I don’t know what to call this.
It is technically not bibimbap, due to the lack of beef or kimchi for that matter. There’s no Chinese fried rice in there; I haven’t used a fluffy omlette and it’s not nearly as colourful as fried rice ought to be. However, it is definitely more colourful than your typical everyday Singaporean chicken rice, so we can’t go there either. No Indian or Thai curry I’ve ever seen came with a sunny on top. I’ve had two bowlfuls of it for dinner almost three hours ago and I still don’t know what to call this.
However, I do know that you need to get your Asian on and make this now. Or the next time you’re craving Chinese take-away.
There is deep satisfaction in making Chinese food. There aren’t too many ingredients as Indian or Thai food demands. There aren’t the fussy bits of rolling or fiddly bits of technique that French food demands. It doesn’t take the kind of time British food normally does.
If it sounds like I’m dissing all the other cuisines of the world and awarding the trophy to Chinese food…well, I am. Get over it. And you secretly know that I’m right. You secretly know that you love it too.
The best part, apart from all the lack of paste making and pastry rolling, is that Chinese food is something people make their own in a matter of seconds. Not minutes. Seconds. You want it sweeter, add sugar. You want acidity, plop a few more splashes of rice wine vinegar. You want it saltier, grab that bottle of dark soy! You can have it deep-fried with a ton of people around you, poking their chopsticks where they don’t belong. Or stir-fried in a tiny bowl watching your portion control. You can have it steamed feeling holier-than-everyone and then go crazy by dousing everything in chili oil. Or you can have your housemate cook it for you, while you lie on the sofa with your eyes half-closed watching Gok Cooks Chinese.
Or, like in today’s case, you can come back home from work and hit the bed seconds after you’ve dumped your bag on the floor. You can lie there in the dark, face down on your not-so-fluffy mattress while your stomach grumbles loudly in protest but the rest of your body refuses to move. And then after a while you can start thinking of ways to use up all the leftover tamarind sauce from the weekend. The thought of tamarind sauce leads you to think of the chicken that’s been marinating in the refrigerator to be used for something completely different. You don’t know why you’re thinking of chicken but you decide to go with it anyway. And after a lot of no-this-no-that, you push yourself up, walk into the kitchen and put a pan on high heat. Fifteen minutes later, you walk out with a bowl of food that not only makes you end up licking the bottom of the bowl (with your tongue as well as the tip of your nose), it also makes you want to run to the top of the roof and declare yourself the mistress of Chinese food in all the world.
Except, I don’t really know if I can call this Chinese food. Oh well.
Tamarind & Honey Chicken
A note on Tamarind Sauce: You’ll find tamarind paste in most Asian supermarkets or even Indian grocery stores. You could either buy the bottled variety, which is more of a ‘sauce’. This kind is easier to cook with. You can use it straight from the bottle. However, the bottled kind usually has spices pre-mixed into it and is not completely pure, so it might just make the chicken taste different.
The other kind is the ‘paste’ or ‘pulp’ form. Using this requires a little more work but gives much much better results when it comes to the taste of the final product. Mix the paste into some water and squeeze out the pith to separate it from the seeds. The resulting mixture should be pulpy, murky and super-thick.
The tamarind sauce I used here was homemade from tamarind paste and here’s the recipe. Keep in mind, that at any point if the gravy tastes too sour, you can just add in more honey till the balance is right.
1 kilo (2 pounds approx.) of boneless chicken pieces [I prefer dark meat, but you can mix it up by using both dark and breast pieces]
1 large onion, pureed
2 tsp of garlic paste
2 tsp of ginger powder
1/3 cup of cornflour (cornstarch)
Olive oil, to shallow fry the chicken
1 cup of tamarind sauce
2 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1/4 cup of honey
1 or 2 red chilies, finely chopped (keep the seeds in, if you’re brave enough)
1 lime, zest and juice
Salt, to taste
Fried eggs, sunny side up (optional)
Steamed rice, freshly chopped coriander and pickled veggies, to serve (optional)
In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces in a mixture of onion paste, garlic paste, ginger powder and a teaspoon of salt. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for a coupe of hours. Or a little over 10 hours, in my case.
After their stint in the fridge, pick the chicken pieces out of the marinade and pop them in a separate bowl. Retain the marinade collected at the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle the raw chicken pieces with cornflour and toss the thoroughly. there won’t be any excess of cornflour to shake off, because the moist pieces will soak most of it up.
In a smaller bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, dark soy sauce, honey and chopped chilies and stir to mix.
Heat oil in a pan (or even better, a wok) and fry the chicken pieces on high heat till they turn white and the cornflour starts to caramelize on the surface. Do this in batches so the caramelization is proper. You don’t want to end up with watery chicken. Once all the chicken is fried, put all the pieces back into the pan. Pour the tamarind mixture over the chicken along with a tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
After 10 minutes, slice open the biggest/thickest piece of chicken and check the center to check if it’s cooked. If it’s still pink, simmer for another 3-4 minutes. If the center’s all white, then mix in the zest and juice of one lime. Add salt to taste and stir everything on high heat. If the gravy’s too runny, you can cook off the liquid a little more.
Serve the chicken on a bowl of rice, topped with some fried eggs, chopped coriander and pickled vegetables.