#InstantPot Thai Red Curry Chicken and Okra

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Every home cook should have a few tricks up their sleeve for those nights when an easy dinner needs to happen without tasting like you phoned it in. Curry pastes have often been my salvation in this regard, in particular Thai red curry. It's a pantry staple powerhouse, packed with a combination of flavors that manage to transport you across the globe in mere minutes. When time allows, I enjoy the adventure in hunting down proper ingredients to make my own red curry paste, though sourcing galangal and makrut lime is where I usually fall short. The core ingredients, namely Thai red chiles, shallots, garlic and lemongrass are much easier to find, as are spices like coriander and cumin. Still, these days I've come to appreciate the convenience of keeping a few tins of store-bought Thai red curry paste in the pantry.

If you don't see Thai ingredients in your local grocery store, purchasing online is a great option. I've recently joined the Snuk Foods team as a social media consultant and can attest to their massive catalog of international and specialty food products. That includes a few varieties of red curry paste, along with the other Asian pantry essentials listed as ingredients below. (As I'm writing this, I did a quick search to confirm they even carry dried galangal!) Snuk's editorial arm, Caravan, is where you can also find quality reading material and recipes, so be sure to stay for awhile and browse the full site. I was thrilled when we added a few Instant Pot recipes this month. One of the wonderful things about cooking curry dishes is how seamlessly the techniques of one country's cuisine can be applied to the curry dishes from another region of the world. Indian American cookbook author Chandra Ram provided a solid framework for cooking Butter Chicken in a pressure cooker, which I used to tweak my usual stove top method for the Thai Red Curry Chicken in this post.

The versatility of red curry paste makes it an easy choice for whatever protein or veggies happen to be in the fridge. Add a can or two of coconut milk and you're definitely in business. In tonight's case, chicken thighs and fresh okra were begging to join forces. Chicken thighs can be braised in a relatively short amount of time over the stove top, but the pressure cooker still manages to cut that in half while producing stewed meat in a sauce that tastes as if it had simmered slowly for hours. In much the same way that pantry staples save my life on a regular basis, the Instant Pot has also become a kitchen appliance I've learned to lean on. It's not quite "set it and forget it" cooking, however. Pressurized steam can be a bit aggressive for tender vegetables, so while okra is tough enough to be cooked along with the chicken, I opted to add the red pepper just before serving, to preserve its crisp texture. If you modify this recipe with veggies of your own, my best advice is to make that consideration on your end as well versus throwing everything into the pot at once. Curry pastes are flavorful enough to hide a multitude of sins, but mushy vegetables isn't one of them. If it's a meatless option you're after, check out my Red Curry Okra and Eggplant post from the early days of this blog.

Curry dishes are a treat I can still enjoy when I'm being mindful of my diet. You should always read labels of course, but I haven't had too much trouble avoiding added sugars or even soy. (If you have a shellfish allergy, be on the lookout for the inclusion of dried shrimp.) There are few things better than smothering a bowl of steaming hot Jasmine rice with red curry chicken, but that's not to say there aren't healthier things to swap in for the white rice, like riced cauliflower. As I write this post, I'm teetering on the fence of giving up my grains again for another round of Whole 30 in January. In the meantime, quinoa and Forbidden black rice have been in regular rotation, the latter of which was a perfect match tonight.

Instant Pot Thai Red Curry Chicken and Okra

2 tbsp coconut oil or neutral cooking oil
4 oz Thai red curry paste
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 lb okra, roughly chopped
1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 2" pieces
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans full-fat coconut milk*
Fish sauce, as needed
Soy sauce or coconut aminos, as needed
Sriracha or similar hot sauce, if desired
1 red bell pepper
Leaves from a few sprigs of Thai basil*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, more as needed to garnish
Several scallions, sliced thin
Red chili pepper, for optional garnish
2 limes


  • If you can't find fresh Thai basil, the regular variety will do, or omit and use additional cilantro.
  • You may not need a full second can of coconut milk, but it can be used to cook your rice if there's extra left. Alternatively, you can adjust the amount of liquid in the pot with stock or water instead of additional coconut milk, however the sauce will be thinner.

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
Special Equipment: InstantPot or other electric pressure cooker

Set your Instant Pot to the "Sauté" function on high. Once the metal basin is hot, add the oil and fry the curry paste for a couple minutes, or until the color darkens slightly.

Toss in the sliced onions and stir fry for another minute. I'm always in awe of how fragrant my kitchen gets when curry pastes are cooked. 

Next, add the chopped okra and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. I have not experimented with frozen okra in this recipe but it should work just fine.

Pour in the first can of coconut milk, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Then stir in the canned tomatoes. Allow the liquid to come up to a gentle boil.

Give the sauce a test. Seasonings can vary wildly among curry pastes, so plan to tweak this by taste no matter what you bought. A healthy splash of fish sauce and coconut aminos (or soy sauce) usually adds the right touch of umami and salt to round out a coconut curry sauce. If it's heat you're after, that's also easy to adjust with Sriracha or the equivalent hot sauce. I tend to wait until the end to make that call. The curry will taste more cohesive after it's cooked, so these things can be adjusted then too.

Once the sauce is on its way to perfection, go ahead and stir in the chopped chicken thighs. Don't substitute breasts in this case; they will end up a stringy chalky mess after pressure cooking.

You want enough sauce to cover the chicken and okra, so pour in the additional coconut milk now, if needed. Close the lid of the Instant Pot and lock it into place. Cancel the sauté function, and set the pot for high pressure, 8 minutes. 

While the chicken cooks, it's a good time to get some rice going and work on those garnishes. Slice one lime in half to squeeze into the pot later; the remaining can be cut into wedges for serving.

After 8 minutes of high pressure, allow for 5 minutes of natural steam release before turning the valve for the quick-release. Turn the sauté function back on high, to give the sauce a few minutes to thicken. Stir occasionally. Make any final adjustments with fish sauce, coconut aminos, or hot sauce, as needed. 

Thin slices of red pepper can now be added to the pot. The coconut curry sauce is hot enough to cook them just to soften slightly. 

Finally, fold in the fresh cilantro and Thai basil, which can be torn into smaller pieces. Squeeze in the juice of one lime, for a finishing burst of acid that brightens the rich curry sauce.

When ready to serve, the sauce should be creamy and coat the back of a wooden spoon like gravy. Stewed okra served as double duty here, adding thickening power to the sauce. The tender chunks of chicken will hold their shape through pressure cooking, then fall apart with each bite.

It's tempting to slurp this up as a soup all on its own, but nutty black rice was calling my name tonight. I garnished with extra lime, scallions, sliced Fresno chili peppers and cilantro leaves.

Thai red curry chicken gets bonus points for being a beautiful dish to plate. After running around all week on a hectic schedule, it was wonderful to sit down to a dish that looks (and tasted) as good as something I'd order in a restaurant. Even better news? Thanks to the magic of pressure cooking, this arrived on my table faster than takeout. 

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  1. Thanks to you, my cooking skills improved

  2. Soooooooo good! I added some mushrooms I needed to use and put over quinoa. Will probably make this every week ����‍♀️��