chicken

Inche Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)

Inche Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)A delectable Nyonya classic, Inche Kabin will have you licking your fingers and asking for more! Deep fried chicken morsels, marinated in a thick coconut and spiced rub, Inche Kabin is bursting with flavour and always goes down a treat.

Though not personally au fait with the origins of Inche Kabin, the reigning queen of Nyonya Cuisine Pearly Kee, refers to the dish as lipstick chicken and speaks to its importance in Nyonya culture. Often served when presenting debutantes to the society, these bite-sized pieces of chicken were the perfect option to keep the young ladies feed, allowing them to maintain their poise and dignity whilst nibbling on tasty snacks. After all, heaven forbid your future wife be seen chewing in public! Oh how the world has changed…And as to why it’s also known as lipstick chicken? I’m still not sure. It may well be poetic license, but I can only surmise that the residue of oil from the deep fried chicken upon the lips has something to do with it. I guess glossy lips have always been in vogue, even if its just a bit of grease from too much Inche Kabin!

As with all deep fried chicken, the key to a good Inche Kabin is, rather unsurprisingly, the frying. Three times seems to do the trick, resulting in a crispy crust of spices. Traditionally chopped up chicken legs are the cut of choice, but I also like to use chicken wings for the recipe. Though obviously not as meaty as the leg, the wings are nonetheless delicious and not prone to drying out. Either would work, its really up to you.

Another key component to the dish is the dipping sauce. Never served without it, the simple piquant sauce adds just enough ‘zing’ to cut through the spice crust, making the Inche Kabin even more irresistible!

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Ayam Masak Merah (Malaysian Red Cooked Chicken)

Ayam Masak MerahAs a child I wasn’t a great fan of spicy food, in fact I loathed it. Having grown up in Malaysia this presented a very real challenge, especially for my grandmother. The undisputed Queen of the Kitchen, my amah was always keen to entice me over to the spicy-side and did so through a protracted period of gentle assimilation, incrementally introducing my tender palette to the delights of one of my family’s greatest obsessions: chili.

One of my earliest memories of eating around the family dining table was watching as the Ghani men ate raw chili padi dipped in hecko sauce (it was always the men, the woman seemed to have more sense). Egged on by brotherly bravado, my father and uncles would pop these searing missiles into their mouths, chewing and grunting in apparent pleasure, all the while wiping their brows with handkerchiefs damp with sweat. This would go on until the large plate of chillies was laid bare and their stomachs churning in revolt. Apparently, this is what my amah was coaching me for, an adulthood of chili padi and agonising trips to the loo! It was a terrifying prospect to one so young, but thankfully she started me off easy and that is how Ayam Masak Merah become a childhood favourite of mine!

Despite it’s rather alarming name, Masak Merah (red cooked) is actually one of the milder dishes amongst the pantheon of Malaysian curries and was the perfect vehicle to get me started on, what to be, my love affair with all things spicy. Unlike most other Malaysian curries where the use of coconut milk is ubiquitous, Masak Merah is tomato-based, hence the name. Reliant on tomato rather than chili for its colour, the dish is fiery red but without the burn associated with its devilish hue. As it is still ostensibly a curry the use of chili is a prerequisite, but the quantities of such can be reduced without losing the appeal of the dish, making it an excellent option for those adverse to too much heat, especially children.

Quick to make and utterly delicious (even when eaten on the day it’s cooked), my fondness of Masak Merah followed me long after I have graduated to spicer dishes. When I moved to the UK it was one of my favourite tastes-of-home, and whenever I came back from a holiday in Malaysia my bag was always loaded with packets of Brahim’s Masak Merah sauce! Like most expat Malaysians I never bothered to learn how to make our favourite dishes, especially when the quality of readymade sauces were so widely available. Sadly, upon moving to Cape Town, my trips back to Malaysia diminished and with it my supply of those handy packs of Brahim’s. As is the case, there was only one thing for it: I would have to learn to cook Masak Merah myself!

Finding a decent recipe for this beloved childhood dish was surprisingly hard and almost all of my previous attempts fell woefully short of expectations. Cans of tomato soup seemed to dominate the recipes, but as far as I could recall I’d never seen a tin of Heinz in amah’s cupboard, much less in her Masak Merah! Disappointed, I did what every sensible Malaysian does and turned to the family WhatsApp group. Of course, they didn’t disappoint, and the recommendations came flooding in almost immediately. Initially most of these seemed similar to the recipes I’d already tried, but then came the motherload, a message for my aunt, Rohani Jelani. One of Malaysia’s preeminent food writers and cooks, hers was the Masak Merah I had been hoping for and it didn’t disappoint! Simple, both in method and ingredients, this was Malaysian home cooking at its best, and with just a few tweaks was the closest I’ve come to finding a recipe that matches my recollection and expectations. Amah would be proud.

Note: Though not traditional, you could also use jointed chicken wings. Simply dust the wings in seasoned flour, dip in egg and then coat in flour. Deepfry before adding to the sauce. Reduce to its nice and sticky. Delicious! 

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Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)

Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)A childhood favourite of mine, sate is a true South East Asian classic.

Perhaps the ultimate skewered meat treat, sate is often considered more of a snack than an actual meal in itself and is typically ordered as a side dish or “starter”. Sate is also a popular option for young children as the meat is sweet and irresistibly flavoured, without being too spicy – great for fussy eaters!

Whilst beef and chicken are by far the most popular varieties of sate, the use of mutton and goat meat is not entirely uncommon. Personally, I’ve always preferred chicken sate over beef, as it seems to fare better over the hot coals and the inherent blandness of chicken seems to marry better with the flavours of the marinade. Also at least you know what you are getting with chicken (for the most part anyway). The daging (i.e. meat) version of sate is, by definition, a tad ambiguous and there have just been too many scandals where meat of a dubious nature has been passed off as beef.  Trust me, stick to the chicken lest you are partial to the odd bit of horse meat.

Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)At any rate, it turns out that making a decent stick of chicken sate at home is actually pretty damn hard! It isn’t that the recipe itself is particularly complicated or that the main ingredients are impossible to source, the problem lies in recreating the way the sate is actually cooked. Expertly grilled over searing hot coals on a specially designed oblong barbecue and basted with a brush made of lemongrass, the real deal is nothing short of chargrilled-perfection!

After many attempts at recreating the optimal cooking environment for sate, I must confess that I still haven’t got it quite right. Alas sometimes you just need to say “c‘est la vie” and except that perfection isn’t always an option when recreating your favourite dishes. Luckily, however, sate doesn’t have to be perfect to still be pretty damn amazing and totally worth making!

So here are a few tips on making the near-perfect sate:

Firstly, soak your bamboo sticks overnight otherwise they will burn and break off. Make sure the sticks are completely submerged in the water, I use a tall bottle with a stopper to soak mine in.

Secondly, marinate your meat overnight in the fridge – your sate will be all the better for your patience.

Finally, make a basting brush out of the outer skins of the lemongrass; it may seem a tad over-involved to go to such extremes, but it’s worth it.  To make the brush, simply shred the reserved lemongrass lengthwise and then tie at the top with some kitchen string. Give the “brush” a very light bash with a meat mallet just before using.

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Thai Coconut & Lime Marinated Chicken

Marinating is truly one of the greatest forms of culinary alchemy.

Like turning lead into gold, a good marinade can be equally as magical, morphing even the most mundane into something utterly delicious in a matter of hours. However, perhaps the best part about marinating is the transformative affect it can have on cooks, having the ability to turn novice kitchen dabblers into proficient cooks overnight!

Coconut & Lime Marinated ChickenA fool-proof way of jazzing up a couple of tiresome skinless chicken breasts, this Thai inspired marinade is both quick to make and requires only a few basic pantry ingredients. However, as easy as this recipe is, the marinade does require one thing and that’s enough time to work its magic. Personally I would leave the chicken to bathe in the marinate overnight, as this will give the meat fibres enough time to break down sufficiently and for the flavours to penetrate right through the chicken. If you really are rushed for time then a few of hours will suffice, but it will be to the detriment of the final result.

While far from authentically Thai, the coconut and lime marinade does impart a taste of the Orient whilst still being mild enough to appeal to most tastes, making a good mid-week family meal or something slightly different to serve at a braai/BBQ. Cooked, cooled and then thinly sliced, this chicken also makes for a wonderful sandwich-filler or salad-topper. However, my favourite way of serving it is with a massive pile of stir-fried julienned vegetables, making this the perfect Banting/LCHF dinner option.

This marinade’s versatility isn’t, however, limited to the ways in which it can be served, as the marinade can also be used on just about anything. Whilst I’ve used skinless chicken breasts for this recipe, the marinade would work just as well with any other chicken pieces, pork or fish. If you are going to try it with fish though, I would recommend using a firm white fleshed fish and restrict the marinating time to no more than an hour.

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Makhani Murgh (Butter Chicken)

The chances are, this recipe is nothing like the butter chicken you’ve ordered countless times from your local Indian takeaway. I too have ordered it more times than I care to admit, so I know what passes for butter chicken these days and most of it is pretty dismal. So much so, I have actually stopped ordering it altogether, for fear it would put me off Indian food completely.

Makhani Murgh (Butter Chicken)As you might have gathered, I’m somewhat disillusioned about the state of butter chicken these days – especially when I consider what a wonderful dish it truly is! Unfortunately, this venerable dish has largely been reduced to being the poster-child for unimaginative and pedestrian Indian fare. When made well, however, butter chicken undoubtedly deserves its place amongst the great Indian classics. Rich, decadent and wonderfully spiced, this dish is a real winner and should feature in any Indian feast.

As tasty as it is, the real appeal of butter chicken is how easy it is to make! Primarily cooked in the oven, the dish frees up valuable stove space – a godsend when you’re trying to juggle up to six dishes on a 4 plate hob! Like most curries, butter chicken can also be made in advance and gently reheated before serving. In the case of butter chicken though, it should be placed under a grill to be heated through and lightly browned, rather than on a hob.

Note: Please do not ever be tempted to make butter chicken with anything other than chicken thighs, especially not breast meat, which will come out completely dry and taste terrible.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Korean Grilled Chicken 매운닭구이

Korean Spicy Grilled Chicken 매운닭구이As I’ve mentioned previously, Koreans love to braai and they do so quite brilliantly. Whilst galbi is the undisputed star of any Korean Barbecue, there are plenty of other yummy options vying for space on your grill – this tasty recipe being chief among them.

This simple recipe is an absolute barbecue wonder and, as with most Korean marinates, has a transformative effect on the chicken, especially if left overnight. Whilst you can get away with marinating your meat for less time, ideally this marinate needs at least 12 to 18 hours to work its magic.

This marinate also works perfectly well with other cuts of chicken, particularly spatchcocked chicken, but obviously you will have to adjust the cooking time accordingly (35 to 40 minutes on a low-medium barbecue)

For more Korean recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Korean Pantry, please click HERE

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Barbecue Spatchcock Chicken with Charred Lime

Barbecue Spatchcock Chicken with Charred LimeAlso known colloquially as flatties, spatchcock chickens have long been a feature of the traditional South African braai. Of course, strictly speaking spatchcock chickens are not exclusively South African, but they have nevertheless earned their place on the grill along side other local favourites like braaiwors and skilpadjies. Delicious and, most importantly, practical, flatties remain a true braai stalwart!

Whether it be marinated in spicy peri-peri, chutney and ginger beer or simply with some lemon and herbs, you can usually find a flattie to meet your family’s tastes. Personally, my favourite flattie is marinated in a simple braai sauce and then doused in the juice of a couple of charred limes.

Now I must confess that I’m not a natural braaier. Generally speaking, I have an annoying propensity for cremating everything I place on a braai and my Weber has been collecting dust in the garage for years. This particular recipe is, however, just so damn tasty I just can’t resist the urge to wheel out my long forgotten braai! I can’t get enough of the combination of the lime and braai sauce, so much so, I could happily eat the whole chicken on my own – burnt or not! This simple recipe is my very own barbecue-bliss. Enjoy.

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Cape Malay Chicken Curry

I’ve always thought of Cape Malay food as being the ultimate manifestation of ‘cuisine by circumstance’.

Finding themselves at the tip of Africa, and a world away from their native produce, the Malaysians and Indonesians of the time must have felt they were faced with a bleak culinary future. Devoid of South East Asian staples like coconuts and pandan leaves, the bountiful (but unfamiliar) fruits of the Cape must have been an ironic bitter pill to shallow.

Thankfully, the Cape’s prominence along the spice route meant there was an abundance of spices and combined with a mingling of cultures and a reliance on local produce, resulted in the creation of something quintessentially South African – Cape Malay cuisine. With dishes like koe’sisters, pickled fish and denningvleis, Cape Malay food is as unique as the culture it feeds.

Bobotie aside, arguably one of its most famous dishes has to be Cape Malay Chicken Curry. A dish that never seems to fade in its popularity, this simple curry is a perfect example of great Asian food made without staple Asian ingredients. In the absence of coconut milk or candlenuts, this curry is enriched with tomatoes, but is still royally flavoured with exotic spices. As with almost all Cape Malay dishes, chicken curry is always served with an array of sambals or condiments.

Simply delicious, no matter where you are in the world.

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Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)

Arguably the most famous curry in the world, Green Curry is, for many of us, the poster-child of Thai cuisine. Disarmingly unintimidating, delicious and rewarding to make, it is hardly surprising that Green Curry has the equivocal honour of being as synonymous with Thailand as Spaghetti Bolognese is to Italy.

Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)In spite of the fact that it is a true Thai classic, Green Curry is actually remarkably easy to make at home. The first thing to consider is your curry paste and the eternal debate between homemade or store-bought. Whilst there are a wide range of fantastic ready-made pastes available, many recipes and chefs wax-lyrical about the absolute necessity of making your own, insisting, “that’s how its done in Asia”. Poppycock!

Now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t make your own, I’m just saying you mustn’t get too hung up on doing so. The truth is that the only Asians making their own curry pastes are those who’s job it is to do so.

Okay, so whilst I do concede that a homemade curry paste is almost always nicer than store-bought, they invariably require a long list of ingredients that are difficult to source and often impossible to substitute. As part of this recipe I have included a homemade curry paste and the final dish is all the more rewarding for it, but if you can’t be bothered making it or you don’t have the ingredients, don’t despair – there is no shame in using a store-bought paste instead (as I often do). Thankfully, as with most curries, the success of the dish actually relies more on technique than ingredients; so rather focus on how you make the curry and less on the provenance of your paste. The chances are your curry will still turn out great!

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice 海南雞飯

As macabre as it may sound, the sight of cooked chickens and ducks dangling from gruesome hooks typifies the South East Asian food experience for many of us; often eliciting sympathy and hunger in equal measure. For me though, it gives me pangs of nostalgia for what is, perhaps, one of my favourite Malaysian dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in my love for this dish either, as it appeared at number 45 on CNN’s World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods. Hainanese Chicken Rice’s enduring popularity is testament to the appeal of its uncomplicated nuances and its surprising depth of flavour.

IMG_6853 (600x800)Typically there are two types of chicken on offer at any given Chicken Rice stall in South East Asia; poached (white) or roasted (brown). Growing up, I always preferred the latter, as I was a bit put off by the opaque appearance of the poached variety – if only I’d been a more adventurous child! Whilst the roasted version is undoubtedly very tasty, the poached version is in fact superior in both flavour and texture. Not only does the poaching process have a transformative effect on the meat and skin of the chicken (making it impossibly silky), it also imparts a subtle depth of flavour that enhances the chicken, rather than overpowering it. In addition to being tastier than its roasted counterpart, the white version is also much easier to make!

With a name like Chicken Rice, it should come as no surprise that the rice plays an equally important role in the dish! The good news is that the chicken’s poaching broth doubles-up as the stock used in making the rice. So getting the rice just right isn’t much of a chore – simply use the stock instead of water when making your rice. The stock can also be frozen and reused indefinitely, creating a depth of flavour that only gets better with each chicken poached.

A third, and equally important, element to Chicken Rice is its unique chilli sauce. This light, zesty sauce is both fragrant and hot – the prefect accompaniment to the “clean-tasting” chicken; it is an absolute must!

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