This simple, big-flavor chicken thigh dish is a great intro to the fundamentals of braising—once you've got the method down, you can braise just about anything. Braises are perfect for richer, slightly tougher cuts of meat—bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs in this case—and are all about building layers of flavor over time. You're essentially browning successive batches of ingredients (meat, followed by aromatics like onions, ginger, and garlic, followed by spices), then trapping all of that tasty goodness in liquid to create a complex and deeply delicious cooking medium. And since braises tend to be rich, we always like to serve them with something zippy to brighten things up—you can get by without the coconut condiment in this recipe, but a few wedges of lime and some cilantro are non-negotiable.
Preheat oven to 300°. Pat 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Moisture is the enemy of well-browned meat, so it's super important to get them as dry as possible before searing them. Season generously on all sides with 1 Tbsp. salt.
Okay, this is going to seem a little bit out there, but trust us: It works. Place a cold, dry large Dutch oven on the stove—no heat yet! Nestle all of your chicken thighs in there, skin side down, so that there is as much skin-to-pan contact as possible (it's fine if they're crowded together). Then turn the heat under the pan to medium. As the pan becomes hotter and hotter, the skin will start to release some of its fat and then get extra crispy and brown, a process that will probably take around 15–20 minutes. (Try not to fuss with the thighs too much while this is happening, just let them be. This is a good time to do some of the prep work outlined in the next few steps.) When the skin is deeply browned—we're only cooking the skin side right now—use tongs to transfer the thighs skin side up to a plate. Turn off the heat under the Dutch oven, but reserve it—we're going to build our braise in it, and we want all of that fat and any browned, stuck-on bits, which will lend richness and flavor to the finished dish.
While chicken is browning, do some prep: First, peel 2 onions and cut them in half through the root end. Slice 3 of the onion halves into 3 wedges each, and set the remaining half aside for later.
Smash 3 garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and remove the peel.
Using a spoon, peel 2" piece ginger. (Peeling knobby ginger with a vegetable peeler is a pain, but a spoon can get into all of those little nooks and crannies much more easily. Use a Microplane to finely grate the ginger into a small bowl.
Cook onion wedges in the reserved pot—the same one you seared the chicken in—over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown in spots and translucent, 4–6 minutes.
Now you're going to start building the base for your braise. First, add your garlic and ginger and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 Tbsp. curry powder, stirring to coat until fragrant, a minute or two more. Deglaze the pan by adding a splash of water, vigorously stirring to loosen and dissolve brown bits on bottom of the pot. Add half of coconut milk (shake it well before you open the can, as it can separate!), followed by 1 cup water. Bring the liquid up to a simmer.
Chicken time! Arrange the thighs, skin side up, in the Dutch oven so that the meat is partially submerged in the braising liquid. Cover and transfer to the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
While the chicken does its thing, you're going to make a zippy coconut condiment for spooning over the finished dish. (Who doesn't love a good topping?) Start by spreading ½ cup coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet and placing it in the oven along with the chicken. Bake coconut until golden brown, about 5 minutes—it'll go fast, so set a timer and keep an eye on it.
Now, finely chop the reserved half onion from earlier and transfer to a small bowl.
Finely grate zest of 1 lime into bowl of chopped onions. There's a ton of flavor in citrus peel, so it's always good to try to find a way to use it if you can. Cut the now-zested lime into wedges and squeeze the juice over onion mixture. Cut remaining lime into 4 wedges and save those for serving later.
Cut off the bottom inch of stem from a small handful of cilantro, then finely chop up the stems until you get to the leaves; reserve leaves for serving. Add stems and toasted coconut to bowl with onion mixture (don’t toss the mixture just yet, otherwise the coconut will get soggy).
Peel 3 sweet potatoes and cut into 2" pieces.
After 30 minutes, uncover Dutch oven and add potatoes and remaining coconut milk. Use tongs to move things around so that the the vegetables are submerged underneath the chicken thighs, which you want to have arranged skin side up. Return the pot to the oven—uncovered this time—and cook until the sweet potatoes are soft enough that they can be pierced with a knife and the chicken is tender, another 15–30 minutes. (This is a good time to start your rice. If you don't have a rice cooker, this is our go-to stovetop rice cooking method.). After this amount of time, the chicken should be tender, juicy, and nicely cooked, but you can let it go for another 30-45 minutes if you're after a more shreddable, falling-apart tender result.
Meanwhile, toss coconut condiment with ½ tsp.salt.
And there you have it! Serve chicken thighs, curry sauce, and veggies over rice. Top with coconut condiment and reserved cilantro leaves, and serve with lime wedges alongside for squeezing.
Do Ahead: Braised chicken can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Reheat over low heat before serving.