Lemongrass chicken with black rice

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This is my version of a chicken recipe I saw online. Trust me, it is as simple as the title suggests. For this new chapter of my culinary series, I decided to head back home and cook some very unique recipes using local ingredients. I want to explore my Northeastern heritage and discover the wonderful array of food and dishes that my home state, Assam, has to offer.

Some of the recipes here in the Northeast are very similar to one another, and totally different as well. There are Assamese dishes that match food from Bengal, Bihar and even as far as Kerala! Yet, there is an indigenous produce here that makes for very exclusive cooking. The dishes here are simple, wholehearted and very family oriented. They are flavoured in a way that it can be enjoyed by children and seniors alike. Most of the dishes are very humble and masalas are a very occasionally entry. Local herbs, pulses and vegetables are the heroes in most of the cauldrons.

My mother recently stumbled upon some black rice at a Bihu fair in Guwahati. The rice is found traditionally in Nagaland, but farmers across the Northeast have started cultivating it. The rice mostly grows in the wild and only recently did the product find its way from far-off villages in the heart of the state, to semi-urban and urban markets.

I wanted to make something I knew and my mother wanted to try the black rice. So, experiment time! My dish was a Vietnamese chicken recipe created by Irish chef and travel writer Donal Skehan.

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Sweet and sour chicken:

Ingredients –

  • Chicken – 500 grams, preferably boneless and chopped into medium pieces
  • Garlic – 5-6 medium to large cloves
  • Red chilies – 3-4, depending on the heat, keep one aside for later
  • Lemongrass – 2 medium sticks should do, make it three if they are thinner
  • Curry power – 1 tablespoon (Chicken curry powder preferably)
  • HP sauce – 1 tablespoon*
  • Sunflower oil – 2 tablespoons
  • Chicken stock – 1 cup
  • Brown sugar – One teaspoon (add more if you like it sweeter, like me. Plain sugar will also do)
  • Coriander and basil leaves from garnishing.

*There was fish sauce in the original recipe. Frankly, I am still warming up to the fish sauce taste and decided to go for an English barbeque sauce instead. If you don’t have the HP sauce, go for the original ingredient, if you like it. You can also substitute it with normal barbeque sauce, hoisin sauce or even soy sauce. Try it and let me know!

Method –

  • Chop the chilies, garlic and lemongrass together into small bits. Be careful with the chilies if they are really spicy, like the ones I used. Do not bring them near your eyes! The chopped ingredients will start to release a fabulous aroma now. It is absolutely wonderful. Add the chopped bits to the chicken and, using your hands, coat it well. Leave it to rest for five-ten minutes, just so that it marinates. Top tip – add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to the chicken to rub off the meaty smell.
  • Heat sunflower oil in a wok. Use a deep frying pan if you don’t have a wok. I used a non-sticky one, but since you are using a large glug of oil, it won’t stick anyway. Add another chopped chili and one crushed garlic clove just to flavour the oil. Fry the chicken once the oil is hot. Please be careful, it will splutter and be angry, you have to calm it down. Get a nice brown coating on all sides. Keep rotating the chicken using a pair of tongs.
  • Once they have a nice brownish colour in about five minutes, add the curry powder. Just reduce the heat a little. The powder won’t burn that way. Next, add the HP sauce or which ever substitute you prefer. Give it a minute and crank up the heat. Stir well. Now add the chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and add the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1o to 15 minutes. Keep stirring once a while.
  • I did not add any salt because the HP sauce was already seasoned, along with the chicken stock. But please keep tasting midday through the simmer. You can add more salt or sugar, depending on your taste.
  • You will know it’s done when the stock will reduce a touch. Taste-check and have a bite of a piece of chicken if you are unsure. Since it’s boneless, it won’t take long. Garnish with some coriander and basil leaves. Just tear them straight into the dish.

Black rice with coconut milk

Ingredients –

  • One and half cups of sticky black rice
  • One two-inch cinnamon stick
  • Coconut milk – 3/4 cup
  • Salt and sugar to taste

Method –

No hocus-pocus in this one. Mumma knows her rice so brilliantly. She boils it in a deep sauce pan along with a cinnamon stick. One cup of rice needs one and half cups of water, she says. Keep stirring. The rice will release a black starch that looks like grape juice. Do not be put off. It’s normal. Check the rice by breaking it between the fingers to see if it’s done. Drain the water and put it back on the stove. Now add the coconut milk, followed by the salt and sugar. Some coconut milks are already quite sweet, so please do check before adding the sugar. Stir the rice, it should absorb all the milk. Keep tasting!

It should be done in less than five minutes. Serve it with the chicken. Another top tip is so serve a coriander-garlic chutney alongside. It just helps to cut the sweetish taste from both the chicken and the rice. My mother makes a brilliant chutney. I will be sharing the recipe for that on another post.

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Please do try this combination and do let me what you think about both the dishes and your twists to the recipes – how it can be made simpler or more complicated. I know black rice is rare and so keep a lookout for that in uour local supermarket.

Till the next time, happy cooking!

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