Friday, 27 January 2012

Khmer Chicken Samla

This dish, as its name suggests originates in Cambodia, where it is one of the most popular dishes apparently, and features in a book called Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet (although I found the recipe online somewhere). It is basically an aromatic soupy curry made with a typically Cambodian lemongrass heavy paste and simmered in coconut milk. 

Another paste here then that involves a lot of chopping and pounding, but as usual I actually use my mini chopper and the whole process is becoming a lot less time-consuming. This is quite spicy but not too hot (you could of course increase the number of chillis should you so wish - I added the dried birdseye) intensely flavoured, yet rich and creamy. Despite the richness of the coconut milk, it is well balanced and truly delicious - it has become another of my new favourite curries!

Ideally a kaffir lime should be used in the paste and fresh turmeric. I’ve yet to source fresh kaffir limes though (without a huge delivery charge and as only a little ever seems to be used in recipes it hardly seems worth it) and so used a little normal lime. Similarly, turmeric powder seems to work fine.

A quick note about coconut milk - if you can get a tin of fairly decent stuff in an Oriental supermarket you’ll often find that when you open it, it is naturally split between think and thin, with the thick at the top and coating the lid. The important thing then is to not shake the tin before you open it. Then just spoon off the thick top milk, and scrape off the thick layer on the underside of the lid and keep that separate from the thinner milk below.

Serve with some plain white or jasmine rice to soak up the lovely sauce. I added a little sprinkle of crispy fried shallots which strictly speaking is more Thai than Cambodian but it provides a nice contrast to the creaminess of the sauce.

Khmer Chicken Samla
Serves 2

2 stalks lemongrass, root & top third and tough outer leaves discarded, finely sliced
small wedge of lime (inc peel), finely chopped to about ¼ tsp worth
⅛ tsp ground turmeric
pinch of salt
¾ tbsp finely chopped galangal
3 Asian shallots, coarsely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (try and remove the central green sprout if there with a toothpick)
1 large dried red chilli, soaked in warm water (reserve) until softened, deseeded & deveined & chopped
1 dried red birdseye chilli, softened in warm water, chopped
½ tbsp shrimp paste
250 g boneless. skinless, chicken thighs, each cut into 3 pieces
½ tbsp vegetable oil
200 ml coconut milk (½ & ½ thick & thin if possible)
½ tbsp rice wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp palm sugar (can use normal sugar but palm is more complex in flavour)

Place the lemongrass in a mini chopper or food processor and blitz until very finely chopped. Add the lime, turmeric, a pinch of salt, and the galangal and blitz again until finely chopped. Add the shallots and garlic and another pinch of salt and process once more to a fine paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Either in the mini chopper or using a pestle and mortar, process the chilli to a coarse paste with a pinch of salt and if necessary a little of the chilli soaking water. Add this to the lemongrass paste and mix in well.

Meanwhile spread the shrimp paste on a doubled piece of aluminum foil, fold the foil over to seal, and flatten into a thin package. Place in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes until the paste is dryish and crumbly.

Thoroughly stir the toasted shrimp paste into the curry paste.

Remove any excess fat from the chicken and discard.

Heat a heavy-based pot over a medium-high heat and add the oil. When it is hot, stir in the curry paste and cook, stirring all the while until aromatic. Add the chicken pieces and stir to turn and coat.

Cook, stirring, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the chicken is starting to change colour.

Add half of the coconut milk (if you have been able to separate it into thin & thick, add the thinner half), rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.

Add half of the remaining coconut milk, bring back to a boil then simmer, half covered, for 20 minutes before adding the remaining coconut milk. Simmer for a final 10 to 15 minutes, by which time the chicken should be very tender.

Serve with rice, spooning lots of sauce over the chicken and rice. Yum!

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