Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kao Man Gai (or what your Jewish Grandmother would make if she were Thai)

It is no surprise that we love to cook Thai food around here. Honestly, so much of it is labor intensive that we mostly cook it for friends or on the weekends. This recipe is gonna change that. It looks like a lot of steps, but is as easy as chicken and rice.

The first time we had Kao Man Gai we were on Ko Samui island. After multiple days of grilled chicken and papaya salad we decided to branch out.  We stumbled upon a little hole in the wall restaurant filled with Thai folks enjoying their lunches. There was only one thing on the menu. We ordered two and waited to see what would arrive. Two plates of rice, a bit of sliced chicken breast, a sprig of cilantro and a small cup of broth. The waiter/cook/ owner brought over a small bowl of what looked like soy and maybe chilies. Slightly disappointed in the looks of our lunch, we dug in anyway.

WOW! Were we mistaken. The simple appearance belied the intense flavor. It was pure comfort food. Tender chicken atop delicious fragrant rice. The bowl held a delicate chicken soup for sipping. The dipping sauce brought just enough zip and spice to the table. We were in heaven.

Sadly, we never got the name of what we were eating...

Fast forward two years and at the height of the Portland food cart boom I read about a cart selling only one dish. Thai chicken and rice. At the first chance we had we went to check out the offerings. There it was, sliced chicken breast, rice just as fragrant as we remember and a small bowl of broth to sip. I finally had a name. Kao Man Gai.

Justin was lucky enough to receive the book Thai Street Food, by David Thomas for his birthday this Summer. This is a huge, beautiful Thai cookbook and coffee table book. We were drooling immediately. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for Kao Man Gai.

So far we have made it three times, and each time we whoo and ahh over how delicious it is. And really, it isn't that hard. The best part is, it is great to make ahead and heat up for lunches or dinner. I have simplified the recipe a bit, but I highly recommend getting the cookbook to see the original recipe (and all the others!).

This recipe calls for pandanus leaf, which is a long, spiky leaf which has a sorta nutty-sweet taste and smell. I found mine in the frozen food section of the Asian market. I pulled two leaves off for this recipe and have kept the rest  in the freezer.

Kao Man Gia (Thai Poached Chicken and Rice) (Modified from Thai Street Food)
This is a doubled recipe, so there are plenty of leftovers.
Chicken Ingredients
8 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons salt (or none if stock is salty)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 pandanus leaf
4 garlic cloves, crushed, but left whole
a small handful of cilantro stems
2 1 inch pieces of ginger, crushed with a knife
4 chicken breasts, on the bone

Rice Ingredients
5 cups jasmine rice (rinsed)
a second small handful of cilantro stems
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons oil

a small zucchini, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 green onion, sliced
cilantro leaves

1. To make chicken, in large sauce pot put all ingredients, except the chicken. Bring to a boil.
2. Turn heat to a simmer and add chicken breasts. Check after about 20 minutes. If still a little pink, cook another 10 minutes.
3. Remove chicken from broth and let cool.

To Make the Rice
1. While chicken is poaching, crush into a paste the cilantro stems, garlic, and ginger. I like to use my mortar and pestle, but a food processor would be fine too.
2. Heat oil in a medium sauce pan. Add spice paste and cook a minute until fragrant.
3. Add rice and stir until coated. Fry rice for about a minute.
4. Add enough of the poaching stock to cover the rice by about an inch.
5. Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and turn down to a low simmer until rice is cooked. This should take about 20 minutes.

Now that your chicken is cooling and your rice is cooking you can make the soup.
1. Taste the poaching stock and add a little salt or sugar if needed.
2. Add in cubed zucchini. Bring to a boil.
3. Turn heat off and sprinkle in green onion and cilantro.

To plate, slice chicken breast from the bone. Serve on a mound of the hot rice. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves or a bit of cucumber. Serve the soup in a cup along side.
See!!! That wasn't so hard!

If you have time the sauce is a great addition!
This is my version. The original calls for yellow beans. I can't find them anywhere. 
Dipping Sauce
5-6 cilantro stems
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
6 garlic cloves
2 inches of ginger, chopped
1/2 of a hot Thai chili
1 tablespoon white vinegar
soy sauce to taste

1. In a mortar and pestle (or food processor) crush everything but the vinegar and soy.
2. Stir in vinegar and soy. Taste and add more sugar or salt as needed. I liked it sweeter, so I added a big ole spoonful.

Drizzle over chicken when eating.

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