Yumi’s apricots were a big hit last week, but I’m still on an Indonesian food rampage. This time, it’s an astoundingly good chicken rendang that’s a little similar to the Javanese chicken curry in appearance, but with a very different flavor.
Like beef rendang and the other simplified chicken rendang, this dish involves cooking down the coconut milk and spice paste beyond being a very thick seasoning to actually browning exterior of the chicken.
I really can’t recommend strongly enough to try making any of these rendangs. They’re so flavorful that you’ll want to put them on your regular menu.
And, as you may have guessed, this recipe is from my favorite cookbook, Cradle of Flavor.
What you’ll need:
For the flavoring paste:
- 3 stalks of fresh lemongrass
- 5 shallots (about 3.75 oz), chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 piece 2 inches long fresh or frozen turmeric, peeled and chopped. Or 1.5t ground turmeric
- 2-10 small dried red chilies, stemmed (obviously more = hotter)
For the rendang:
- About 2 lbs chicken. I use boneless, though bone-in pieces are more flavorful. If you use bone-in pieces, make it 2.75 lbs
- 3T peanut oil
- 2 4-inch cinnamon sticks
- 4 whole star anise
- 6 creen cardamom pods, cracked open
- 2.5 cups high-quality coconut milk. Cheap, watery milk won’t give as good results
- 1t sugar
- 4 lime leaves (a little lime zest and a bay leaf works, too)
- Salt to taste
What to do:
Chop the ends from the lemongrass, peel off the outer layers. You’ll have pieces that are out 5-inches long. Cut these into 0.25-inch slices.
Put the sliced lemongrass, shallots, garlic, turmeric and chilies into a small food processor and pulse to a chunky paste that has the consistency of cooked oatmeal. Ensure that the lemongrass is well ground, as it does not soften during cooking, and chunks of it will ruin the dish. Add a tablespoon of water if the paste sticks to the sides of the processor and won’t grind.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet (nonstick actually works best, if you have one) over medium heat and add the cinnamon, star anise and cardamom. Heat until you can clearly smell their fragrances, then check the temperature for sautéing the seasoning paste. At the correct temperature, a pinch of the paste will sizzle around the edges, but not fry aggressively. When the temp is right, add all of the paste and sauté, stirring regularly to prevent scorching. Cook until the shallots and garlic no longer smell raw.
Add the coconut milk, sugar, lime leaves and salt, to taste. Stir well to combine and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a slow, steady bubble and cook until the liquid is reduced by about 25 percent.
Add the chicken and stir to combine. Continue to gently simmer uncovered, checking every 10 minutes or so to make sure the chicken doesn’t stick to the bottom. Continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by about 95 percent, about 1-1.5 hours. Add salt, if needed. If a lot of fat rendered from the chicken, you can spoon it off, but save it for sautéing another food.
Reduce heat to low and allow the chicken to gently brown in the remaining rendered fat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Continue for about 20-25 minutes longer, until the chicken is browned to the color of toffee. The surface should be a bit moist, with an appetizing sheen.
-Note that I can never wait this long—too eager to eat. But if you have the fortitude to wait for the browning, you’ll be glad you did.
Transfer the chicken to a serving dish, and let it rest 10 minutes before serving. You can remove the whole spices and lime leaves, but don’t serve it too hot. It’s best lukewarm, as the flavors are more pronounced.
Can be served with white rice, or even coconut/lemongrass rice.