Not all coconut milks are created equal. Canned coconut milk – both regular and light – is made from finely ground coconut meat that is recombined with water for an even, gooey texture that can easily overwhelm other ingredients. It’s one of the reasons why in Colombia they make their own, and we at Milk Street found it to be much easier than it looks.
In this recipe from our “Milk Street Tuesday Nights” book, which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we use a quick homemade coconut milk to braise savory chicken thighs.
Milk comes together in a blender by mixing unsweetened shredded coconut with hot water. We then pass the mixture, pressing down on the solids, to extract a milk that is lighter in both flavor and body. The process only takes a few minutes and results in a light and flavorful coconut milk that works wonders.
Colombian cooks use the milk as the base for a coarse, bright yellow sauce topped with broth powder and an annatto-heavy packet of sazón. We substitute easier-to-find turmeric and soy sauce to replicate the same flavor.
The tomato paste adds depth and the fresh cherry tomatoes – tossed with fresh lime juice – liven up the chicken.
The fresh, buttery flavor of coconut milk enhances rather than overpowers other flavors for a dish with a luscious texture and floral scent.
We liked this with coconut rice, but plain rice is good too.
BRAISED COLOMBIAN COCONUT CHICKEN
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
8 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 tbsp lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
In a blender, combine the coconut and 2 cups warm water. Let stand until coconut begins to soften, about 1 minute. Blend on high power until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large measuring cup or medium bowl, pressing out the solids; you should have 1½ cups strained coconut milk. Discard the solids; reserve the coconut milk.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil until it simmers. Stir in the turmeric and cook until fragrant and the oil has turned yellow, about 30 seconds.
Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste and allspice until well combined, then stir in the coconut milk, soy sauce and 1 tsp salt.
Bring to a boil, lay the chicken in an even layer in the liquid, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink when cut, 18 to 22 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through cooking.
Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a bowl.
Bring liquid to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced by about half, about 12 minutes.
Pour in the accumulated chicken juice and simmer for another minute. Off the heat, stir in the lime juice and tomatoes.
Taste and season with salt, then return the chicken to the pot, turning to coat. Cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with lime wedges.