I immediately made some changes. A lot of changes. Let's just say what I made was my riff on Sara Kate's riff. First, 10 cloves of garlic would promptly kill me. I eliminated them completely. Also, though I'm getting better with cilantro, I am still not a huge fan of it. Then there's the "whole chicken" requirement: I can never get anyone to eat the legs, and I didn't want to deal with carving, so I used chicken breasts. (They were from very well-endowed chickens, so I cut them in half.) I couldn't easily get my hands on lemon grass. I didn't have any fresh ginger. I forgot the cinnamon stick. You get the picture. So let's talk about what I did do and how it tasted.
It was delicious! I love basil in Thai dishes, so I figured that would complement coconut milk. I used some roughly-chopped rosemary, thyme, and sage, as well. I happened to have some extra nonfat evaporated milk, and only one can of light coconut milk, so I threw that in. I added sauteed onion. The resulting dish was savory, with a hint of sweetness. The chicken was very tender, and the broth was delicious. I served it over spaetzle - tiny German dumplings - another experiment - but I think it would be better over rice. You've gotta have some way to soak up that juice!
Here's the recipe I made up:
Coconut Milk Chicken
half an onion, diced small and sauteed in a little oil
3 or 4 large chicken breasts (bones in), cut in half
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 can (13-15 ounces) light coconut milk
1 large can nonfat evaporated milk (if I hadn't had this open in the fridge, I might have added some stock, or wine, or whole milk)
fresh basil, plus other herbs you like - I used sage, thyme, and rosemary
zest of 2 lemons
grated fresh ginger or a few shakes of powdered ginger
Preheat the oven to 375F. Dice half an onion and saute, slowly, in a little olive oil. Set aside.
Season the chicken liberally, on both sides, with salt and pepper. In an oven-safe dish, like a Dutch oven, or the leftover-from-the-70s dish you have from your mom's kitchen (you know it: it comes in yellow, orange, brown, or avocado), heat the butter and sesame oil. Add the chicken and saute it over decent heat to brown all sides. This should take about 5 minutes total, so you're just looking for a little quick color. A note here: I love crispy skin. However, even if you get a good crust on it, and then cook it in liquid, the skin gets soft, so then I don't want to eat it. For taste reasons, I'd recommend using chicken with skin and following this step even though I pulled the skin off my piece. Second note: in order to get nice color on the chicken, I sauteed it in two batches. I was able to squish it all together to bake, but I wanted it to have a little space in the pan during browning.
When the chicken is brown, remove it to a plate. Drain out the remaining oil and butter and discard. At this point, I added about half the remaining ingredients. I put in half the coconut milk, some evaporated milk, half the herbs, the sauteed onion, and some ginger, and gave it a stir. Next, place the chicken snugly in the dish. Pour in the remaining coconut milk, evaporated milk, and herbs, along with the lemon zest and a little more ginger. Stir it around a little, and then place the dish in the oven.
Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is succulent and pulls away easily from the bone. Baste with the juices approximately every 15 minutes.
The original recipe calls for pulling the meat off the bone and piling it up on the serving plate with the potatoes (which I didn't even include in my recipe). Oops! This is the first time I've noticed that. I just placed the baking dish right on the table, Jamie Oliver-style, so we could spoon out as much of the broth as we needed. Serve with some kind of soaking-up starch: rice, dumplings, orzo, or a good crusty bread. This serves four, but you could easily use a larger baking dish and make a double recipe to serve a group.