African Chicken

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When I lived in Asia, I liked to visit the now former Portuguese colony of Macau.  One of the signature dishes of the colony was African Chicken, which is chicken cooked in a spicy coconut milk based sauce.  This version is based on a recipe in the South China Morning Post.  I have kept the chilies as originally written, although I had to substitute 1 large Jalapeno and 2 serrano chilies, all seeded.  The level of heat from my substitution was about right.  I ended up cooking it longer than the SCMP indicated.  Key to the final dish is getting the sugars in the coconut milk to caramelize.

8 chicken thighs (I used boneless and skinless)

100 g. (3.5 oz.) shallots, peeled

50 g. (1.75 oz.) garlic, peeled

30 g. (1 oz.) ginger, peeled

15-20 (0.5-0.75 oz.) Thai birds-eye chilies

100 g. (3.5 oz.) mild chili (red banana, Anaheim, etc.)

25 g. (0.875 oz.) fresh cilantro

½ tsp. black peppercorns

30 g. (2.33 Tbs.) sugar

2 tsp. chili powder or crushed chilies

¾ tsp. paprika

10 g. salt

25 ml. (5 tsp.) fish sauce

15 ml. (1 Tbs.) rice vinegar

25 ml. (5 tsp.) fresh lime juice

150 ml. (2/3 cup) coconut milk

Salt to taste

Roughly cut the shallots, garlic, ginger, chilies, and cilantro, and put in the bowl of a food processor.  Chop into a paste.  Add the peppercorns, sugar, chili powder, paprika, and salt, and pulse again.  Add the fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice and coconut milk, and process some more until a reasonably smooth paste is generated. 

Dry the chicken pieces and put them in a one-gallon ziplock baggie.  Add the marinade.  Massage the bag well to evenly coat all the pieces.  Marinade in the refrigerator for 3-8 hours, flipping the bag a few times.

About an hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven on broil.  Drain all the marinade from the chicken into an ovenproof Dutch oven.  Scrape as much of the marinade as possible off of the chicken and into the pot.  Put the chicken on a rimed cookie sheet in a single layer, skin side up (if the thighs have skins) and broil for 10 minutes.

While the chicken is broiling, cook the marinade on the stovetop over medium heat.  The objective is to get rid of the rawness of the vegetables, to start the caramelization of the sugars, and to start blending the flavors. 

When the chicken is done broiling, place the cookie sheet on the stove top.  Reduce the oven to 390 degrees.  Check the sauce for spiciness and salt.  (I added about another ¼ cup of coconut milk to mellow the sauce.)  Add the chicken and all the juices from the cookie sheet into the Dutch oven.  Stir to mix the sauce and the chicken.  Bake, stirring occasionally,  for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is reduced and browned.  (I thought it was going a bit slowly, so I turned up the heat to broil for about 5 minutes.)

Serve with steamed rice.


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