When my parents came to visit last weekend, I took them to H-Mart. Yes, the huge Asian supermarket. Yes, for fun! My parents don’t have any grocery stores like that where they live, and they wanted to check it out. Besides, over the years of my parents visiting, we’ve exhausted pretty much everything on the typical DC-area must-do list, so we’ve got to get a little creative with our adventures now. And the Saturday samples at H-Mart!—they put Costco to shame. As we walked in through the doors, my eyes lit up, and I’m pretty sure I exclaimed “Mangoes!” Imagine the delight of a little kid being offered an ice cream cone he wasn’t expecting, and you’ll get the picture. I didn’t realize mangoes were coming into season, and it was like a surprise present seeing them piled high in the produce aisle. I have a thing for mangoes, but specifically the small yellow kind, which are sometimes hard to find and usually more expensive. I’ve seen them labeled as champagne mangoes or ataulfo mangoes (which are apparently two names for the same thing), but comparing them to the more widely-available Tommy Atkins mango is like comparing Haribo Gold Bears to CVS brand gummy bears. It’s just laughable. The champagne mango is sweet and tart and delicious, but the real draw for me is its texture, which is just to die for: it’s unbelievably smooth and creamy, unlike the Tommy Atkins mango, which is so fibrous that sometimes you think it’s been crossbred with celery. I don’t want to have to go floss my teeth after I eat a piece of fruit. Obviously, a box of those mangoes came home with me. I reluctantly shared some with my mom, and hoarded the rest for myself. Mostly, I just like to eat them plain, or mix them into some yogurt with a sprinkle of nuts or granola for breakfast. I have a hard time finding recipes that I like that use mangoes because they rarely seem to do the mango justice. The main dishes are often too one-note sweet for my taste, and the desserts I’ve tried seem to detract from the mango flavor instead of complement it. These curried chicken thighs, however, are spot-on. I have to admit, when I read the ingredient list, it sounded pretty impossible that everything could come together and actually taste good. It’s got a lot going on. First, you blend up a spice mixture that includes fennel and curry powder—not a combination I’ve seen before—and use it like a dry rub on your chicken.
Next, after browning the chicken, you sear potato pieces in the same pan you cooked the chicken in, then dump the chicken back in the pan along with some water, cinnamon sticks, tomato paste and sugar. Sounds odd, right? Just go with it. After a few minutes, you add some okra pods and let them stew a little while. Once the veggies are tender, lemon juice brightens everything up, and it’s cooked a little more until it thickens.
Mango, peanut, and fresh cilantro top everything off, and the dish wouldn’t be the same without them. Seriously, they play a small but essential part; we’ve got some Best Supporting Actor nominees here.
Heat from the cayenne and curry powder, sweetness from the brown sugar and mangoes, richness from the chicken and potatoes, and crunch from the peanuts and okra—it sounds like it would be a mess, but somehow it all works.
Note: This is adapted, barely, from the Curried Chicken Legs with Okra and Potatoes from Epicurious.
Curried Chicken Thighs with Okra and Potatoes serves 4
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb.), patted dry
- 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
- 2 tsp. curry powder; I used hot madras
- 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp. peeled minced fresh ginger
- 1 1/3 lb. new potatoes (red-skinned)
- 1/2 lb. fresh okra
- 1 c. water
- 2 1/2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 champagne mango, diced
- 2 Tbsp. chopped roasted salted peanuts
- 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
- Grind the the coriander, curry powder, fennel, and cayenne in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, then place the mixture in a medium bowl. Add the chopped garlic and ginger to the dry spices, and stir to combine. Add the chicken thighs and rub all over. Season to taste with kosher salt. Let them sit while you prep the veggies.
- Cut the potatoes into 1″ chunks and trim the okra stems, but don’t cut the pods. Combine the water, brown sugar, and tomato paste.
- Heat the oil in a large 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. (I have also made this in a stock pot, and it works fine but you might have to brown the chicken in 2 batches.) Add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and tent with foil.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the potatoes to the same skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes start to brown.
- Add the chicken plus any accumulated juices back into the skillet, and also add the water mixture and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Add the okra and simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes. At this point, the potatoes should be almost done, and the okra should be getting tender but still fairly bright green.
- Add the lemon juice and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and season to taste with kosher salt. Divide among 4 plates and top evenly with mango, peanuts, and cilantro.