Friday, April 15, 2011

Thai Chicken in a Peanut, Coconut, Red Curry Sauce Paired with 2008 Koonowla Riesling

Thai Chicken Peanut Coconut Red Curry-2

Last week I was craving Thai chicken in a peanut, coconut, red curry sauce.  After a bit of research and a pair of attempts, I have satisfied the craving.  Selecting a wine for the pairing was quite easy although many people seem to have challenges pairing wine with Thai food, or more generally with Asian food.

As a final introductory comment, I want to tell you that the recipe (included at the end) is ridiculously easy, and this is literally a 30 minute prep – including the time to pour your self a glass of wine to quench your thirst while slaving away in the kitchen.  When you are craving flavor and don’t have much time or energy, I would put this recipe at the top of your list.

The Food

Following my normal routine for preparing a recipe, I started by considering what other people are doing.  I looked at half a dozen recipes to provide a foundation, then selected the flavors I wanted to emphasize.  In this case I wanted clearly be able to distinguish the peanut, coconut, curry, and balance this with a moderate level of heat (picante).  The recipe is quite successful in forming this balance that allows each of the flavors to shine through.

Thai Chicken Peanut Coconut Red Curry

This dish would go equally well over rice, but I had not prepared rice noodles before and wanted to give it a go.  I’m glad I did – the rice noodles added a wonderful texture to the dish.  Another great thing about this dish is that it is equally good, if not better, the next day.  I ate some for breakfast this morning (hey, it beats the hell out of oatmeal), and found the noodles held up well, and the flavors seemed to be completely saturated.  Oh, and I finished off the leftovers at lunch.  I just can’t get enough of this stuff!  Yum!

Thai Chicken Peanut Coconut Red Curry-1

The Wine

I decided to take two approaches to wine pairing.  During a test run of the recipe I went the sweet, big fruit, low acidity route, and on round two with a less fruity, dry Riesling with ample acidity.

Chateau Saint Michelle and Koonowla

The first round wine was the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Harvest Select Riesling.  As I said, this wine is sweet, big fruit flavors of peach and apricot, and relatively low acidity.  This wine is a hoot to drink particularly if you are in the mood for something sweet.  At $10 per bottle, this wine is an exceptional value.

2009 Chateau Saint Michelle Riesling-2

The second wine, a 2008 Koonowla Clare Valley Reisling (Australia) filled the role of less sweet and high acidity with less dominant fruit.  We really enjoyed this wine as well.  Mild sweetness is well balanced with fresh citrus flavors and strong acidity.  This is a great food wine and a good value at $20 per bottle.

2008 Koonowla Clare Valley Riesling-2

The Pairing

This pairing is the most complicated I have done yet.  Not because it is impossible to pair wine with Thai Food as some people would leave you to believe, but because we had the same recipe two nights in a row paired with different wines.  To complicate things even more, for the second round of pairing, Golf Buddy Steve and Formerly of Austin Dawn brought another bottle of the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Harvest Select Riesling.

So here is the blow-by-blow.  The first attempt with the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Harvest Select Riesling went exceptionally well.  The sweetness cut through the heat and spice of the curry and chili paste and danced a minuet with the coconut milk.  The bold peach and apricot flavors also played very nicely with our Thai Delight.  Overall, this was an excellent pairing.  With a bit more acidity in the wine, it would have been ideal.

For round two we started with the 2008 Koonowla Clare Valley Reisling.  The combination of citrus flavors and high acidity (and a little help from the mild sweetness) was perfect for the Thai chicken recipe.  The acidity balanced the heat and spice splendidly and the sweet citrus complimented the coconut and peanut flavors with nothing but refined manners.  Chef Sue then commented that she thought the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Harvest Select Riesling from the prior evening was a better pair because of the sweetness; she did not see the acidity argument as compelling as I did.  So sure enough, we broke open the bottle of 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Harvest Select Riesling brought by Golf Buddy Steve.  We all did some side by side tasting, assessing it alongside the food and came to the conclusion they both worked extremely well for two very different reasons.

This was a nice discovery and a good example of why general guidelines for wine and food pairing can be misleading.  In this case, it would be perfectly reasonable to suggest pairing a Riesling with Thai Chicken Curry.  However, as we experienced, different Rieslings will react quite differently with the same dish.

Final Words

As a final thought, I would like to share my generalized conclusions on pairing wine with spicy Thai food.  Here are a few things too consider:

  1. Stay away from high alcohol wines; the alcohol can intensify the heat.
  2. Strong acidity is good.  The strong flavors of Thai food need the acidity in the wine in order to go toe to toe.  A less acidic wine will fade behind the big spicy flavors.
  3. Skip the tannins.  Tannins combined with spicy food can result in some off color flavors.  This is not true in all cases, but in general, you will not be pleased with the result.
  4. Go sweet, but not too sweet.  Sweetness balances the spicy flavors.  More spice and more heat = more capacity to carry a sweet wine.
  5. Pass on the Oak.  With all the fun exotic spices in Thai food, I don’t see the vanilla notes common in oaky wines playing well. Here is an example.  I think a bright, citrus laden acid hound of a Sauvignon Blanc would work great with this recipe.  Make that an oaked Sauvignon Blanc, and the result may be less desirable.
  6. White wines tend to work best as a rule, but light bodied, low tannin, fruity reds can be equally enjoyable.



  • 1 package of rice noodles (8 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons chili paste (sambal oelek if you want to be authentic)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 cans (13 ounces each) coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • crushed peanuts
  • 1 lime


  1. Bring pot of water to a near boil (enough water to submerge the rice noodles).  Remove water from heat and add rice noodles. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  2. Heat sesame oil In a large sauté pan or pot and add red curry paste, garlic, and chili paste. Keep on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken and cook until all sides are browned.
  4. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar and peanut butter.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Strain rice noodles and combine with the chicken and sauce. Stir and turn until noodles are well bathed in all that coconut curry goodness.
  7. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle with crushed nuts and garnish with lime wedges which can also be used to fine tune the acidity.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


1 comment:

  1. It was a wonderful meal, deliciously paired with the Riesling, and above all a fun fun night of socializing! Thanks for including us!