This recipe is from "660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking," by Raghavan Iyer (Workman, $32.50). Even though the chiles are potent, the vinegar and coconut milk in this dish bring it down many notches to make a hot, sweet, creamy curry. Ladle it over mounds of cooked rice for a southern Indian-style meal (red rice would be the choice in India).
¼ cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
6 medium-size garlic cloves
3 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed
1 (3½ pound) chicken, skin removed, cut into eight pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 (14.5-oounce) can diced tomato
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
Pour the vinegar into a blender jar, followed by the salt, turmeric, onion, garlic and chiles. Purée, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to make a smooth, yellow-hued light purple marinade.
Place the chicken in a baking dish and spoon the marinade over it, turning the chicken pieces to coat them thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes or up to two hours, to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat. (Because vinegar is so acidic, you do not want to marinate the chicken for any longer because it might break down the meat's texture, rendering it unappetizing.) Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, including the marinade, meat side down, in a single layer.
Cook, allowing the meat to sear after some of the nose-tingling marinade boils off, until browned, five to seven minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown on the other side, about five minutes.
Pour in the coconut milk and lift the chicken pieces slightly to allow it to coat the bottom of the skillet and to loosen the browned bits, deglazing the skillet.
Add the diced tomatoes, with their juice, stirring to incorporate them into the curry. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, turning the chicken pieces occasionally and basting them every three to four minutes, until the meat in the thickest parts is no longer pink inside and the juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter.
Stir the cilantro into the sauce, raise the heat to medium, and simmer vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chunky, reddish-brown curry is slightly thick, five to eight minutes.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.