Until four years ago, my taste buds had never traveled through Asia. How could I have considered myself an adventurous eater when I had never sampled sushi, touched tamarind, got along with ginger? Pad See WHO?
You see, my childhood kitchen was classically American. A Norman Rockwell of the dining table crowded with the perfect carved Sunday roast beef, a white porcelain bowl mounded with mashed potatoes, a ladle in the gravy, and corn, possibly creamed. No simmering curries, no exotic spices peeking out of the spice cabinet. China was a local area code and a white paper box scrawled with red symbols. Those damn bent wire handles that would never quite fold over the top in the way I’d hoped.
And it was not disinterest or distaste that kept me patriotic. I just never knew. No one told me that coconut existed outside of Almond Joy and custard pie. That peanut butter cheated on jelly for soy sauce. That ginger, lemongrass, and tamari were friends.
Not until I moved into my own apartment did I realize that I could love foreign fare. I browsed books on Thai, Korean, and Japanese cooking. Spent a cool million at the Asian market, loading my shoebox of a pantry with fish sauce, oyster sauce, and toasted sesame oil. Don’t be fooled, it wasn’t immediate immersion. I didn’t fall head over heels for every wok-seared dish. But after years of experimentation, of learning a new culinary language, I can finally call myself adventurous and mean it.
This dish, Spicy Coconut Chicken with Spicy Mango Basil Salsa, is delicious. My dear friend, Emily, prepared this for me a few weeks ago. I asked her for the recipe before the fork had completely left my mouth. I then entered a food coma.
The chicken is unbearably succulent- bursting with juicy flavors of lime, rich coconut milk, sweet brown sugar, and basil. It’s then topped with fresh mango salsa that has been marinated with basil and jalapeno. All at once sweet, savory, and spicy. The taste trifecta.
Spicy Coconut Chicken or Shrimp with Spicy Mango Basil Salsa – Recipe courtesy Dave Lieberman, Food Network
- 1 mango, peeled and finely diced
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 5 basil leaves, julienned
- 1 lime, juiced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shrimp or Chicken:
- 2 fresh jalapenos, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2–inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 lime, zested
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- Small handful basil leaves, torn
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 15 grinds pepper
- 1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp — I used chicken*
For the salsa: Combine all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Make up to a day in advance. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
For the shrimp or chicken:
In a mixing bowl, combine jalapenos, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, lime zest, coconut milk, basil, vegetable oil, salt and pepper.
Place the shrimp or chicken in a large shallow bowl, pour three quarters of the marinade on top. Toss to coat.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours, refrigerated. Refrigerate the remaining 1/4 of the marinade separately. The recipe calls for you to marinate the shrimp or chicken in all of the sauce and then boil it down when you’re ready to cook the meal, to kill any potential bacteria. I don’t believe in doing this because of the fear of contamination. I’d recommend that you never re-use your marinades. Just simply save some of the sauce in a separate dish.
Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat. Use tongs or a fork to remove the shrimp from the marinade and place in an even layer in the pan.
Flip the chicken or shrimp after about 3-4 minutes. At this point, oI chose to add peppers and onions to the skillet as well because I can’t fathom a meal without vegetables. Not only for the nutrients, but for the beautiful color as well.
Let the mixture cook for another 7 or so minutes, until cooked through. Note: Shrimp cook very quickly and are done the minute they turn an opaque light pink (after about 4 minutes in the pan).
In a separate saucepan, add the reserved marinade, bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. You could also just wait until the chicken/shrimp are cooked through, remove them from the pan, and then add the sauce directly to that empty skillet. I like for everything to be done at the same time so I use two pans.
Pour over the cooked chicken or shrimp and serve with rice cooked in half coconut milk/half water with zested lime. Top the plate with the basil-mango salsa you’d made earlier.