Today is our 3rd wedding anniversary so last night we thought we’d celebrate with treating our stomachs. Much of our food knowledge comes from the sudden plethora of cooking shows on Indian TV. We recently saw Rhodes Across China. Gary Rhodes is one of the most annoying British chefs with his spiky greasy hair and condescending precision. He’s been to India, the Caribbean, China and Italy and he’s supposed to be learning from local chefs about local food and techniques. But he’s so eager to do all the cooking and measuring and is shocked every time a local chef suggests that he add a lot more pepper, chilli or turmeric than he, with this British sensibilities, thinks is appropriate. He never fails to question the local chef, saying, “Are you sure chef, are you sure?!” Dude, you’re not cooking British food. This is how the rest of the world does it, no restraint. You’ll notice that he never mixes things with his hands, he always wears these creepy surgical gloves like he’s about to give the radish an enema. Meanwhile, the local guy has got a big smile on his face as he squelches and minces the ingredients with his bare hands. You can can’t add love to your food through surgical gloves. It’s a reflection of his whole personality and perhaps his cooking – sterile and bland. You never see him eating at the really local digs – for that he sends his sous chefs. His idea of local is the chefs from the Hyatt. Granted he’s a very famous chef – I’ve seen his restaurants in London but never eaten there but his menus sound either too bland or too borrowed for me. To me he has a very bad TV persona and comes across as terribly disingenuous. Still, I watch for the local recipes. And this one caught our eye: marinated chicken, wrapped in lotus leaf, covered in clay and baked. As an anniversary special we embarked on the challenge.I scoured the internet but could not find the exact recipe but we had a general idea of what he added to the marinade. Being our first time, we did make a few mistakes and things weren’t as neat as I would have liked but for a first attempt and considering the occasion, the effort was worth the taste and intense moistness of the chicken. The legend is that a Chinese peasant stole a chicken from the king’s kitchen. He was chased by the king’s guards and needed to quickly hide the chicken. So he wrapped it in some leaves, smothered it in some clay and buried it in a hole in the ground with some hot coals. That way when the guards came looking they couldn’t find the chicken.
So get a whole bird, a small one, preferably paid for, with skin and marinade in:
1 cup soya sauce
1 cup shoaxing chinese cooking wine or Sherry
This is where my own twist on things comes in. I made a paste of 8 dried red chillies, 5 cloves of garlic, 2 tsps peppercorns, star anise, ginger and blitzed it all together. I rubbed this over the chicken and let it marinade for 1hr, but I guess one could leave it for longer too.
For the stuffing fry pork chopped in to small pieces with finely diced onion, salt and pepper. Wait for it to cool and then stuff in to the chicken’s cavity. We didn’t have pork so used gizzard instead.
Place the chicken on a banana or lotus leaf and wrap. We wrapped it in three layers of banana leaf. You should tie it with twine but we had none so just used ordinary thread which didn’t hold the leaves that well together, so we did experience some leaks. If using banana leaves you should pass it over a candle flame quickly a few times so that the spines bend when you fold it rather than snap.
Next, place the wrapped chicken on some tin foil on a baking tray and smoothen out a thick layer of clay. When you go to buy earthern pots for your garden, ask the nursery for some clay. They usually will have some.
The result was the most moist chicken I’ve eaten with a delicate flavour that went perfectly with steamed white rice, finely chopped red chillies and a light salad. The colour of the outer skin was a rich deep burnt sienna. The clay pot traps the heat inside and almost steams the chicken. The breast skin became wonderfully crispy though, I don’t know how. The meat was literally falling off the bone. The taste is definitely worth the effort, but this is a special occasion type of effort.