Southeast Asian cuisine blends sour, sweet, salty and spicy flavors


Hainan Chicken Rice

Serves 6

1 organic chicken, 3½ pounds, fat removed

Kosher salt

4 green onions, each cut in half

1 4-inch finger of peeled ginger, smashed

For rice:

2 cups fragrant, long-grain white rice such as jasmine or basmati

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped ginger

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

4 cups reserved chicken stock

Seasoning Sauce:

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

For the table:

Chilli Sauce (recipe follows)

Ginger Sauce (recipe follows)

Cucumber slices

Cilantro sprigs

Dark soy sauce or hoisin sauce

Rub the outside of the chicken with a handful of salt to get rid of any loose skin and to firm it up. Rinse it well, inside and out, then season generously with salt inside and out. Stuff it with the green onions and smashed ginger.

Place in a large pot filled with cold water to cover chicken by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes more. Check for doneness by inserting a small knife into the flesh of the leg/thigh where juices should run clear and meat is very tender.

Transfer the chicken to the sink and rinse with cold water for about 3 minutes, until cool. Alternately you can put it in an ice bath. Set aside. Strain and reserve poaching liquid for cooking the rice and more.

To cook rice: Heat the oil in a deep saucepan over moderate heat and fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add rice to the pan and fry, stirring until it’s coated with the oil. Be careful not to burn the ginger and garlic. Add the stock, salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or so or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit with lid on for 5 minutes or so. Fluff rice with a fork before serving.

Heat the remaining poaching stock (you should have at least 6 cups) and season to your taste with salt.

To serve: Cut the chicken into serving-size pieces. Spoon rice into deep bowls and top with the chicken and a ladle of broth. Mix the seasoning ingredients and drizzle over the chicken. Serve the chicken rice with the chili sauce and ginger sauces, cucumber slices, cilantro and dark soy or hoisin sauce on the side for each diner to add as they wish.

Chili Sauce

6 red or green fresh jalapenos, or to taste

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 1-inch piece peeled ginger, chopped

1 tablespoon or so fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons reserved chicken broth

Salt to taste

Add all to a blender and blend until smooth.

Ginger sauce:

1 3-inch piece of peeled ginger, grated

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Salt to taste

Mix all together.

Larb Gai is a dish usually made with ground chicken. It is very popular in Laos and Isan, a neighboring rural section of Thailand. You can also use finely chopped beef or pork.

Traditionally, this dish uses roasted rice powder that is prepared by toasting raw rice in a wok, then grounding it to a powder. You can find premade roasted rice powder at Asian markets. Do not skip it — it adds a nuttiness essential to the authentic flavor of the dish.

Larb Gai

Serves 4 to 6

¼ cup raw sticky rice or 2 tablespoons roasted rice powder

16 ounces coarsely ground or finely chopped dark meat chicken (lean beef, such as sirloin, can be substituted)

1 teaspoon hot chile powder, preferably Thai or Lao or red chile flakes

2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons sugar

⅓ cup finely slivered red onions or shallots

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

12 torn mint leaves, plus more for serving

For serving:

Lettuce leaves

Cucumber spears, for serving

Cooked sticky or glutinous rice, if desired

To make roasted rice powder, heat a wok or skillet over high heat. Add raw rice and cook, stirring often, until rice is toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from wok and set aside to cool. Grind to a coarse powder in a mortar, blender or coffee grinder. Set aside.

To cook chicken, heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons water, then add chicken, stirring constantly to break up any lumps. Cook just until cooked through, about 4 minutes, then transfer to mixing bowl. While chicken is just warm, add remaining ingredients (except for serving garnishes) and roasted rice powder. Mix gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Mixture should be tangy, salty and pleasantly spicy.

Spoon onto serving plate and surround with additional mint, lettuce and cucumber. Serve with rice. If using sticky rice, pinch some off, mold into a small ball and dip into larb, scooping up a little of each ingredient. Or scoop larb into lettuce leaves.

I have included the recipe for this simple sorbet below. Use whatever fresh fruits and berries are best in the season. Certainly you should include a tropical fruit or two such as mango and pineapple. Litchi (also spelled lychee) is an Asian fruit with a distinctive flavor. I’m using canned litchis here, but in the summer you can find them fresh in Asian markets. Also look for its hairy cousin, rambutan.

Litchi Sorbet with Fresh Fruits

Serves 4

1 can (15 ounces) litchis in syrup

½ tablespoon unflavored gelatin

½ cup sugar

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon finely grated lime or lemon zest

Fresh fruits of your choice, attractively cut

Drain off ½ cup of the litchi syrup, reserving the rest, and transfer to a small bowl. Spoon gelatin over syrup; set aside for a couple of minutes for gelatin to soften.

Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves; remove from heat. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and set aside.

Put litchis and reserved syrup in blender or food processor (remove seeds if they are still in the fruit) and puree. Add gelatin mixture and zest and process for 15 seconds or so or until very smooth. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Alternately, pour into shallow container; freeze 12 to 24 hours, stirring often to keep crystals from forming. Serve with fresh fruits of your choice.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of the KSRO “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website, chefjohnash.com.



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