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opor.jpgOpor Ayam is a traditional dish of celebration at Eid ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, or Lebaran as it is called on Java. Some recipes for this widespread dish include tumeric, while some do not, but without it the dish is grey in colour and less celebratory, to my eyes. Opor Ayam is not particulary hot, but it is very rich, with a balance of sweet, spicy, and sour. Very tender chicken is achieved here by simmering the pieces without first browning, simmering gently, and simmering until just done. I use only dark meat parts rather than the traditional whole jointed chicken, because that neatly eliminates the problem of dark and light meat finishing at different temperatures. It is important to skin the chicken, in order to let the spices penetrate the meat, and because too much rendered fat in the sauce makes a rich sweet curry taste quite flabby. Kaffir lime leaves add lovely floral notes over the dish, and it really is just not the same without them. They are sold frozen at Asian groceries and they keep forever that way. In Java, this curry is thickened with kemri nuts, which are hard to find here (and a tad poisonous when raw), and while macadamia nuts are a good substitute, consider them optional if you need a nut-free curry.

Accompany with a vegetable dish and white rice. Pair with water, or a Loire chenin blanc.

Opor Ayam

forty-five minutes;serves four

4 macadamia nuts (optional), diced
1 Tbsp coriander seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp oil
4 shallots, diced
1/2 tsp tumeric
14 oz (400ml) coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp palm sugar (may substitute 1 tsp brown sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
3 lbs chicken legs and/or thighs, jointed and skinned
1 Tbsp tamarind juice (may substitute 2 tsp lemon or 1 Tbsp lime juice)

1. Grind the macadamia nuts, coriander, garlic and tumeric to a paste in a mortar.
2. In a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, gently sweat the shallots in the oil over medium heat, until soft.
3. Add the paste to the pot and mix it into the hot oil.
4. Add the coconut milk to the pot and stir to dissolve the spices. Add the cinnamon, lemongrass, lime leaves, sugar and salt. Carefully bring to a simmer.
5. Add the chicken and return to a simmer. Place the lid on and cook for ten minutes. Turn all the pieces and replace the lid to cook another ten. Turn the pieces again and simmer another five minutes. Check that your chicken is done, which it probably is.
6. Off heat add the tamarind juice, stir through, taste the sauce, and adjust for salt, sugar, and acid (tamarind).

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urap.jpgThis version of urap has a complex mix of flavours an unusual almost-crunchiness. The cuisine of Java is typically sweeter and less hot than that of many of its neighbours, but this dish does have some heat to it, via a few seeded red chilies. For good presentation and interesting mouthfeel it is important to cut the vegetables evenly and not subsequently overcook them. If you substitute haricort vert for snake beans watch the steaming time even more closely. I strongly recommend seeking out that strangely knobbly galangal root, which many Asian grocery’s carry fresh, because it provides a more complex aroma, sweet and lemony. And watch for water everywhere! Let the steamed vegetables steam-off the last of their clinging moisture and press, press, press the hydrated coconut. A soggy salad is no fun. Speaking of disappointment, do not chill the final product, or you will find it a shadow of its former self. What I find most remarkable about this dish is how is looks and tastes of the sea, with no seafood in it whatsoever.

Serve with cold water, or a gerwurztraminer.

Mixed Vegetables dressed with Javanese Coconut (Urap)

30 minutes; serves four

4 oz carrot, cut 1/8″ X 1/8″ X 2″ matchsticks
4 oz bean sprouts, brown tails removed
4 oz snake beans, cut in 2″ lengths (may substitute haricort vert)
1/2 cups dessicated unsweetened coconut
1 galangal root, smashed with a mallet until it splits
2 red chilies, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp palm sugar (may substitute brown sugar)
1/2 tsp Maldon salt (may substitute 1 tsp salt)
2 tsp lime juice

1. Set a kettle of water to boil, for the coconut and the sprouts
2. Steam the carrot until barely tender, about five minutes. Shake off any droplets you can.
3. Steam the beans until barely tender, about three minutes Shake off any droplets you can.
4. Place the coconut and galangal in a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave for ten minutes.
5. Place the sprouts in a strainer and pour the rest of the hot water over them.
6. Remove the galangal root, strain the water from the coconut, and press out all the moisture that you can.
7. Grind the chilies, garlic, sugar, salt and lime juice in a mortar. Mix with the coconut. Taste for salt and acid.
8. Toss the vegetables with the dressing, and serve.

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