Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nyona-Style Spiced Fried Chicken, Long Beans in Coconut Milk, and Celebration Rice

Fried chicken, stewed green beans, and rice could have just as easily been a typical Sunday dinner menu from the American south. Instead, those were the first three dishes I tried from the book Cradle of Flavor, by James Oseland, which explores the cuisine of the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. This chicken was marinated in coconut milk with lots of spices and shallots before being fried. The green beans were long beans that I had received from our CSA, and they were stewed in coconut milk with red chiles, tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, and the rice was turmeric-seasoned jasmine rice steamed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I had just finished reading this book which is a great source of information on the variety of spices and vegetables, the cooking styles, and the way of life of the islands mentioned, and I couldn’t wait to get cooking.

It will be an ongoing challenge to locate some of the ingredients as I cook dishes from this book, but it will be worth it to learn about this cuisine and experience at least most of the intended flavors. One challenge that I had right away was finding kaffir lime leaves. A few years ago, I could never find them, then they suddenly appeared with the packaged fresh herbs at Central Market, but last week they were gone. I asked if they would be back soon and learned that due to a pest problem on the trees in California, they’re not able to ship the leaves out of state right now. Maybe we’ll eventually get some again, or maybe I’ll have to grow my own kaffir lime tree. As for daun pandan leaves, which I learned impart a vanilla-like flavor, and daun salam leaves that have a subtle spicy woodsy flavor, I haven’t seen them yet, but I might get lucky and find them in a freezer case one of these days. Both of those are always listed as optional in the recipes in this book, and most of the other ingredients are findable in well-stocked grocery stores or Asian markets. I should point out that throughout the recipes, there are menu suggestions for what to pair with what and how to build a meal. There are also photos of some of the spices, herbs, and vegetables, and a few of the finished dishes.

So, I had those fresh, local, long beans, and decided to cut them into short lengths to use them in the green beans with coconut milk recipe. Shallots, garlic, and chiles were cooked in oil in a medium saucepan, and if I had found daun salam leaves, they would have been added. The cut beans along with tomato wedges were added and cooked briefly before coconut milk and water were poured over the vegetables. This was left to simmer for about 20 minutes until the beans were thoroughly cooked but not mushy. In the menu suggestions for this recipe, celebration rice is mentioned, so that’s where I turned next. Turmeric was stirred into a mixture of coconut milk and water, and that was poured over rinsed and drained rice. Lemongrass, salt, and kaffir lime leaves, of sorts, were added. Daun pandan and daun salam leaves would have been added if I had them. Regarding the kaffir lime leaves, since I had no chance of finding fresh ones, I resorted to the pre-chopped, jarred variety. The flavor was ok, but I hope we get the fresh leaves here again soon. The rice was cooked and then left to steam off the heat for a bit.

Then came the fried chicken, and who can resist fried chicken of any kind? In this case, the first step was making a spice blend from cinnamon sticks, dried red chiles, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, ground turmeric, sugar, and salt. One option is to use a mortar and pestle, and another is to use a food processor. Even if I owned a mortar and pestle, that would not have been my choice, and happily Oseland agrees and suggests a food processor for efficiency’s sake. My little mini prep didn’t seem to enjoy the seeds and cinnamon sticks, and I ended up transferring the spices to my coffee grinder that I use just for spices. It took a lot of shaking and rearranging of the seeds and sticks, but it was eventually ground into a paste. Then, chopped shallots were added. That mixture was stirred into coconut milk in a wide bowl, and the chicken pieces were placed in it to marinate for several hours. Just before frying, the chicken was patted dry with paper towels so that it didn’t sputter in the oil. It was served with a dipping sauce made with Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and sliced red chiles.

The beans in coconut milk is a straightforward dish, but the mix of garlic, shallots, and chiles added great flavor. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed leftover green beans as much as I did these. And, the rice was no simplistic starch on the side. Of course, I’m wondering what I’m missing by not having located all of the ingredients, but with the ones I was able to include, the rice was fragrant and lovely. I would tell you all about the layers of flavor and how the marinade left the chicken tender and the frying crisped it well, but I think I devoured it too quickly to give it much thought. I haven’t decided what I’ll cook from the book next, but it might be a satay, a fish curry, or maybe a potato rendang unless I jump to the sweets chapter for the Indonesian spice cake.



