Thai yellow chicken curry, or gaeng garee, is a popular flavorful Thai curry dish consisting of chicken pieces simmered in a delicious coconut curry sauce. The delicious herbs and spices from the curry mixed with juicy chicken pieces and paired for rice is a mouthwatering combo. While living in Thailand for a month, I was able to take a cooking class at the Blue Elephant cooking school, where I learned how to make yummy traditional Thai curries.
While its undeniably delicious, is Thai chicken curry healthy?
Thai chicken curry is a very unhealthy dish due to its high fat content from the coconut milk and heavy usage of carbs from the rice. A serving of Thai yellow curry can run up to 700 calories, largely due to the fat content from coconut milk, which is a whopping 12 grams of fat per serving, and carbs from the rice that the curry is eaten with.
Thankfully, I’ve figured out a way to make a healthy and low calorie Thai yellow chicken curry recipe using a couple key ingredient swaps to make this a low fat curry.
Calories and Nutrition - How To Make It Healthy
In this healthy Thai yellow curry recipe, I used key ingredients swaps to make this a more macro friendly and calorie conscious dish. Here are some key tweaks I made:
- Chicken – Opt to use lean protein like chicken thigh. Can also use chicken thigh, shrimps, fish, or seafood for other lean protein sources.
- Coconut Milk – Use light coconut milk - a serving of light milk is 45 calories vs 120 calories from normal coconut milk due to less fat content as the light version has less coconut cream.
- Portion sugar and seasonings mindfully – Used 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Both are essential to the curry flavor and 1 teaspoon of sugar is only 15 calories of sugar.
- Portion the rice – I used 1 serving of brown rice at 160 calories
- Choose vegetables mindfully – While many recipes will include potatoes, I omitted it given its high protein and calorie content. Stick to low calorie veggies like onions, carrots, and mushrooms.
- Use cooking spray – Instead of traditional oil for everything that was sautéd or fried. 1 tablespoon of olive oil adds a whopping 120 calories to the dish, whereas cooking spray is 0 calories.
For a detailed breakdown of each ingredients, their portioning, and how they make up the nutrition profile of the Thai yellow curry chicken recipe, you may refer to the table below:
- Thai Crab Curry
- Butternut Squash Curry
- Chinese Curry Chicken Noodles
- Salted Egg Squid
- Salted Egg Fried Rice
- Healthy Thai Food
Rice – I use 1 serving of brown rice. White rice and jasmine rice work well too.
Chicken – I opted for boneless skinless chicken thigh for optimal texture. You can also use boneless chicken breasts too, but it may be a little dry. I would advise against using chicken with skin, as it adds about 100 more calories per serving, largely from fat.
Thai Yellow Curry Paste – I made yellow curry paste from scratch using a mortar and pestle. Yellow curry paste is a mixture of lemongrass, shrimp paste, coriander, cumin, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilis, and turmeric. Fresh ingredients work best here for an authentic flavor, but given how scarce these ingredients are, you can also use dried versions. You can also use store bought Thai curry paste for a short cut – the mae ploy brand is a favorite among home cooks.
Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and shrimp paste may be more specialized ingredients that are. harder to find. For ingredient substitutions for harder to find curry ingredients, refer the the substitutions section below.
Coconut Milk – Used 1 serving of light coconut milk - used warm water to deglaze as needed.
Veggies – I used carrots, mushrooms, and onions. Bell peppers, bamboo shoots, chili peppers, and sweet potatoes are also popular choices.
Seasonings – The curry sauce is often seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice to give it a balanced flavor. Palm sugar is what's traditionally used but both brown sugar and white sugar also work.
How To Make The Yellow Curry
Prepare the rice – Ideally make the rice beforehand so that you can put the curry together when everything is done.
Make the curry paste – Gather the yellow curry past ingredients together. Slice the lower half of the lemongrass into small slices until the purple rings disappear. Crush the garlic with the back of your knife and de-stem the kaffir lime leaf. Add all the curry paste ingredients together in a mortar and pestle. Grind until the mixture is a smooth paste, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a food processor.
Prepare the vegetables – Cut the carrots, mushrooms, onion, and garlic.
Sauté the curry paste – Use cooking spray and spray a skillet, then saute the curry paste along with the garlic and onions.
Add the coconut milk – Turn the stove to low heat and add in coconut milk. High heat will make the milk evaporate very fast. If that happens, you can deglaze the sauce with water.
Cook the veggies and chicken – Add the vegetables and the chicken into the curry and cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through thoroughly.
Season to taste – Add the fish sauce and sugar into the curry mixture. Taste and adjust if needed.
Serve and enjoy – Garnish with cilantro and chili flakes if desired and serve with rice, and enjoy your delicious yellow curry recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Thai yellow curry has a mild spice that comes from the usage of Thai chilis in making the curry paste. Compared to other types of Thai curries, such as green curry and red curry, yellow curry is on the more mild side. To adjust the spice level, adjust the amount of Thai chili you use.
