WHEN YOU RELEASE THE CHICKEN-BAG WITH A SCISSOR OVER THE BED OF COCONUT RICE, ALMOST LIKE GOD-SENT, A STREAM OF PROMISED GOLDEN LIQUID WILL PERCOLATE FREELY INTO EVERY THIRSTY GRAIN OF HAPPINESS THAT YOU’LL ALMOST HEAR THEM PURR.
Hey, I own a shit load of cookbooks, I do. And I’m not saying it isn’t a problem. Especially when it’s become a very common first remark that people make when they visit our apartment, noticing from the ungoverned stacks that seem to occupy every flat surfaces of every able furnitures, evidently overrunning our shelving-space that is already working its double-layer capacity. And my worst fear is that before long, Jason has to kindly ask Thomas Keller to scooch over before he can “relieve” himself, if you see what I mean. So yeah, there is an issue there. But you know, I guess it could be reasonably understood. I mean, for someone like me and for what I sort of do, I guess, it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, at all, is that for someone who owns this many cookbooks, I have almost never cooked a recipe from any one of them. And I mean never, except maybe once but not really, ok? Because I can’t follow instructions. Period. Now this is really bizarre. For one, I create recipes and expect people to follow them explicitly all the time. But if you didn’t, don’t fret it, because guess what? Ha! I can’t follow a recipe for a damn either! It’s really more of a severe birth-defect than anything else, like the other day when I absolutely made up my mind that for the first time ever in my cooking life, even if it kills me, I was going to execute a recipe like how the creator had intended, and yet, I still derailed.
The particular recipe that I owe my grave apology to, is the turmeric-rubbed chicken from Eat With Your Hands Cookbook. Now I have to give myself some credit here. At first try, I really did manage to change ONLY HALF of the recipe! Instead of roasting the turmeric-rubbed chicken over lemongrass and coconut milk, I decided it was in both of our best interest to do it over a bed of lemongrass and coconut rice. The urge of putting a “sponge” underneath a grease-dripping hot body overruled my determination to obey, so I’m sorry for that. But for the other half of the recipe, including rubbing the chicken with turmeric butter and letting it sit for 24hours, I followed painstakingly. But the thing is, have you ever tried rubbing butter over the skin of a chicken? Try sticking a piece of lard on a teflon surface to get a feel of it. It’s practically impossible! They just don’t bond! And even though the butter is sufficiently seasoned, the “emulsion” prevents the seasoning from seeping into the chicken, even after the whole 24 hours of it. So at the second try, it became inevitable, that in spite of my best effort, I had to sabotage the recipe completely.
Here was my train of thoughts. That instead of rubbing the turmeric butter over the chicken, it should go underneath the skin. Then the skin around the opening of the cavity, and around the neck at the top of the breasts, should be tightly sewed together with toothpicks in order to create a sealed environment, turning the skin of the chicken into an all-around skin-suit that bags all the butter and juices inside during cooking. Some of the turmeric-mixture without butter would be reserved, and get rubbed all over the skin to create a savoury marinate. Then, the whole chicken would be roasted over and basting a cradle of jasmine rice cooking at the same time inside lemongrass and coconut milk. You know those French rotisserie chickens roasting and turning just above a valley of baby potatoes? Well, think about this as a Southeast Asian version of. But instead of just chicken fat, it drips golden turmeric butter-grease infused with garlic and red chilis, and instead of potatoes, over a bed of perfume-y and eagerly absorbent coconut rice.
When the cooking is over and the dusts settle, what you’ll have is a piping hot sauce-bag made of savoury chicken skins and flesh, filled with rampant chicken juice welded with turmeric butter and scented with lemongrass. And when you release this chicken-bag with a kitchen scissor right over the bed of coconut rice, like God-sent, a stream of promised golden liquid will percolate freely into every thirsty grain of happiness that you’ll almost hear them purr. Then, and only then, you give it a well-deserved toss, and serve everything with a spicy and herby sauce made with coconut milk, lemongrass and yellow mustard.
What did I say. Sabotage. Complete sabotage. I promise I’ll follow better next time.
