Tuesday, August 16, 2011
During the month of Ramadan, those of you who're fasting would probably be cooking up something special every other night (or two) at home, whipping up dishes leaning on the festive side yet restrained and nourishing. I know I would definitely want my ayam percik during this month while another friend announced to me the other night that this spicy chicken rendang was for the win during Iftar. After some dates, a glass of cold fruit juice and perhaps an assortment of kuih from the Ramadan bazaar, nothing beats the comfort and blessings of a warm, home-cooked meal.
On other days though, after having spent more than a few tough hours between sunrise and sunset, an inspiring home-cooked meal would not only have to be simple and also achievable, preferably in one pot. After braving the crowds at the bazaar - and possibly traffic before that - just to get your family's favorite kuih lapis or onde-onde, the last thing you need is to come back to your kitchen realizing you forgot the coconut milk and a bunch of curry leaves that kick-ass rendang calls for. At times like this all you want to do is defrost some meat, grab some vegetables, open your spice cabinet and start cooking.
This is where Vijay's mother comes in. Armed with passion for food, creativity and a talent of just putting things together, she came up with this favorite chicken dish of his 7 years ago, out of the simplest things - tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and a handful of spices.
Chances are you'd already have all of these in your pantry and other than some fine chopping, it's all just about putting everything into the wok and getting the bird cooked, I promise. In fact if you remove the Asian spices and replace them with some rosemary, thyme and marjoram, with a little bit of lemon juice and grated zest, it could easily turn into a hearty Italian chicken stew, best slathered over a plate of aglio olio. I believe mothers around the world conspired to cook up love like this so we can all adapt and go international.
We had a little discussion on what to call the dish, you know, this being one of those problems of the world that had to be solved when something made out of a whim from the most unassuming array of ingredients turned out so good it topped all the other known-to-the-world dishes in one's heart. After some disagreements and a brief moment entertaining the idea of 'chicken pink', we decided to name it after its creator. So it was 'Mag's Chicken', until I added the preparation and main ingredient into the name, just as how Vijay had always described it to me when I asked him what is that chicken number from his mother he would always ask for whenever he's back home.
Inspired by Mom's spontaneous spirits and a certain degree of maverick in this, I cooked up a short-cut, bare minimum, Mom-may-shake-her-head biryani to go with the chicken. I included the recipe here just in case you feel like winging it too. Take these recipes, get your mise en place together and have fun in your kitchen. Ditch some of the vegetables if you don't have them, use canned tomatoes if they're not in season where you are, forget the shallots if you can't be bothered peeling them after a hard day at the office. This is the dish to make it your own, while dancing to a good tune and working all your magic into your food.
Who knows when I'll come home to a smoking kitchen and be greeted with Vijay's Chicken instead? *Hint*
Mag's Spiced Tomato Chicken
Recipe from Vijay's mother, Mages.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: If you don't happen to have all the required fresh spices or fresh turmeric, ground ones can be used. Include them between the first and second covered cooking time.
- 1 whole chicken (about 1 kilogram), cut into 10 pieces
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anises
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 5-6 shallots, sliced
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 stalk lemongrass, crushed
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons oil for frying
- 1 bunch corriander, stalks and leaves finely chopped
For the paste:
- 1 whole garlic, peeled
- 2 inches young ginger
- 2 inches fresh turmeric
- 2 tomatoes, cubed
- 3 red chilies, seeds removed
- 1 large carrot, cubed
Blend the ingredients for the paste in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
In a large pot or wok over medium heat, add in the oil. When oil is ready for frying, add in the cinnamon, star anise, cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Fry briefly till fragrant, then add in shallots, onion and lemongrass. Fry till onions has softened, then add in the chicken. Increase heat to high, mix well to coat. Add in the blended paste and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bell peppers, carrot and potatoes. Stir to mix well and reduce heat to medium.
Cover for about 10 minutes. Remove cover and give it a quick stir. Cover for another 10 minutes. Remove cover, add in tomato paste if using and the chopped coriander, leaving some for garnish. Stir briefly, check the chicken for doneness and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Serve with warm jasmine rice, an easy biryani rice (recipe following) or some roti.
Quick Olive Oil Biryani
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: I cooked this short cut biryani with minimum ingredients and olive oil to serve with the chicken when Vijay told me his mum did the same thing in my kitchen after not finding any ghee to cook the rice. If you don't have saffron on hand, replace with turmeric for a similar color and an equally flavorful earthy taste in the rice. Add fried cashews and some raisins should you wish to jazz it up further.
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anises
- 4 cloves
- 2 red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 inches fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 4 tablespoons fresh plain yogurt
- 4-6 cups homemade chicken stock
- 6-8 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl, dilute about a tablespoon of yogurt with some water and add in the saffron. Set aside to steep. Rinse the rice and soak for about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a pot or large frying pan, heat up the olive oil. Add in the spices and fry briefly till fragrant. Add in the onions and ginger. Sautee till onions are golden. Reduce heat to low and add in the rice. Stir to coat gently, about 1 minute. Transfer all the contents to a rice cooker. Add in the steeped saffron and yogurt mixture and the rest of the yogurt. Stir gently to mix. Add in the chicken stock according to your rice cooker level and cook till rice is done.
Once the rice is done, open the rice cooker cover to release all the steam and cover to let stand for about 20 minutes. Fluff the rice with a chopstick to loosen. Serve warm with the spiced chicken.
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