Thai yellow curry has a sweet and citrus-like savory flavor that comes from ground spices, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and shrimp paste, making a delicious combination of flavors. The coconut milk gives it a creamy taste that balances it out the savory taste.
Yes, yellow curry is good for you given the wide variety of nutrient packed herbs and the balanced macronutrients of chicken, carbs, and fats from the coconut milk that make it a well-balanced dish. Just use the ingredient swaps in this recipe to make the dish low fat.
Yes, coconut milk can be very unhealthy given that 1 serving of coconut milk is 120 calories due to its high fat content. For a healthier option, use light coconut milk, which is a lower fat content coconut milk with the same amazing flavor.
Water to deglaze as needed – If the coconut milk seems to be evaporating too much, make sure the heat is lowered and deglaze the pan with water as needed
Add turmeric later on – If your mortar and pestle is white and you want to have an easier time cleaning, add in the turmeric while your cooking the curry to prevent the mortar from staining.
Use a mortar and pestle for ultimate flavor – The mortar and pestle releases flavors in the herbs that cannot be achieved with a food processor, making the most authentic curry paste. This mortar and pestle on Amazon is relatively inexpensive and will be your new favorite kitchen tool.
Kaffir Lime Leaf Stem – Be sure to destem the kaffir lime leaves - the stem has a bitter flavor that can be unpleasant. To destem, fold the leave in half and cut off the stem.
How to use lemongrass – For the curry paste, we will use the lower white half of the lemongrass stalk. Slice the lemongrass widthwise, until the purple rings begin to disappear.
Substitutions and Variations
Galangal sub – Galangal is a relatively harder to find herb. I was able to find it at HMart as well as my local asian markets. You can order dried galangal online or substitute by using ginger and a spritz of lemon juice.
Kaffir Lime Leaves – Kaffir lime leaves are also a harder to find herb. I've also been able to find it at HMart as well as my local Vietnamese grocery store, or find dried kaffir lime leaves online. If you cannot find it, you can just omit it.
Adjust spiciness – Use no chilis for no spice, 1 Thai chili for a mild spice, and 2-3 chilis for a medium to heavier spice.
Switch up the rice with Brown rice, white rice, mixed grain rice or cauliflower rice – Health wise, they are all similar in calories and macros, with mixed grain rice slightly higher in calories (190 calories vs 160 calories for one serving). Cauliflower rice is a good option for those who prefer a low carb diet.
Switch up the protein – Yellow curry goes well with seafood as well. Shrimp, crab meat, and squids are some of my favorite seafoods to make the curry with.
Make it without coconut milk – You can skip the coconut milk altogether – check out my Thai crab curry recipe to see how I did this.
Curry Paste – Homemade curry paste is great to make ahead and store. You can keep it in a closed glass container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Alternatively, you can store it in ice cube trays and freeze it up for up to 3 months.
Overall Dish – After you've made the dish with the coconut milk and chicken, you can store it in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
Low Calorie Thai Yellow Chicken Curry Recipe
- Mortar and Pestle
Chicken Curry Components
- 4 oz Boneless Chicken Thigh
- ¼ Carrot
- 2 Mushrooms (Sliced)
- ¼ Onions (Sliced)
- ⅓ cup Light coconut milk
- ¼ cup Brown rice (Uncooked)
- 1 tablespoon Fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- Cilantro or Thai Basil (For garnish)
Yellow Curry Paste
- ½ stalk Lemongrass
- 1 clove Garlic
- 1 slive Ginger
- 1 slice Galangal
- ¼ Shallot
- 1-2 Kaffir lime leaves
- 1-2 Thai chilis
- 4 Cilantro roots
- 1 teaspoon Ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Ground coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon Shrimp paste
- 1 teaspoon Ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon White pepper
- Start by making the rice beforehand so that you can put the curry together when everything is done.
- Gather the yellow curry paste ingredients together. Slice the lower half of the lemongrass into small slices until the purple rings disappear. Crush the garlic with the back of your knife and de-stem the kaffir lime leaf. Add all the curry paste ingredients together in a mortar and pestle. Grind until the paste has reached a paste-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a food processor.
- Cut the carrots, mushrooms, onion, and garlic.
- Use cooking spray and spray a skillet, then sauté the curry paste along with the garlic and onions.
- Turn the stove to low heat and add in coconut milk. High heat will make the milk evaporate very fast. If that happens, you can deglaze the sauce with water.
- Add the vegetables and the chicken into the curry and cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through thoroughly.
- Add the fish sauce and sugar into the curry mixture. Taste and adjust if needed.
- Garnish with cilantro and chili flakes if desired and serve with rice, and enjoy your delicious yellow curry recipe.
Thanks for the recipe it was delicious! I'm gonna try making this with red curry next time.