Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A fragrant Thai dinner

Two days ago I went to my local pan-Asian supermarket. The original purpose was to buy frozen pandan leaves, which I have not been able to find anywhere. (Many thanks to Chef Bosco Pereira for hunting them down for me!) I had already made dinner-- a delicious sausage-lentil stew. But before leaving for the market, I had looked at a recipe for Thai chicken lemongrass. I could not resist; I had to make it! So I purchased fresh ginger, several limes, fresh garlic, lemongrass and a few cans of thick coconut milk.

I was excited about the lemongrass chicken recipe because the chicken is marinated in a highly aromatic mixture for 3 hours before roasting in the oven. After it's done, it's served with a lovely sauce. My imagination conjured up images of chicken seasoned by lemongrass, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, rice vinegar and coconut milk-- crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside -- topped by an aromatic sauce. The chicken did not disappoints. I would certainly make it again.

I'll post the recipe as is, but point out that I did make several modifications. I don't think that the directions were very clear in terms of moving from marinating to roasting the chicken. I would suggest transferring the chicken from the pan with the marinade to a new roasting pan. Don't add all that marinade; otherwise you won't get crispy skin. It should be the chicken pieces with a little topping of marinade as it goes into the oven. Baste with additional marinade every 30 minutes or so to keep the chicken from drying out. I would also increase the oven temperature to the standard one for roasting chicken: 375 degrees Farenheit.

The chicken is accompanied by a very nice sauce. I found that I needed to add about another 2 tsp. of cornstarch for it to thicken properly. And, because I like the flavor so much, I added a stalk of lemongrass.

The only thing needed was rice and some kind of vegetable. I looked in the crisper and found celery, carrots and broccoli - perfect for a stir fry. I wanted to stay with the Thai theme, so I found an easy, tasty recipe for stir-fried vegetables. You could pretty much use any veggies you have on hand. The only change I made was adding more fresh lime juice to counteract the saltiness of the fish sauce. You may want to add a little less fish sauce than the recipe calls for.



* 1/2 or 1 whole roasting chicken (the marinade is enough for 1 medium-size chicken)
* 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, OR subsitute juice of 1 lemon
* 4 cloves garlic
* 1 thumb-size piece galangal OR ginger, grated or thinly sliced
* 1/2 can thick coconut milk
* 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
* 3 tsp. dark soy sauce
* optional: 1 kaffir lime leaf (use scissors to cut leaf into thin pieces, discard stem)
* lime wedges and a handful of fresh coriander as a garnish
* SAUCE INGREDIENTS (enough for 1/2 chicken; double the recipe if you're making a whole chicken):
* 1 cup water
* juice of 1/2 a lime
* 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
* 1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, minced or grated
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
* 1/3 cup honey
* 1 heaping tsp. arrowroot powder or cornstarch powder, dissolved in 3 Tbsp. water


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Place lemongrass (or lemon juice), garlic, galangal or ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime leaf, and coconut milk in a food processor (or blender). Process well - this is your marinade.
2. Place chicken in your roasting pan, and pour marinade over top. Using your hands, smother the chicken in the marinade. Leave in the refrigerator for up to 3 hours (or at least 30 min).
3. Now add about 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the roasting pan (it can mix in with any marinade that has dripped down).
4. Cover and roast the chicken slowly at 325 degrees for a long period in order for it to be tender: 1 to 1.5 hours for half a chicken, or 2.5 to 3 hours for a whole chicken.
5. Check the roast pan every hour to make sure there is enough moisture in the bottom (add a little more water if it is becoming dry). While you have the chicken out, use a soup ladle to scoop up the juices from the bottom of the pan and pour over the chicken. Put back in the oven.
6. While chicken is roasting, make the side sauce. In a saucepan, add all sauce ingredients except arrowroot powder (or cornstarch). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
7. Taste test for sweetness and saltiness, adding more honey if not sweet enough, or more fish sauce (instead of salt) as desired. If you prefer a spicy sauce, add some fresh chili or chili sauce.
8. Add the arrowroot or cornstarch powder (dissolved in water). Stir until sauce thickens. (If it becomes too thick to your liking, add more lime juice and water.)
9. Serve the roasted chicken on a platter, either whole or chopped into pieces. Drizzle some of the sauce overtop, then pour the rest around the outside of chicken, or serve it on the side. Garnish with lime slices or wedges, and fresh coriander. Serve with plenty of Thai jasmine-scented rice.

Stir-Fried Vegetables

* 1 medium-size carrot, sliced
* 1-2 cups baby bok choy, or other Chinese cabbage (leaves left whole if not too large, otherwise cut in half or thirds)
* 1 red pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
* 5-6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced, or left in halves or quarters
* 3 spring onions, cut in thirds
* 1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
* 1 thumb-size piece of galangal (or ginger), sliced thinly (matchstick-like pieces)
* 3 Tbsp. white wine or sherry (or cooking wine or sherry)
* optional: handful dry-roasted unsalted cashews
* 1/3 cup good-tasting stock (vegetarian or chicken stock)
* 2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or substitute 2.5 Tbsp. soy sauce)
* 1 Tbsp. lime juice
* 5-7 cloves of garlic, minced
* 1 tsp. liquid honey (or substitute brown sugar), plus more to taste
* 2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 4 Tbsp. water
* 1 red chili, minced, OR 1 tsp. chili sauce, OR 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper


1. Start by making the stir-fry sauce. Place all ingredients - except garlic and cornstarch - in a sauce pan over medium-high heat.
2. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low. Now add the minced garlic and cornstarch (dissolved in water). Stir until the sauce thickens slightly - about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
3. Do a taste test. You're looking for a balance of salty (fish sauce), spicy (garlic and chili), sour (lime), and sweet (sugar). Adjust these flavors to suit your taste.
4. Place a little oil in a wok/frying pan over medium to high heat. Add the carrots, galangal (or ginger), and shiitake mushrooms. When the wok/pan becomes dry, add a little of the wine or sherry, 1 Tbsp. at a time, to keep ingredients frying nicely. Stir-fry in this way, adding more wine or sherry as needed, for 2-3 minutes, or until carrots start to soften.
5. Add the rest of the vegetables plus 1/3 of the stir-fry sauce and continue stir-frying another 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened but still retains some of its crispness.
6. Add remaining stir-fry sauce (plus cashews, if using) and mix in until everything is hot. Remove from heat.
7. Do one last taste-test. If not salty enough, add up to 1 Tbsp. more fish or soy sauce. If too salty, add another squeeze of lime juice. Add a little more sugar or honey if desired. Serve immediately with plenty of Thai jasmine-scented rice

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