The Goodwill Balinese Chicken
I dare say the Boulder Goodwill ranks among the West’s best used bookstores. Here on the Colorado Front Range, we have a phenomenally broad-minded oasis of PhDs, geeks and gurus, rocket scientists, reformed hippies, and Nobel laureates who scale mountains and run marathons in their spare hours. And they read. A lot. Then they dump their leftover books at Goodwill (along with some uber-groovy kitchen gizmos).
Lucky for me, the shop sits straight downhill from my cottage, just a few doors away from Whole Foods. So at least once a week, I do a double-whammy shopping deal. The books change all the time, but prices never exceed $2.49 (for hardcovers) and sometimes go as low as $1. In addition to a full shelf of novels, I’ve found a glossy guide to herbs and spices, an old Penelope Casas collection from the Spanish table, Mark Bittman’s Food Matters and David Kessler’s The End of Overeating.
And then I found Bali.
If you follow my blog’s Facebook page, you might have noticed the mention last week of a particularly fragrant chicken. It came from The Food of Bali ($2.49!), an older book (1999) written by Heinz von Holzen and Lother Arsana. I was sold as soon as I flipped through the sambals and sauces. And I knew I’d be making ayam pelalah (shredded chicken with chiles and lime) the moment I read the ingredients. When I told my Facebook readers how deliciously aromatic the chicken made my little kitchen, people wanted that recipe.
So here goes. It requires several steps because the chicken is rubbed with a spice paste, then mixed with sambal (hint: read the whole recipe and plan ahead). And although Boulder likes to think itself a worldly place, it’s still far from the islands and their tropical ingredients. I’ve included notes on substitutions in parentheses:
Ayam Pelalah (shredded chicken with chiles and lime)
Based on The Food of Bali by Heinz von Holzen and Lother Arsana
(NOTE: I made about 1/4 the quantity and cut ingredients accordingly, unless otherwise noted. That was enough for two chicken breasts plus leftover paste, which I froze.):
14 shallots, peeled
26 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch kencur, peeled and chopped (a strong-flavored ginger-like rhizome unavailable locally; I used an inch of ginger)
1 ½ inches laos, peeled and chopped (this is galangal; I buy it at Asian groceries and keep it frozen, chopping off sections as I need it)
10 candlenuts (not available here; I used a handful of macadamias)
5 inches fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped or 5 teaspoons powdered (I buy fresh turmeric at Asian groceries and refrigerate or freeze until needed)
4 tablespoons chopped palm sugar (substitute brown or cane sugar if necessary)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised (I used one)
2 salam leaves (a leaf in the cassia family; I omitted)
10 bird’s eye chiles, finely sliced (use whatever HOT fresh chiles you have, according to taste)
(I made about half the quantity and had enough leftovers to eat with rice.):
4 tablespoons oil
15 shallots, peeled and sliced
10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
14 large red chiles, seeds removed, sliced
2 medium-sized tomatoes cut in wedges (I used canned)
2 teaspoons roasted dried shrimp paste
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt to taste
1 whole chicken, about 2 ½ pounds (I used two skinless, boneless breasts—yes, I know, some would say that’s pathetically boring. But it was the only organic chicken available and I’m cooking solo these days—so no whole chicken for me.)
1 cup spice paste (or less, depending on the chicken size)
½ can coconut milk (my addition)
½ cup tomato sambal (or less, depending on the chicken size)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (my addition)
Put all ingredients except oil into a food processor and grind coarsely (or, to satisfy the masochist within, pound with mortar and pestle). Heat oil and fry the paste until very hot, stirring frequently, until the marinade changes to a golden color. Cool before using.
Heat oil in a heavy saucepan or wok. Add shallots and garlic and saute 5 minutes over low heat. Add chiles and saute another 5 minutes, then add tomatoes and shrimp paste and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add lime juice. Put all ingredients in a food processor and puree coarsely. Season to taste with salt. Cool before using. You can freeze leftovers or keep in the fridge and use on rice or vegetables throughout the week.
Rub the chicken outside and inside with the spice paste. Place on wire rack in oven and roast at 350 degrees until done. (Since I used boneless breasts, I wrapped the rubbed chicken in foil and doused it in coconut milk in an effort to keep it from drying out. It worked, but it required lots of attention throughout the cooking. I wrapped the foil tightly, then opened it a bit toward the end.) When cool, remove and discard the skin (if applicable). Remove meat from bones and shred by hand into fine strips. Combine chicken strips with remaining ingredients. Mix well and season to taste. Serve at room temperature with steamed rice.
There is something distinctive about the scent of sambal; I think it’s the shallots. This chicken took me straight back to Bali, through fragrance alone. I found myself dreaming of hot sand and soothing waves. I swear, I even heard gamelan.
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