One Saturday morning last month I got a surprise package from Amazon. It was a pretty weighty package. As I hadn’t ordered anything it was with interest and then delight that I opened it to find a lovely fabric-bound hardback edition of The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon. As I picked out, a small slip of paper fluttered to the ground. On it, a message from from Meemalee. So thanks Meemalee, this one’s for you!
I’ve never cooked, and don’t know a whole lot about, Burmese food. But as the pressie was from Meemalee, Burmese (and general) cook extraordinaire, it seemed like a good place to start. It’s a cuisine I have never, to my knowledge, eaten – although I’ve wanted to.
The food, as far as I could tell from reading a few pages, is very SE Asian in character although – unsurprisingly given its location – with a more marked Indian influence from than say, Thai or Vietnamese cooking. Saying that, there is that same emphasis on aromatics and balance that I associate with SE Asia.
As I understand it, this particular dish isn’t wholly a traditional Burmese one, and inevitably, I changed a few bits and pieces. But it gives you a taste of the cuisine. You can see the Indian influence in the use of chickpea flour (besan in Burma
, gram flour in and India) and the generous amount of ground rather than fresh turmeric. It gives the curry a warm rather than hot and zesty edge.
The chicken is poached, then shredded and lies, moist and tender, in a rich pool of yellow turmeric-infused coconut and chicken stock. I added green beans and peas – mostly because I’m a lazy sod and couldn’t be bothered to cook them separately – and some fresh coriander. The end result is a gloriously slippery, soupy and rich curry with none of the hot-hot heat usually associated with SE Asian curries. Plus, it actually feels like it’s doing you good as it slips down.
I served to my Dad and step-mum who were staying for the weekend. And it went down a treat. Not least as it is totally gluten-free and my step mum is coeliac, so that’s pretty important. The recipe was asked for and much of meal was finished in an uncharacteristic silence punctuated only by slurps and the smacking of lips. For my chatty family, that was a statement in itself.
Feeds 4 with some leftovers for lunch the next day
A whole chicken – jointed into eight pieces, backbone and ribs retained
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
60 ml fish sauce
400ml coconut milk
400ml light coconut milk
2 onions – peeled and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves – crushed
60g rice flour (this should be chick pea flour, but i didn’t have any)
Half tsp cayenne pepper (you could use any chilli powder and vary the amount to taste)
500g dried rice noodles
Two handfuls of Green beans (and/or other hard green vegetable)
4 hard-boiled eggs
Some fresh coriander leaves
Put the chicken pieces (including the rib and backbone for flavour) in a wide sauté or large sauce pan with the turmeric, salt, fish sauce and water to just cover. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat so the chicken simmers until it’s tender. About 45 mins or so. Remove from the heat, allow to cool and then strain, reserving the liquid. Strip the meat off the bone and shred it. Throw away the skin and bones.
Put the normal coconut milk in a large saucepan over a medium heat and stir until you can see some oil start t rise to the top. Don’t worry if it boils. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until they start to colour, Make sure you keep stirring. Add the chicken and cayenne pepper and continue stirring for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside for the moment.
Mix the rice/chick pea flour with enough cold water to form a thin cream. Pour the light coconut milk into a new saucepan and bring it to the boil. Add the rice flour mixture in a thin stream stirring all the while until the sauce thickens. Add the reserved chicken stock in a steady stream until you have a thick gravy.
Pour it over the chicken and onion mixture, put it all back on the heat and bring to a simmer. Add your green vegetables and simmer until they are done.
While this is simmering, cook the rice noodles in boiling water until they are done (follow the instructions on the packet). Add to serving bowls and spoon over the chicken. Scatter over the hard boiled eggs and coriander and eat.