Monday, September 16, 2013

Ayam Panggan Setan--The Devil's Grilled Chicken

While satay may be what comes to most people's minds when they think of Indonesian grilled chicken, it is not the only grilled chicken on the block in Java.  Indonesians have numerous ways of enjoying grilled yard bird, and in Indonesia the chicken very often is from a nearby yard.  Ayam kampung, village chicken, is a rangy, flavorful bird, smaller and generally tastier than its American free range cousin.  Throughout Indonesia one can find hawkers selling quarters of grilled chicken.  A whole chicken may not weigh more than two pounds, so the quarters are a nice bite.

Indonesians have an approach to cooking chicken that I have not seen elsewhere.  It's one that particularly makes sense for food vendors that have limited or no access to refrigeration.  Rather than simply frying or grilling the chicken, the birds are first simmered in a spiced liquid until cooked and the liquid reduced.  Sometimes the liquid is merely water with salt and other spices.  Other times coconut milk is used.  The cooked pieces of chicken can then be finished to order.  For kaki lima (the pushcarts hawkers use to transport and cook their foods) sellers, this allows them to get out orders fairly quickly and not have to worry about keeping raw chicken refrigerated in the tropical heat.

Precooking in the seasoned liquid also results in a moist, well spiced piece of chicken.  It is essentially cooking in a brine.  For a picnic or when you want to prepare chicken to feed a crowd, this method allows you to have a large quantity of chicken ready to finish off on the grill in minutes.  Consider it Indonesia's answer to sous vide.

When you see a restaurant or warung advertising ayam panggang setan, the only thing you can be assured of is that the chicken is going to be spicy hot.  Some places may simmer in coconut milk, others may not.  The sambal may use red or green chilies.  It may be suuuppperrrr pueeeedas (the more drawn out the syllables, the hotter the sambal) or simply pedas betul.  If you don't want or can't get a beer with it, have some young coconut juice.  This is one of the dishes that would likely be served with sambal lalapan

Ayam Panggang Setan

2--3 pounds of chicken pieces (I like thighs)

Spice Mixture:
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 inch piece of turmeric, peeled (or use 1 tsp ground turmeric)
3 kemiri (candlenuts)
1 TBS kosher salt
1 tsp peppercorns

3 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped and pounded
6 kaffir lime leaves
half a thumb of galangal (laos) sliced and pounded
3/4 cup water

8 large red chilies
8 Thai red bird chilies
7 shallots, peeled
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tomato
1 tsp salt
1 tsp shrimp paste (terasi/belacan), roasted
2 TBS vegetable oil

kecap manis

In a mortar or food processor, grind the ingredients for the spice mixture into a fine paste.  Mix the chicken pieces with the paste.  Add the chicken with the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and water to a wok.  Simmer over medium heat until the chicken is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed/cooked off.  The chicken can be cooked ahead to this point and then held until you are ready to grill.

In a medium saucepan, boil the chilies, shallots, garlic, and tomato a few minutes until softened.  Drain.  Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok and briefly fry the boiled ingredients.  Process in a blender/food processor until smooth.  Add the salt and shrimp paste and pulse until incorporated.

Although you can grill the chicken directly over coals, as they would in Indonesia, I prefer the indirect approach, which allows you to lacquer chicken with the sauce.  In a Weber kettle grill or something similar, prepare a bed of coals on one side of the grill.  Brush both sides of the chicken with kecap manis and then brush on the sambal.  Place the chicken pieces skin-side up on the opposite side of the grill.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until well browned.  Serve with more sambal and rice.