When the girls were in college, we visited for various reasons. Sam was studying Photography and Alex was in Technical Theater, so we went to see plays and attended exhibits. Because it was a two to three-hour drive, we’d leave the house early and, if traffic wasn’t so bad, we’d have an hour or so to relax before proceeding to the event.
One of our favorite ways to spend the waiting time was by having a meal at a restaurant just outside the school. The specialty? Lemongrass chicken. We loved the food, we ate three three or four times, but the music got louder each time until it wasn’t music anymore but just head-splitting noise, and we just stopped patronizing the establishment.
It’s been years but I still remember the food. The citrusy aroma that always filled the dining room, the delicious rice that was obviously cooked in the broth in which the chicken had been poached, and the broth that was served on the side. This is my version of the dish.
Prepping the chicken
Because the broth is such a crucial component of the dish, I make extra effort to minimize the formation of scum. I do this by rubbing the chicken vigorously with rock salt. The friction loosens impurities which can turn to scum if not removed. After salting the chicken leg quarters, I rinse them and pat them dry with paper towels.
Lightly pounded lemongrass stalks are arranged at the bottom of a wok and the chicken leg quarters are placed over them. Freshly ground black pepper, knotted pandan leaves, scallions, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro are added.
Next, soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce are drizzled in. Then, boiling water is poured in. How much water? Enough to completely submerge the chicken.
Poaching and resting
The mixture is allowed to come to a gentle boil before the heat is turned to the lowest setting. The pan is covered tightly and the chicken leg quarters poach in the liquid for half an hour.
At the end of cooking time, I turn the chicken pieces over, replace the lid and leave the chicken to continue cooking in the residual heat for another ten minutes. Then, the chicken is scooped out and arranged on a rack. The skins are brushed with sesame oil before the chicken is covered loosely with foil and left to cool.
Once the chicken has been lifted out, the cooking liquid is strained. Rinsed rice is dumped into the rice cooker, enough cooking liquid is added and the rice is left to turn fluffy as the grains soak up the delicious broth.
While waiting for the chicken to cool and the rice to cook, the dipping sauce is prepped. Chopped garlic and ginger, sliced chili and scallions go into a bowl. There is no exact ratio to follow here, I personally prefer equal amounts of garlic and ginger, and twice or thrice as much scallions. We use bird’s eye chili at home, it is a very hot chili, so I stick with just one piece which I slice thinly.
Soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar are stirred together then poured over the spices. As with the spices, there is no right and wrong ratio for the seasonings. I start with equal amounts of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar, but you can modify the ratio.
Boiling water is stirred in. It’s a must because, otherwise, the flavors of the dipping sauce are too sharp. How much boiling water? I start with a couple of tablespoons then taste the sauce. If it’s still too harsh in the mouth, I add a couple of tablespoons more.
Serving lemongrass pandan chicken
The cooled chicken is moved to a chopping board and, with a heavy knife, cut through the bone into slices and arranged on a plate. Rice, a small bowl of dipping sauce, cucumber slices, scallions and cilantro complete the meal.
Lemongrass pandan chicken and rice
- 3 chicken leg quarters total weight is about one kilogram
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 4 to 5 stalks lemongrass (lower portions only) lightly pounded
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 pandan leaves tied into a knot
- 2 pairs kaffir lime leaves
- 3 to 4 stalks scallions
- 4 to 6 stalks cilantro
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 1 ½ cups rice
- 3 cups strained cooking liquid
- Place the chicken in a mixing bowl, add the salt and rub all over for a minute oor so. Rinse and dry with paper towels.
- Line a pan with the lemongrass stalks and arrange the chicken on top.
- Add the pepper, pandan leaves, kaffir lime leaves, scallions and cilantro.
- Drizzle in the soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce.
- Pour in enough water to cover the chicken.
- Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and poach the chicken for half an hour.
- Turn off the heat, flip the chicken over, replace the lid and continue cooking the chicken in the residual heat for ten minutes.
- Scoop put the chicken and rest on a rack.
- Brush the chicken skins repeatedly with sesame seed oil.
- Cover the chicken loosely with foil and leave to cool.
- Strain the cooking liquid.
- Rinse the rice, dump into the rice cooker, add three cups of strained cooking liquid and turn on the cooker.
- Place the garlic, ginger, chili and scallions in a bowl.
- Mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar, making sure the sugar is fully dissolved, pour over the spices and stir.
- Drizzle in two tablespoons boiling water, stir and taste. If the flavors are still too sharp, add another two tablespoons of boiling water.
Assemble the dish
- Transfer the chicken to a chopping board and cut through the bones into slices.
- Arrange the chicken on one side of a plate, add a scoop of rice and a small bowl of dipping sauce on the other.
- Optionally, garnish with cilantro, scallions and cucumber slices.