Thursday, March 25, 2010
Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek
Like most people who have had the pleasure, I fell in love with ayam goreng mbok berek the first time I tasted it. This was in 1983 on my first visit to Yogya. Not really a big fan of American fried chicken, and certainly no fan of the Colonel, I didn't expect much. Colleagues and students had recommended I try the famous chicken, so I did.
It wasn't until I had been to Vietnam and had Thit Heo Kho (Ravenous Couple have a nice recipe here) that this recipe made sense to me. When I lived in Indonesia, I had had chicken simmered in coconut milk before being fried countless times. This is a common way of preparing fried chicken in Indonesia. It also results in moist, flavorful fried chicken. Although I am fond of drinking young coconut, I didn't think simmering the chicken in the water from young coconut would be much different from simmering in plain water. Yet, if you've ever had the pleasure of having thit heo kho simmered in coconut water, you know the magic of the medium.
The water from young coconuts is subtly sweet, not in a sugary way, but with the freshness of a recent rain. It's like drinking in the day after the first rain in weeks. In Java young coconuts are a dime a dozen, but here in the States they cost a little more. The concentrated stock that one gets after simmering the chicken in the coconut water is heavenly. It would be the ideal base for a bowl of mulligatawny soup.
Although young coconuts are not commonly found in major supermarkets, most Asian supermarkets and Whole Foods carry them. You do want to make sure you use a young coconut and not the more mature ones.
I haven't been able to recreate the crispy bits you get when you buy the chicken in Yogya. Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia had an informative article in the Wall Street Journal in which she identifies the crisp bits as deep fried spices from the coconut water stock the chicken is first simmered in, but I've been unable to get them to taste quite like what I remember. Even without those crumbs, this chicken is better than any other fried chicken you are likely to taste any time soon.
Besides some good rice, one other accompaniment this dish really calls for is a good sambal terasi. The heat and pungency of this sambal really complements the richness of the fried chicken. At the restaurant they also serve the chicken with the sambal lalapan (sambal with raw cabbage and other vegetables) and the side is every bit as popular as the chicken. I will be posting the sambal recipe soon.
Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek
adapted from Sri Owen's Indonesian Food and Cookery
1 young chicken, preferably free range and air chilled, quartered
or chicken thighs, wings, and drumsticks
6 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 inches of ginger, peeled, sliced, and pounded
2 inches of laos (galingale), peeled, sliced, and pounded
1 tsp coriander, coarsely ground in a mortar
2 salam leaves
salt and pepper
3-4 cups of coconut water from two young coconuts
oil for frying
Mix shallots, spices and salam leaves with coconut water in wok or saucepan. Add chicken pieces and simmer briskly for 30 minutes or so, until tender. The coconut water should be reduced by about half. Remove the chicken from the liquid and allow to cool.
After the chicken has cooled and dried, deep fry it until it is golden brown. The frying does not take very long because the chicken is essentially already cooked; the frying is done to crisp up the chicken and give it some color. Once fried, the chicken can be eaten warm or cold. Serve with rice and a good sambal.