28 comments:

  1. Wow, this all looks fantastic. I'm desperate for that fried chicken.

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  2. This looks too good to be true! I would like to know the exact quantities of the ingredients for the chicken. It looks so darn good that I must try it myself asap.

    Ta!

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  3. My stomach almost growled looking at that picture. That looks so yummy!

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  4. Wow! This all sounds amazing!

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  5. Mmm, fried chicken. I haven't eaten meat in 23 years but I have to admit that fried chicken (and chicken noodle soup) still tempt me sometimes. Luckily, I then remember that I am as skilled at frying things as George Bush is at riding a segue -- so the temptation passes because I know it would be a flop. Yours looks absolutely beautiful.

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  6. Such a mouth watering dish you made here Lisa. Especially that crispy chicken.

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  7. I especially love the chicken. What a gorgeous color.

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  8. Oh my gosh, the whole meal sounds fantastic! I'd especially love to try the beans!

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  9. Mmmhhh, what a fantastic meal! Awesome flavors and combinations!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  10. the chicken looks fabulous... I'd eat lots of it hahaha

    Good twist on the beans, coconut milk will add more depth to the bland flavour x

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  11. The chicken and green beans look so delicious!

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  12. Working your way through the book sounds like a fun challenge:D

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  13. Yum, this looks like a flavor explosion of a good kind. Absolutely incredible. Love the chicken in coconut milk - can't wait to give it a try.

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  14. This is a mouthwatering spread. The fried chicken would get me in trouble after I couldn't stop eating it. The spice mixture really sounds intriguing- especially the coriander and fennel seeds. The long beans and rice look fantastic as well.

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  15. This is an amazing combination of flavors! Each component of the meal looks absolutely terrific!

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  16. So many beautiful flavors going on here. i have done stews with coconut milk and I think they are perfect esp. during the summer months. I love the rice and the wonderful spices and herbs you have in there.

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  17. it must certainly be worth the effort to hunt down all those authentic ingredients--what a delicious meal!

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  18. Nice looking meal, Lisa! I'd like to figure out a vegetarian version of that chicken.

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  19. Wow, look at your Nyonya spiced chicken! It looks do good! At the moment I am watching an Asian drama series called 'The Little Nyonya' which shows loads of Nyonya style cookings and food, what a good timing!

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  20. I love fried chicken!! your version is kicked up a notch, I bet it was delicious!!! now i have to find that seasoning!!

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  21. Waw,..what a stunning meal this is!!
    I so much love all of the flavours you have used in here!


    MMMMMMMM,..a fab meal!

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  22. That looks wonderful Lisa! Just like the dishes we had when we'd visit Singapore growing up (mum is Singaporean :) )

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  23. I have been craving that cookbook as the flavors from that part of the world seem to hypnotize me. And this dish is no exception!

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  24. My friend grows her own kaffir lime tree. She says the fragrance alone is worth planting one in your backyard. ;)

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  25. I miss my kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves. These are the kind of aromatics I find it hard to get in the US. :(

    And though the fried chicken may look "ordinary" just like any fried chicken (looking crispy and moist) , you need to know Nyonya food to know it is outrageously fragrant and delicious! And I know it is.

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  26. Wow is right - delicious! And this fried chicken is outstanding! You are so talented with all of these flavors. Love this whole meal.

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  27. You did a fantastic job. Everything looks so delicious. I can almost smell the fragrance of the rice.

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  28. Lisa, by now I am completely sure that every cookbook you recommend ends up in my wish list at amazon.com

    I am surprised by the green beans in coconut milk - it seems to me that Brazilians should have thought about doing that, but I'd never heard of it. Very interesting cookbook, I'm doing my best to control myself....

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