INSIDE A RED PLASTIC BUCKET AND 2 GIANT ROARING WOKS BY THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE ROADSIDE OF KUALA LUMPUR… NIRVANA
The best moment on a travel, for me at least, is when you’re already being in a place where you know you’d be drowned in delicious foods, standing at an unnamed corner in a lost moment, you still find yourself pleasantly overwhelmed. If that’s kinda your thing as well, then Malaysia is your kinda place, specifically, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
I have been longing to return for quite some time now. But since I’m currently under some sorta physical lock-down, you can tell evidently from my effort since – a full-blown laksa, a slack-off laksa, and these bag-loads of banana donuts – that this is not my first mental prison-break. I want to remind you now that none of them were actually the climatic screaming food-gasm of that trip, but you already knew that. I mean of course, naturally, one does not jump hastily to food-gasm at hello. How rude. Because one induces foreplay first. A little bit of teaser here, and a little bit of appetizer there. In a slow and respectful courtship, 2 whole damn years after we left the streets of Kuala Lumpur, one says, OK. I think I’m ready to re-create the best damn fried chicken I’ve ever lay my tongue on in my entire life.
The yo mamak’s fried chicken.
No, there was no typo there. This is not mama’s fried chicken, but mamak, a word that’s used to describe the fusion flavours between Indian and Malay. Mamak food-stalls can be found everywhere on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, but if you’ve ever been there during Ramadan, food-vendors as far as the eyes can see lit up around 6pm on the sidewalk like twinkle-lights on Christmas trees. And there it was, inside a large red plastic bucket and two roaring woks of hot grease, by the hustle-and-bustle roadside of Jalan Sultan Ismail, where I found… nirvana.
I’ll admit that I didn’t see it coming, the high. Because it was seemingly just another mamak street-vendor where you can build your own curry platter, and might I add, that this was after a marathon of binge-eating that should’ve left our enthusiasm relatively jaded. But over a bed of annoyingly superb biryani on an alarmingly melty plastic container, two pieces of fried chicken with oily but crispy skins, sticky and juicy flesh, plus your best-imaginable flavour-profile of ginger and Indian spices, really, really, blew my mind. I stood, astonished, at how I could ever be surprised again by something as widely studied as fried chickens. I looked, intensely, at the crispy gingery fibers adhered tightly all over the crusts that were about to go on and floss my happiness. I said, possibly out loud, that my stomach will not rest until I crack this mamak.
And here, I hope you would agree, that I did. Adding a few twists of my own – incorporating more Malay flavours such as shrimp paste and lemongrass, and adding a paper-thin crust for desired crunches – this is possibly, the most pleasurable prison-break you could pull from whatever physical reality you’re escaping from. Sink in. Lick your fingers. See you on 2015.
A few things that you’ll find different about this recipe from others: First, this recipe is re-created from memories of flavours and observations from sneaking around the food-stall where I found the best fried chickens. It incorporates more Malaysian flavours such as dried shrimp paste, lemongrass, fish sauce, coconut milk and etc than other recipes available. Mamak fried chickens usually aren’t breaded, but I felt a little thin crust wouldn’t hurt. Based on a nice tip from a friend, the mixture of all-purpose flour, rice flour and cornstarch will make a light, crispy crust that shatters easily between bites. If you don’t have rice flour, you can use 2 cups all-purpose + 1 cup cornstarch instead. Then at last, mamak fried chickens are always mixed with lots of crispy fried curry leaves, which don’t always come by easily. I couldn’t find any close substitute so I didn’t use any, but if you want, you can use crispy fried cilantro to scratch the itch.
- 8 pieces chicken legs and thighs
- 2 1/2 tbsp (57 grams) Malaysian dried shrimp paste/belacan (if unavailable, replace with 2 tbsp Thai shrimp paste)
- 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
- 3" (70 grams) ginger, cut into chunks
- 2 large lemongrass stalk, cut into pieces
- 3 small shallots, peeled
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 kaffir lime leaves
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp palm sugar, or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 cup (135 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (115 grams) rice flour
- 1 cup (120 grams) cornstarch, or potato starch
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tsp ground cayenne powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Wrap the Malaysian shrimp paste (or called belacan) in foil, and roast in a preheated 400F/200C oven for 10~15 min. Then add it to a blender along with coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, curry powder, ground cumin, salt, palm sugar (or dark brown sugar), and ground black pepper. Blend until smooth. Marinate chicken legs and thighs in this mixture in the fridge for at least 6 hours to overnight.
- Bring the chicken out to room-temperature 2 hours before cooking.
- Evenly mix all-purpose flour, rice flour, cornstarch, curry powder, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne powder and salt in a large bowl. Leave a thin coating of the marinate on each pieces of chicken, then drench them lightly in the breading. Pat on each piece to get rid of excess breading then set aside on a tray.
- Add enough oil to a frying-pot until it reaches 2" deep, then heat to 330F/165C over medium-high heat and keep the temperature there. Fry the chickens without crowding the pot, chicken legs for around 7~8 minutes and chicken thighs for around 10 min, until golden browned on all sides. You can keep the fried chickens warm in a 320F/160C oven while you fry the rest. If you can get fresh curry leaves, fry them until crispy and season with a bit of salt, and serve with the fried chickens.
A long and sufficient marinating-time is quite important. I would suggest overnight, or at leat 6 hours.