Sunday, October 07, 2007

Malaysian Soysauce Chicken: Recalling the "old days"

It's been a hectic while since I put out a posting, and with jury duty coming up tomorrow, I'm pulling up one from my past. It's not an old recipe so much as a recalled approach to cooking I learned during my nearly eight years in Malaysia. This is a Malay-style dish, which shares ancestry with Indonesian cooking but also has Chinese influences since the two cultures lived side by side, albeit sometimes fractiously, for centuries.

Soysauce, the Chinese extract of fermented soybeans and wheat flour with salt, is know in Malay as "kecap" (kee' chop) . That word, by the way, roughly meaning "cooking sauce", led to our word "ketchup" for a vegetable sauce, now pretty exclusively the tomato-based condiment. "Ayam", or chicken, actually originated in the Malay Archipeligo, where it was domesticated from the native jungle fowl, "ayam hutan". But back to the recipe.

This was developed many years after I was in Malaysia, a place with fantastically great food, as I pictured it my memory rather than from a recorded recipe. But like fiction, that is often based on reality as filtered through the writer's mind, this recipe is truthfully if not literally Malaysian.

Malaysian Soy Sauce Chicken Tim

The recipe serves four to six when accompanied by rice. (It's been pointed out to me that my "six" is skimpy for college-age students.)

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh
3 tablespoons soy sauce (not “lite”), such as Kikoman
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or crushed hot red pepper flakes (or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil, such as canola, for the chicken
2 shallots or a small onion (or already fried onion, available at Indian groceries)
Oil for frying
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts for garnish (the red-skinned “Spanish” style are closest to the Malay style)
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Cucumber for accompaniment, ideally small pickling type

Remove fatty and tough parts from the chicken. Cut the flesh into1/2-inch thick slices and mix in the soy sauce, cornstarch, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Then mix in 2 tablespoons of oil. Let the chicken marinate 20 - 30 minutes.

If using fresh shallot or onion, slice it thinly lengthwise, and fry it in oil in a non-stick frying pan turning it frequently until golden. Remove it to a paper towel to drain and cool. Break it up into pieces.

Remove most of the oil (save it) from the pan and reheat the pan. Quickly fry half the marinated chicken, turning it frequently, until it begins to brown in spots. Thigh takes a little longer than breast. Remove it to a clean bowl. Add a little more oil to the pan and similarly fry the rest of the chicken. Add it to the previously cooked chicken.

Serve the chicken on a bed of rice (ideally rice cooked in coconut milk). Sprinkle with the fried shallots or onions, peanuts, and cilantro. Peel the cucumber only if the skin is tough or waxed. Cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices, or preferably into small wedges using a rolling cut. Rinse the cucumber pieces with water, drain quickly and surround the rice with the pieces.

Accompany with an Asian chili-garlic sauce.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tim!

Just made this tonight with some coconut rice and loved it. My roommates were quite pleased, too.

One thing I'm curious about: why the corn starch? Is it just a thickening agent...b/c why a thickening agent in a marinade?

Happy Holidays from D.C.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Tim Dondero said...

Nabeel: I don't know when your comment was from. But I'm glad you liked the soy sauce chicken. The cornstarch in the marinade is to help it cling to the chicken when it's roasted and to give it a little shine. It's actually a trick from Japanese cooking, teriyaki, which has "shine" in its name. Tim

7:59 PM  

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