From Charles Phan’s authentic, inspiring Vietnamese Home Cooking, this simple yet sumptuous curry is typical of the fresh and vibrant dishes you’ll typically find in the real Vietnam…

Curry can be made in so many different styles, from the brothy coconut milk versions popular in Thailand to the thick, saucy Indian curries. The Vietnamese version is very brothy and rich, but contains no coconut milk. There are four components to curry: fat, sugar, acidity, and spice. The fat can come from coconut milk, animal fat, or oil, the sweetness from onions, carrots, or celery. The acidic element might be mango, tamarind, tomatoes, or citrus, and the spices vary from region to region. The best curries balance the four components.


Curry leaves and galangal (an aromatic root used throughout Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia) can be found at most well-stocked Asian groceries. When you see them, buy lots. Both will keep tightly sealed in plastic storage bags in the freezer for several months. If possible, salt the chicken the night before cooking so the meat is seasoned to the bone.


  • 1.35kg (3lb) whole chicken, with legs (separated into drumsticks and thighs), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 60ml (2fl oz) plus 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 3 lemongrass stalks
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 teaspoons shrimp paste
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine
  • 85g (3oz) fresh or canned tomato, diced
  • 2 Thai chillis, stemmed and halved crosswise on the diagonal
  • 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 5 x 2.5cm (2 x 1in) piece of fresh galangal, peeled and sliced
  • 3 litres (5 pints) chicken stock
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 2.5cm (1in) pieces
  • 225g (8oz) Yukon Gold (or new) potatoes, diced


​● Put the chicken legs in a single layer on a roasting tin and season them on both sides with the salt. Cover loosely with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. The following day, bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking.

​● In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, working in batches, add the chicken legs and cook, turning once, for about 8 minutes, until browned on both sides. As each batch is ready, transfer it to a clean roasting tin.

cooking curry

​● Cut off the pale, fleshy part (the bottom 10cm (4in) of each lemongrass stalk and discard the dry tops. Crush the lemongrass with the side of a cleaver or a kitchen mallet, and set aside.

​● In a large clay pan (or frying pan), heat 60ml (2fl oz) of oil over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes, until they are very soft and deep golden brown. If the onions begin to get too dark, turn down the heat. Add the shrimp paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper and cook for another minute.

​● Stir in the wine and tomato and cook for 4–5 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion mixture looks dry. Add the chillis, curry and bay leaves, lemongrass, and galangal. Pour in the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 11/2 hours, until the liquid is reduced by half.

​● Pour the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Remove the curry and bay leaves and the lemongrass stalks from the sieve and discard. Using a rubber spatula, press as much of the remaining onion mixture as possible through the sieve into the liquid.


​● Return the strained braising liquid to the clay pan, place over a medium heat, and bring to a boil. Add the browned chicken, carrot, and potato, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the chicken is opaque throughout and the carrots and potatoes are tender.

​● Remove from the heat and serve directly from the clay pan, accompanied by steamed rice or cooked rice vermicelli.

Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking is published by Jacqui Small.