Burma: Rivers of Flavor
By Naomi Duguid
This dish can be cooked in a bowl set in a steamer or in a tightly covered pot. The chicken is chopped into small pieces, on the bone. It cooks more quickly than it would in large pieces, and more surface area is exposed to the flavor paste and the broth. The chicken is rubbed with a flavor paste of garlic, ginger, ground coriander, turmeric, and dried red chiles. It steams in its own juices, emerging tender and succulent.
Naomi Duguid's Kachin Chicken Curry
- About 1 1/2 pounds chicken parts, chopped into about 15 pieces
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 to 4 dried red chiles, seeded and minced
- Scant 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon water, or as needed
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil, if slow-cooking
- 2 tablespoons minced scallion greens or chopped coriander (optional)
Rinse the chicken pieces, remove most of the skin, and set aside. Place the chicken in a wide bowl.
Pound together the garlic, ginger, salt, chiles, coriander, and turmeric in a mortar to make a paste. Alternatively, mash the garlic and ginger with the side of a knife. Place in a small bowl, add the salt, chiles, coriander, and turmeric, and use the back of a spoon to blend them.
Stir the water into the paste, and add it to the chicken. Turn and mix the chicken and paste until the pieces are well coated. Set aside while you organize your cooking method.
If steaming the chicken: You need a shallow bowl that will fit into your steamer basket when the lid is on and that is large enough to hold all the chicken. You also need a pot that is just about the same diameter as your steamer, so that no steam escapes.
Pour about 3 inches water into the pot and set the steamer basket in the pot. Transfer the chicken and flavorings and the reserved skin to the wide shallow bowl and place in the steamer. Put on the steamer lid, then heat the water over high heat. When it comes to a strong boil, turn the heat down slightly. Steam the chicken until cooked through, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Check on it after 45 minutes: be careful as you lift off the lid not to burn yourself on the steam, then stir the chicken so that pieces that are underneath will be exposed to the hot steam. Cover again and resume steaming.
Check one of the largest pieces of chicken for doneness after an hour or so. Also check that the pot has enough water and is not running dry. When all the chicken is cooked through, remove the steamer from the pot, again taking care not to burn yourself on the steam.
If slow-cooking the chicken: Add 2 tablespoons more water and the oil to the chicken. Place in a wide heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the reserved skin, and stir to mix well. Place over medium-low heat, with the lid on, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour, or until all the chicken is cooked through. The chicken will be bathed in a light sauce and will be tender and succulent.
To serve: Remove the skin and discard. Serve hot or at room temperature, topped, if you like, with a sprinkling of scallion greens or coriander.
A Note on Chopped Chicken: I prefer that the chicken be chopped into small pieces, about 10 pieces to the pound. That translates into the following: Chop each drumstick into 2 pieces, the thighs into 3; split the breasts and cut each half-breast into 4 pieces; and chop the wings into 2 pieces. If you are lucky enough to have a good butcher, ask him or her to chop a whole chicken into small pieces, otherwise, use kitchen shears or a sharp cleaver to cut it up. Rinse off the chopped chicken thoroughly to get rid of stray shards of bone, then pat dry.
Excerpted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photographs by Richard Jung.