Adapted generously from Zak Pelaccio's Eat With Your Hands Cookbook
- 1 1/2 cup (330 grams) coconut milk
- 1/2 lemongrass stalk (25 grams), white part only
- 2~3 small red chilis
- 1 small Asian shallot, peeled
- 2 tsp yellow mustard
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1/8 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp (14 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 whole chicken about 3 lbs (1500 grams)
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 1/2" (30 grams) ginger, cut into chunks
- 3 small red chilis
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tbsp (57 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 cups (378 grams) jasmine rice
- 1 1/2 cup (330 grams) coconut milk
- 1 1/4 cup (300 grams) chicken stock
- 2 plus 1/2 stalks (100 grams + 25 grams) lemongrass, white part only, smashed and cut into segments
- A pinch of salt and black pepper to season
- MAKE THE SPICY COCONUT SAUCE: In a blender or food-processor, blend everything under "SPICY COCONUT SAUCE", except for the butter and fresh cilantro, until pureed. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a small pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can, then discard the solids. Add the unsalted butter, then bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and cook for 20~25 min until reduced by 1/3. The sauce be a bit thick in consistency. Stir in the fresh chopped cilantro and re-season with fish sauce if needed. Set aside until needed.
- MAKE THE TURMERIC BUTTER CHICKEN RICE: Rinse and clean out the cavity of the chicken, then pat dry and set aside. In a food-processor, puree garlic, ginger, red chilis, fish sauce, ground turmeric, ground coriander and ground black pepper until smooth. Take out about 1 1/2 tbsp of this turmeric-mixture and set aside, then add the unsalted butter to the rest of the mixture and run the processor again until evenly incorporated.
- Gently insert your hands in-between the flesh and skin of the chicken from the neck-opening at the top of the breasts, separating the two layers to make space for stuffing the turmeric butter. Work slowly and gently so you do not puncture the skin, and make sure you do it all the way to the back-thighs that's attached to the back-bone. Now reserve 1 tbsp of the turmeric butter for cooking the rice, then rub the rest thoroughly underneath the chicken skin, evenly distributing it through the whole chicken. Place 1/2 of the smashed lemongrass stalk inside the cavity, then with toothpicks, sew/seal the skins around BOTH the opening of the cavity and the neck. This is important because it keeps the turmeric butter sealed inside the chicken during roasting. Now, rub the reserved turmeric-mixture WITHOUT BUTTER, evenly over the whole chicken. Let marinate for anywhere from 2~6 hours depending on your schedule.
- Preheat the oven on 420F/210C. Put the jasmine rice in a sieve, then rinse and gently rub under running water to rid of excess starch. Drain well and set aside. In a large, shallow baking-dish (has to be shallow so the rice will cook evenly), melt the reserved 1 tbsp of turmeric butter over medium-high heat, then cook the rice in it for about 3 min. Add the coconut milk and chicken stock, then scatter the lemongrass on the top. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 3 min without stirring (there should still be a thin layer of liquid above the rice).
- Now, place a baking-rack over the baking-dish, and set the chicken on top, breast-side down first (this gives the thighs a head start and prevents the breasts from overcooking). Place the whole thing in the middle-rack of the oven and roast for 15 min, then gently turn the chicken over so the breast-side now faces up, and roast for another 30~35 min until the chicken is browned. Remove the baking-rack with the chicken on top, and let rest for 10 min. Leave the rice in the oven during this time so it can finish cooking.
- Remove all the lemongrass from the rice. The best way to cut the chicken is with a scissors, and make sure that you do it right over the rice so it can catch all the precious juice/butter that comes out of the chicken. Remove the lemongrass from inside the cavity, then serve immediately with the spicy coconut sauce (reheated gently over low heat).
I didn't have fresh turmeric so I used a combination of ginger and ground turmeric. If you have fresh turmeric, you can use 1" of turmeric to replace both.
You can also just pour coconut milk in the baking-dish, with the smashed lemon grass on top, then roast the chicken sitting over the lemongrass as the original recipe instructed.
A note on flipping the bird. I recommend taking the tray out of the oven, then use a tongs with silicone-tips (so it doesn't puncture the bird) on one hand, and a mitten or towel on the other (or TWO silicone tongs if you have), then flip the bird in a single motion.