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Apr 28, 2015
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WINE WITH…Chicken with Spicy Coconut Milk

When tangy, invigorating spice meets the soothing flavor and plush texture of coconut milk, the results can be outstanding. It’s a pleasurable duet that works with almost any savory food, including shrimp, noodles, and various veggies. Chicken, with its generally mild flavor and permeable texture, lends itself exceptionally well to absorbing the contrasting spicy-sweet sauce.

Chicken With Spicy Coconut Milk

Serves 2

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (we use olive oil)
1 medium onion, minced
2 tablespoons grated or finely minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
¼ cup minced cilantro
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6-8 ounces) cut in strips about1/2 inch thick
½ cup fresh lemon juice

Garnish: 2 tablespoons minced cilantro (or half cilantro, half fresh mint)

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and then add the onion and cook, without browning, until it has softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for another minute or two. Stir in the curry powder, cinnamon and tomato paste. When well blended, pour in the wine. Cook over high heat until mixture is reduced by almost half; then add the tomatoes and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the ¼ cup cilantro, the chicken and lemon juice, and simmer, covered, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 10-15 minutes.
Serve over noodles or rice and garnish with more cilantro.

* * *

We often choose dishes that are obviously wine-friendly for this column, but we sometimes go the opposite route and prepare something that might be difficult to pair with wine. So it was with this sweet and spicy preparation, as it is a dish whose mélange of ingredients might suggest that it will go just as well if not better with beer. Proof is in the tasting, though, and we found five wines that worked quite well with it. The only problem is that they did not share a common profile. You want something refreshing but at the same time assertive, as well as something unafraid of spicy heat but still comfortable with tropical sweetness. That’s a tricky combination, and our tasting of some 15 wines suggests that getting it right will be something of a hit or miss exercise. Nonetheless, when the pairing works, the result can be truly delicious.

More recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  
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Approx. Price


Kim Crawford, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2013

(Imported by Constellation Imports)


Though light-bodied, this Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc bursts with citrus and green herb flavors. It sports a high level of acidity, so definitely qualifies as refreshing. At the same time, its flavors are undoubtedly aggressive, so the dish will not overpower it.

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel “Heritage Vines” 2013


Very different stylistically, this zesty red works because it complements the spicy notes in the dish. Though there is nothing excessive about it, it still has a forceful personality and definitely holds its own with the sweet and spicy chicken.

Frei Brothers, Russian River Valley Sonoma County (California) Pinot Noir “Reserve” 2012


Bright red (think cherries or raspberries) fruit is this wine’s calling card. It seemed a bit too sweet when tried on its own, but the coconut milk and cinnamon found a very sympathetic partner.

Henry’s Drive, Padthaway (Australia)

Syrah 2012

(Imported by Quintessential, LLC)


We would have guessed that this wine would prove too big and brash, but the peppery spice in it made for a delectable pairing—perhaps the best of the whole evening.

Schramsberg Mirabelle, California Brut Rosé NV


Sparkling wine often works well with spicy foods as the bubbles temper the heat. That’s what happened with this one. As an added bonus, Mirabelle is a more overtly fruity than most of the other Schramsberg bubblies, and that richness helped it in this particular pairing.