Flavours from Afar
FROM KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: CHICKEN RENDANG
I had stormed indoors, seeking shelter from torrential rain which Kuala Lumpur was serving up that evening. I was in the capital city of Malaysia to do three things — explore the limestone cave encrusted Hindu Temple called Batu Caves; shop up a storm at the Petronas Twin Towers; and reconnect with an old friend from Fiji. The Batu Caves were far more magnificent than I had imagined, with an enormous golden statue of Lord Murugan at the entrance of the 400-million year old limestone hill. I was fortunate that the caves were located more than 10kms out of Kuala Lumpur which meant that my day at there was canopied by blue skies and sparse dusty clouds. As I dried my hair and walked into my friend Leila’s kitchen that evening, I could not stop pestering her about details of the Thaipusam festival which brings a huge, colourful congregation of devotees to Batu Caves each year. After patiently divulging details of her experience at the festival earlier that year, she pushed a bowl of steaming hot food towards me. “Try this, it’s Chicken Rendang”, she said. The bold flavour of galangal and lemongrass hit me initially, with a toasted coconut aroma swirling into my nostrils. The dish looked so simple but came packed with a complex flavours that introduced themselves one after the other — chillies, garlic, coriander, cumin, lime, they all rolled in slowlyas if they were politely waiting their turn to reach my taste buds. “This is so much better than the rendang I ate for lunch at Petronas yesterday!”, I said. “I know, I add tamarind chutney and make it into a curry, rather than a dry paste they do here — you know, have to bring a bit of Fiji into everything,” Leila laughed and replied. This Chicken Rendang recipe is straight from Leila’s kitchen — authentic Malay food with a nod to our childhood eating bean and tamarind from the cart outside school.
Ingredients (serves 4 people)
500 g chicken breast (cubed) 2 red onions (quartered and separated) 1 tbsp cornstarch 2/3 cup coconut milk 1/4 cup coconut water
Paste 3 tablespoon toasted coconut (shredded) 2 tbsp turmeric powder 1 tbsp cumin powder 1 tbsp coriander powder 1 tsp mustard seeds 4 cloves garlic (crushed) 1 inch ginger (crushed) 2 bongo chillies 3 stalks lemongrass (white part only) 3 kaffir lime leaves 2 cm galangal 1 tbsp sugar 1 tsp salt
Making this Chicken Rendang recipe is surprisingly simple, especially for a dish which dances delightfully on your taste-buds! 1.) Put all your ‘paste’ ingredients into a mixer, along with a dash of water before blitzing together to form a thick paste 2.) Heat up 3 tbsp of oil in a curry pot. Add the paste when oil is ready and fry on medium heat until the room is filled with a rich aroma of spices — this should take about 5-7 minutes. 3.) Add the onions and fry until brown before adding the chicken pieces. Fry the chicken until almost cooked — an easy indication of this is when the chicken has stopped giving off water. 4.) Add in the coconut milk and coconut water to the pot, turn the heat low and put the lid on with a little space left to let out steam. Let the dish simmer on low heat for approx. 30mins, checking and mixing occasionally. 5.) Check the flavour balance of your dish and add salt and chillies as needed to taste. Once ready, mix the cornstarch in a small glass of cold water and pour into the dish. Turn the heat up and swiftly mix the Rendang until it thickens. Your Chicken Rendang is ready to eat with steamed rice or roti. The dish is excellent paired in light fruity wines such as a Rosé or a Pinot Gris.