Literally, inasal means roasted, a derivative from the Spanish word asar which means “to roast.” In contemporary Filipino cooking, however, chicken inasal has become synonymous with the grilled chicken of Bacolod City and Iloilo City in Western Visayas.
While there is no single and definitive recipe for chicken inasal, what seems to set it apart from other grilled chicken dishes is the lack of anything sweet in the marinade. Neither is there any dark-colored ingredient to give the chicken the usual deep reddish hue that most people expect grilled meat to exhibit.
What gives chicken inasal a lovely color is the basting oil. Annatto seeds are heated in oil to render color, garlic is added for a bold flavor and, once cooled, the oil is strained. Straining the oil AFTER cooling allows it to absorb more color from the annatto seeds and more flavor from the garlic.
The strained oil, now crimson after stripping off the color of the annatto seeds, is and brushed on the chicken repeatedly during grilling.
The sour notes of the dish is reproduced in the dipping sauce — a mixture of vinegar, shallots, garlic, ginger and chilies. Yes, it is sour and fiery with the heat supplied by three spices. If you haven’t noticed yet, garlic and ginger are spicy hot too although not in the same level as the heat of chilies.
All that sourness can be a bit too much. So, at home, we serve our chicken inasal with a simple side salad of tomatoes, cucumber, shallots and ripe mangoes. The sweetness of the mango cuts the acidity and gives the meal more rounded flavors.
- 1 kilogram chicken (we used four chicken leg quarters) wiped dry with a kitchen towel
- 6 stalks lemongrass (light colored portions of the stalks only)
- 1 head garlic peeled
- 2 thumb-sized knobs ginger peeled and cut into thin slices
- 1 half-inch knob turmeric peeled
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon annatto powder
- ¼ cup white vinegar (cane vinegar was used here)
- ½ cup palm oil
- 3 tablespoons annatto seeds dried
- 4 cloves garlic lightly pounded
Marinate the chicken
- Peel off the fibrous outer layers of the lemongrass. Lightly pound the remaining portions.
- With a mortar and pestle or a food processor, except the vinegar, grind all the ingredients for the marinade.
- Rub the chicken with the marinade.
- Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer in a container.
- Drizzle in the vinegar.
- Cover the container and allow the chicken to marinate for at least two hours. After two hours, flip them over to ensure even absorption of the flavors.
Make the basting oil
- In a small sauce pan set over very low heat, pour in the palm oil and add the annatto seeds and garlic.
- Heat until the annatto seeds have rendered color.
- Turn off the heat and leave the oil to cool.
- Strain the oil.
- While waiting for the oil to cool, make the salad and dipping sauce
Make the salad
- In a bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, mangoes, shallots and salt.
- Cover the bowl and chill the salad in the fridge.
Make the dipping sauce
- Stir together all the ingredients in a bowl.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preferred balance.
Grill the chicken
- Grill the chicken (over glowing charcoal is traditional), turning them over occasionally and brushing them with the basting oil every few minutes.
- To test for doneness, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a skewer. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done.
Serve your chicken inasal
- Transfer your chicken inasal to a serving platter or divide among individual bowls.
- Serve with rice, the salad and dipping sauce on the side.