In general, when I cook I always follow a recipe. Chalk it up to a lack of “instincts” or “internal know-how,” but I’m not very good when I attempt to create something of my own. Of course, this is utterly frustrating given how many home cooks love to boast about how the true joy of cooking is experimenting. Well, risk is not a quality I’m always known for, but lately, I’ve been venturing into the Wild West of my kitchen and attempting things all by myself. Enter Red Curry Chilaquiles!
The back story here is that I’ve been making a lot of chilaquiles lately — a zingy, Mexican dish featuring chicken, cheese, and tomatillo sauce all layered amongst tortillas and baked. I kind of can’t get enough of them. Nevertheless, last weekend, I decided to do some clearing out of my freezer and fridge. I had a good amount of frozen chicken and an even, er, gooder amount of random Thai ingredients hanging around. I decided to throw all this junk into my slow cooker and attempt some sort of Thai chicken madness (think mint, cilantro, Thai chiles, galangal, coconut milk, lemongrass, lime juice, etc). Six hours later, I definitely had some Thai chicken but a) it was a little dry, and b) while flavorful, it wasn’t the BEST. I decided this chicken would be best used in some other recipe. But what would that recipe be? Perhaps… chilaquiles?
Suddenly the spirit of FUSION took over me. What if I used this Thai-flavored chicken in the chilaquiles? And what if instead of Mexican ingredients, I went Thai instead? Instead of a tomatillo sauce, I opted to go red curry. And instead of a filling of chicken, cheese, scallions, corn, and chili powder, I shredded up my Thai chicken, added mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, and Thai chiles. The big dilemma, however, was how to replicate the cheese? After all, one of the best parts of chilaquiles is all that gooey, creamy cheese, but cheese is not something I often associate with Thai food. That’s when I had my own personal moment of GENIUS, if I do say so myself. I went out and bought some sticky rice, hopeful that it would bring a creaminess in lieu of cheese. I’m happy to report that this plan worked WONDERS.
As for the curry sauce, I actually had all the ingredients to make a red curry paste from scratch, but as Ina Garten might say, store bought is just fine. I simmered two tablespoons in some coconut milk (here I followed a recipe in one of my Thai cookbooks), and after it all came to a boil, I added some sugar, some fish sauce, some basil, and some lime juice. Eventually I added more coconut milk, and the sauce was COMPLETE.
I then coated the bottom of a 9″x13″ baking dish with about a ladle or two of the red curry sauce. Over this I placed some whole wheat tortillas, then half of the chicken filling, more tortillas, the remaining filling, one last layer of tortillas, and then the rest of the sauce. I baked the whole thing off at 375 degrees for twenty-five minutes. (As you can see, I took NO pictures of any of this).
Finally, it was judgment time: would this grand experiment work? I’m happy to report that yes, yes it did!! The red curry chilaquiles were delicious — like a casserole version of a Thai classic. I mean, that’s what it was. If I were to do it again (and I most certainly would), I might add more Thai chiles and perhaps omit the mushrooms. Truthfully, classic chilaquiles still reign supreme, but this Thai variation is a fun and filling alternative.
Red Curry Chilaquiles
For the sauce:
2 Tbs red curry paste (store-bought or homemade)
1 can coconut milk
1.5 tbs sugar
2 tbs fish sauce
handful of basil
For the filling:
1 lb cooked, shredded (or diced) chicken
About a cup of cooked sticky rice
Handful of cilantro
fish sauce, to taste
lime juice, to taste
3-4 Thai chiles, diced
2 pkgs mushrooms, sliced and cooked (optional)
6-8 whole wheat tortillas (or as many as will create three layers in a dish)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Pour half the coconut milk into a saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry paste, bring to a boil for three minutes and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the sugar and fish sauce (tasting as you go). Then the basil and the juice of one lime (against tasting as you go — you might only need half the lime. Find a balance you like). Simmer for a few minutes. Then add the remaining coconut milk and heat through.
3. Combine all the filling ingredients together in a bowl, mixing until it becomes a gooey ball. Add the fish sauce to season (much as you would salt).
4. Pour some of the red curry sauce into a 9″x13″ baking dish, just enough to basically coat the bottom. Then make a layer of tortillas. Scoop half of the filling onto the tortillas and spread about. Add another layer of tortillas, followed by the remaining filling. Top off with one more layer of tortillas and all the red curry sauce. The sauce will be runny. Try to get as much as possible to stay on top of the tortillas so that they will soften in the oven.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes! Yay!