Light Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)
Vietnamese chicken curry (cà ri gà) is flavorful curry soup made with madras curry powder, lemongrass, and coconut milk. The added use of coconut water makes this hearty Vietnamese curry lighter while still maintaining a rich, aromatic broth. Serve with baguette (banh mi) or rice noodles.
When my family vacationed in Ho Chi Minh city and the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam many years ago, we thoroughly enjoyed the traditional Vietnamese cuisine: the world famous pho noodle soup, Vietnamese seafood dishes, salads, spring rolls, and the list goes on for other delicious Vietnamese foods.
Here is a memorable Vietnamese curry that I enjoyed in Vietnam and wanted to recreate in my own kitchen. Called “cà ri gà”, this Vietnamese chicken curry is a warm and scrumptious bowl of tender chicken in a rich curry stewed with potato and carrot.
Although there is some wait time needed for the marinade to season the chicken, overall this is a very easy curry dish that the whole family can enjoy without much effort to prepare.
What makes Vietnamese chicken curry different than other curries?
Vietnamese chicken curry is a light and flavorful curry that is slightly different than Thai or Indian chicken curries. Thai curry generally has an abundant amounts of spicy chili peppers, and overall presents strong flavors due to the liberal use of stronger spices, while Vietnamese curry uses hot chili peppers sparingly. That makes Vietnamese chicken curry much milder and thinner.
Although Vietnamese chicken curry’s spice mixture is influenced by Indian curry, the flavor and the texture has diverged quite a bit from Indian curry, which tends to be thicker and richer. And thanks to the fish sauce in particular, Vietnamese curry definitely has its own unique flavor.
Almost like a curry soup, Vietnamese chicken curry has a thinner broth with a sweet flavor tones from the coconut. You can dip your Vietnamese baguette, or banh mi, in the broth, or use the broth to pour over rice noodles to soak up the rich broth. It really is a wonderful, warm comfort food.
The golden curry soup is made with chicken pieces that are marinated with Vietnamese curry powder, lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce. Then the chicken is pan fried and simmered in a broth mixture of coconut milk and chicken stock.
For my recipe, I like to use less coconut milk and add coconut water to lighten things up a bit. You will still enjoy the rich, gently sweet, and earthy flavor that a classic Vietnamese curry offers without any heaviness.
Vietnamese curry powder
For a Vietnamese curry, I use Madras curry powder. The spices include coriander seed, cumin, turmeric, chili, ginger, cinnamon, bay leaves, anise, cloves and salt. This is a mildly spicy curry powder, so even children can handle the heat.
You can get this curry powder at most Asian or some Indian markets. If you can’t find this specific brand, you can go with other Vietnamese alternatives, or even other Indian brands.
Ingredients and recipe notes
- Chicken: I recommend to use bone-in chicken pieces, such as drumsticks or thigh – dark meat is better. I use a whole chicken (with skin mostly removed) cut up into similar sized pieces, about 3-inches in size, so that they all cook evenly.
- Lemongrass: This fragrant plant (or herb) is very tough and woody. It is a staple ingredient for Southeast Asian cuisine. Make sure to remove the tough outer layers and use the tender white and light green parts inside. Lemongrass is easily found in many Asian groceries. If you can’t find the fresh lemongrass plant, look for frozen minced lemongrass or lemongrass paste in your local store.
- Potato & carrot: These root vegetables make the curry hearty and wholesome. I used Yukon potatoes. Cut these vegetables in big chunks to that they don’t break up easily.
- Shallot (or onion): make sure it is finely minced.
- Fish sauce: I use Viet Huong’s “Three Crab” fish sauce which can easily be found at Asian and mainstream American grocery stores.
- Coconut milk: gives a creamy richness and sweetness to the curry. Too much coconut milk, however, is overpowering and makes the curry too rich.
- Coconut water (or coconut juice): lightens the curry broth and adds a sweetness without overpowering the dish.
- Chicken stock: will deepen the flavor of the curry.
How to make Vietnamese chicken curry
Step 1. Remove the tough, woody outer layer of the lemongrass and mince the white and light green parts. Put the lemongrass and garlic in a mortar and pestle and pound them to a paste.
Step 2. Put chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl. Add lemongrass and garlic paste, finely minced onion (or shallot), madras curry powder, and fish sauce. Toss the chicken to coat well. Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes to overnight.
Step 3. Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat, brown chicken on all sides in small batches without crowding too much.
Step 4. When all the chicken pieces are browned, add coconut water, chicken stock, and sugar to the pot. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes
Step 5. Add potato and carrot pieces and continue to cook, covered, until they are tender and soft over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and heat through, about 3-4 minutes.
How to serve Vietnamese chicken curry
Ladle the hot curry into individual serving bowls. This curry soup is traditionally dipped with a Vietnamese baguette (banh mi) – if you are lucky enough to get one – or use a French baguette. It is also great over rice noodles or vermicelli.
Other Asian dishes
If you love Southeast Asian flavors, try these delicious Thai and Vietnamese recipes that you can easily make at home:
- Easy Vegetable Curry with Coconut Milk (Sayur Lodeh)
- Best Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe (Ga Xe Phay)
- Easy Thai Red Curry with Chicken & Vegetables
- Vietnamese Mango Shrimp Salad (Gỏi Xoài)
- Thai Basil Fried Rice with Shrimp
Light Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)
- banh mi or baguette , sliced
- rice noodles , or vermicelli
- For the lemongrass, remove the tough, woody outer layer and mince the white and light green parts.
- Grind the minced lemongrass and garlic cloves with a mortar and pestle until grounded into a paste.
- Put chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl. Add lemongrass and garlic paste, finely minced onion (or shallot), madras curry powder, and fish sauce. Toss the chicken to coat well. Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes to overnight.
- Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat, brown chicken on all sides in small batches without crowding too much.
- When all the chicken pieces are browned, add coconut water, chicken stock, and sugar to the pot. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes
- Add potato and carrot pieces and continue to cook, covered, until they are tender and soft over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and heat through, about 3-4 minutes.
- To serve, ladle the hot curry into individual serving bowls. This curry soup is traditionally dipped with a Vietnamese baguette (banh mi) or use a French baguette. It is also great over rice noodles or vermicelli.