Pandan chicken with the dipping sauce.
The inspiration for this dish is because I want to know what pandan leaves taste like and I'm interested in learning about how to use them, both to perfume savory foods and also to perfume and dye a dessert green. I bought some and they have been freezer for the last little while, and I finally saw a pandan leaf dish that I was excited to try--chicken pandan. I love the way that Adora's Box left the pandan tops unfolded and didn't fry them so that they are still bright green.
I was going to follow the recipe exactly as written from Adora's Box, but I spotted the recipe for "Chicken Deep Fried in Pandanus Leaves" in my "Thai Food" by David Thompson book last night. I liked his recipe because it used an Indonesian sweet soy sauce based marinade, made mostly of kecap manis. I thought that the sweet marinade would be nice, because the sweetness is part of what makes chicken teriyaki so tasty. I also liked that his chicken was marinated overnight; since it was Sunday, that meant I could get a bunch of the work done needed make this meal done that night, so that it is easier to get this meal ready to eat on Monday. Unfortunately, I didn't plan for this version of the chicken when I was out shopping during the day so I didn't buy any kepis manis. I made a last minute 7 pm Sunday attempt to buy kepis manis, but I was unsuccessful since I need to go to an Asian speciality grocery store to find this. I did however, find some recipes for making your own home made kepis manis, which I followed (see below).
For the pandan chicken, I used the marinade suggested in David Thompson's book, however I used my own homemade kecap manis, I replaced the Chinese red vinegar with an equal amount of apple cider vinegar, and I replaced the 2 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce with 1 Tbsp fish sauce. I washed off the star anis that I used to make the kecap manis and ground it using my coffee grinder which is reserved for grinding spices; I added just the fine star anise powder, not the larger sandy bits. I left out the additional 5 Tbsp palm sugar suggested in the marinade, since my kecap manis was already quite sweet.
Cilantro roots are used in the marinade. Cilantro roots are actually really hard for me to find. I've finally found one farmer's market, which sells their cilantro with the roots attached. I bought some just for the roots. The roots can be washed and then cut from the cilantro and stored in the freezer until you need them.
I used 8 chicken thighs, but only cooked half of them the first night since I ran out of pandan leaves. They need to be cut in half (it is okay to do this after they have marinated before you fold the pandan leaves over them, since they are too big uncut. The first time that I made this I followed the folding technique mentioned by Adora's Box, which is to leave a long piece of the leaves unfolded and to fry the body, not the tip so that the tip keeps a nice green color. This is really pretty, but it makes frying much harder.
Adora's Box's folding method and frying style:
The second time I made this (the marinated chicken can be stored in the fridge for 1 to 3 days), my pandan leaves were too short to leave long tips, so I fried the whole package; this is much easier.
I loved the marinade on the chicken. Thompson suggests that you reserve half the marinade for a dipping sauce. I didn't actually need any dipping sauce for the chicken since the chicken was flavorful enough. I didn't put sesame seeds on the dipping sauce because I forgot, and I also didn't dilute it with a tablespoon of water since I didn't think mine needed it.
Serve as an appetizer or as a main course with rice.
This is what the chicken looks like unwrapped. The pandan leaves should not be eaten; they add a perfume to the chicken (though I can't personally distinguish it), and they keep the chicken moist. The edges of the chicken which are not covered by the pandan leaves get crispy. The chicken pieces should be about the width of the pandan leaves (so about 1 1/2 inches).
There are several variations of recipes for Kecap Manis floating around the web. Some use simply soy sauce and brown sugar, and some use flavorings such as garlic, palm sugar, star anise, and galangal root. I choose to make the following sauce, which is inspired by the recipe at Melrose flowers (with some modifications), since many descriptions of kecap manis describe it as an Indonesian sweet soy sauce made of Chinese soy sauce, garlic, palm sugar, star anise, and galangal root.
Homemade Kecap Manis
8 Tbsp palm sugar (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1 smashed peeled garlic clove
1 bay leaf
2 small slices galangal
Bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 10 minutes, stirring until the palm sugar dissolves. Watch carefully and turn down the if it starts to bubble too vigorously. Let cool until it is warm, not hot, so it is easier to handle. Strain, and put into a storage container. Keeps for several months, if refrigerated.
Palm sugar. This kind is nice because it comes in tablets that are 1 Tbsp each so it makes measuring out palm sugar for recipes really easy. If your palm sugar is in one big block, try grating it with a microplane.
The sauce just after all ingredients have been combined but before boiling it:
Kecap Manis after being simmered for 10 minutes: