April 21, 2010

Chicken Curry forever

The first "exotic" dish I ever cooked was Chicken Curry, I was eleven years old and had just acquired my very first cookbook;  it was a small compilation of recipes from India, China and Sri Lanka as well as tidbits of lore and history.

And I'm pretty sure that's when it all started, this insatiable curiosity for far away lands which became the unraveling thread of my itinerant life. Blame it on that  book and on Ibn Battuta too!

That what path my life would take, was decided early on because of a wondrous spice and the extraordinary journeys of a 14th century traveler, makes perfect sense to me. Both left me dazzled and forever wanting more. I would travel and I would cook! (In the meantime, reading would do).
I still remember this chicken curry, it took me three days, with my mom's help, to source the ingredients and one full day to make but it was worth it. It tasted of the unknown and made me dream.

I have had many curries over the years, from many different places but still, my favorite remains Balinese Chicken Curry and like the one from my childhood, this is what I call an "involved" recipe.
The first step is to find a chicken, kill it and prepare it. Then it has to be rubbed with garlic, turmeric and tamarind and grilled over a fire of coconut coals.

 Once cooled, it is chopped in bite size pieces.

 To prepare the fresh coconut milk, a coconut has to be cracked open and the meat has to be grated and squeezed by hand until the sweet flesh turns into milk.

All the curry ingredients have to be crushed in the stone mortar and the paste is tasted until the perfect balance between the garlic, turmeric and kencur, the dominant flavors of this curry and the lower supportive notes of sweet, sour and spicy of the tamarind, palm sugar and chilies is achieved.

The process of cooking is relatively simple and quick after all this preliminary work and we can soon sit down and enjoy Chicken Curry. Ahhhhhhh, sooo good and this time, I'm not dreaming!

 Be Siap Mesanten (Balinese Chicken Curry)

1 chicken, around 2lbs, ready to be cooked

5 cloves garlic, crushed
1Tbs fresh turmeric, grated
1 lemongrass stalk, crushed
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp coconut oil

3 cups of fresh coconut milk
2 Salam leaves 

Curry paste:
5 garlic cloves
2 Tbs fresh turmeric, roughly chopped
2 tsp kencur, roughly chopped
3 candle nuts
10 bird's eye chilies (or less if you do not like it hot)
3 long red chilies
1/4 tsp shrimp paste
1 to 2 tsp of palm sugar, grated
2 tsp sea salt

Make a paste of the turmeric, garlic, sea salt and coconut oil; rub the chicken all over. Prepare the fire, when it is ready, grill the chicken, turning and basting with the marinade, until cooked and nicely charred.
Once cooked, leave it to cool. Prepare the curry paste. Grind all the ingredients in a mortar with a pestle until well blended.
Chop the chicken in bite size pieces.
In a pan, heat the coconut milk, add the curry paste and the salam leaves, cook until fragrant.

Add the chicken, lower the heat and cook another 10/15 minutes until the sauce is thickened.
Serve with steamed rice.

Bali circa 1760

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