai flavors. It’s the perfect bowl of warming comfort food brimming with color and flavor. Made with chicken thighs, spices, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and creamy coconut milk, it’s cozy, creamy, perfectly spiced and filled with vegetables. Finish each bowl off with steamed rice, herbs, and plenty of lime.
The spice mix on the chicken is key to the flavor. It’s a mix of turmeric, ginger, cumin and black pepper. After tossing the chicken with the spices, if you have the opportunity, let the chicken get happy overnight to take on even more flavor. You don’t have to do this, but even a few hours in the fridge adds more depth to the dish.
When everything is in, just simmer the chicken in the pot and let it slowly cook in the coconut milk. It doesn’t take too long, about 30 minutes or so for thighs (shorter if you’re using breasts.) The coconut milk is obviously creamy and flavorful, but it also prevents the poultry from drying out and creates super tender pieces of chicken.
Coconut Milk Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Bell Peppers
2 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
2 medium shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. chili flakes, or more
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 cans 14 oz. full-fat coconut milk, whisked until creamy
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Steamed rice, for serving
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
2 limes, quartered, for serving
Toss the chicken with the turmeric, ginger, cumin, pepper, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon oil. Let sit 5 minutes or up to overnight in the fridge.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 the chicken and sear on both sides until browned, about 2 minutes. Pull the chicken out of the pan, and repeat with remaining half of chicken.
To the pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the peppers, shallots, garlic, and chili flakes, cook 3 minutes, then toss in the sweet potatoes. Reduce the heat to med-low. Pour in the coconut milk and fish sauce. Slide the chicken and any juices on the plate into the milk.
Simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through ad potatoes are tender. If the sauce becomes too thick, cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt.
Meanwhile, make the steamed rice according to package directions.
Divide rice between bowls, then spoon the chicken and sauce over the rice. Top with basil, peanuts, and serve with lime wedges.
Southeast Asian curries combine Indian influences with regional ingredients such as lemon grass and star anise. For this one, Milk Street took inspiration from a recipe in “Best of Malaysian Cooking” by Betty Saw. Instead of calling for a long list of spices, this uses Indian curry powder as an easy flavor base; and sambal oelek, an Indonesian-style chili paste which adds bright heat to the meal.
The dish was delish, BUT, it took way longer than indicated. First, since we couldn’t locate boneless short ribs, we bought a chuck roast that was sliced in half lengthwise and popped into the freezer for 30 minutes. This allowed us to easily cut the beef into thin, 1⁄8-inch slices. And there was quite a bit of prep—at least 20 minutes worth—so there was no way this meal was going to be done in a half hour!
Then, the potato halves, which were supposed to be tender after 30 minutes, were still too firm after 45. I fished them out of the curry, and microwaved for several minutes before reuniting them with the other ingredients. For a pop of color, chopped cilantro was added as a final garnish.
It is suggested you serve over hot jasmine rice, yet we are not typically fans of both potatoes and rice in the same dish. Although it would be lovely over rice to help sop up the wonderful sauce, we would substitute sweet bell red and/or green peppers in place of the potatoes, cooking them first before the onions to reduce incorporating any more liquid into the curry.
Tips: Don’t forget to trim off any silver skin from the short ribs before slicing. The silver skin is stringy and fibrous unless the meat is cooking for a long time, and if left in place, it will cause the slices of beef to curl during simmering. Look for sambal in well-stocked supermarkets and Asian grocery stores; if it’s not available, chili-garlic paste is a good substitute.
1½ lbs. boneless beef short ribs (or chuck roast), trimmed and cut to ⅛-inch thick slices against the grain
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 medium red onion, halved thinly sliced
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1½ Tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, trimmed to the bottom 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, bruised
2 Tbsp. curry powder
2 star anise pods
1 lb. small Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1½ inches in diameter), unpeeled, halved
14 oz. can coconut milk
1 Tbsp. sambal oelek or chili-garlic paste, plus more as needed
Cilantro, roughly chopped for garnish (optional)
Season the beef with salt and pepper; set aside. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, curry powder, star anise and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften and the mixture is fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Add the beef, potatoes, coconut milk and sambal, then bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot. Reduce to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until a skewer inserted into the largest potatoes meets no resistance, about 30 minutes (or longer).
Off heat, taste and season with salt, pepper and additional sambal. Remove and discard the star anise and lemon grass. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if using.