When I was little, I had a very active imagination and instead of practicing my cursive or memorizing times tables, I'd often doze off, letting my day dreams pull me down the rows of faux wood desks and out of the pale green classroom. To this day, my cursive is atrocious and my ability to recite times tables stops in the 2's. Luckily, my overactive imagination now helps in the kitchen as a source of inspiration.
While making the passionfruit granola this afternoon, the apartment filled with the aromas of a lush tropical garden and I soon found myself being whisked off to a warm steamy jungle with unfamiliar foliage and intoxicating aromas. This dish is the product of my mid afternoon day dream and while it's not authentic to any place in the real world, it was the national dish in the land of my dreams.
The chicken is marinated in a spicy yogurt mixture and steams atop a bed of rice that's been par-boiled in sweet spices. Because they're fried first, the chicken thighs have a nice brown exterior, and the gentle steam keeps the meat moist and incredibly tender as they cook. In the middle of the aromatic rice, there's a golden layer of caramelized onions, ginger, chilies and coconut that adds a sweet, spicy, flavour bomb into each bite of rice. The coconut milk lends a creaminess that helps bring the flavours and textures together in a balanced way.
The key to getting the great flavour is to make sure the water you cook the rice in is sufficiently salted and spiced. Caramelizing the onion/ginger/coconut mixture is also crucial for the flavour, so make sure you take the full 20-30 minutes it takes to get them nice and brown.
In terms of preparation, it's similar to the chicken biryani I made a few months ago, but the flavours are really quite different. Next time I make this, I'm going to add some raisins to the onion mixture for some added sweetness.
- Soak the rice in water for at least 2 hours.
- Wash the chicken and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Remove any excess bits of fat or skin then make the marinade by combining the yogurt, garam masala, coriander, cinnamon, garlic ginger, salt and pepper in a bowl. Thoroughly coat the chicken with the marinade, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Heat a pan over medium heat and add a generous splash of oil. Fry the onions and ginger along with a generous pinch of salt until the onions are are just starting to brown. Add the chilies and coconut and continue frying stirring constantly until the whole mixture is a nice golden brown. Taste and add additional salt to taste. Transfer to a bowl, scraping as much off the pan as you can.
- Heat 3 qts of water along with the salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf until the water is boiling and has taken on a brown color from the spices. Drain the soaking rice and add to the boiling water. Cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once. Drain the rice and pick out the spices.
- Heat a medium sauce pan that's big enough to fit all the chicken in a single layer over medium heat. Add a splash of oil and fry the chicken until brown on one side (6 to 7 minutes). Flip and brown the other side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and drain off any excess oil.
- Add half the rice to the pan you fried the chicken in then spread the coconut/onion mixture over the rice. Cover with the rest of the rice and pour the coconut milk over the rice. Top with the chicken and any collected juices, cover the pot with a lid, and put over medium high heat. Once you hear the coconut milk boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and maintain a gentle simmer. Do not take the lid off while cooking as the trapped heat is necessary to cook the chicken. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until there is no liquid left.
- To serve, plate the rice making sure to get the middle and bottom layers and top with a piece of chicken. Finish with a sprinkle of Thai basil and serve with chutney or sambal.