This recipe has been passed down through generations of the family of Ibu Rohati, a Padang native we met while exploring Indonesia and the ancient Minangkabau culture. Check your local Asian market for Indonesian ingredients.
1 stalk lemongrass
1 tbsp. tamarind pulp
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 red holland chiles, stemmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1" piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1" piece fresh or frozen and thawed galangal,
peeled and chopped
1/2" piece fresh or frozen and thawed
turmeric, peeled and chopped
4 shelled candlenuts, chopped
1 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. peanut oil
1 3 1/2-4-lb. chicken, cut in half
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1. Bruise lemongrass with dull side of cleaver or large kitchen knife, tie it into a knot, and set aside. Dissolve tamarind pulp in 1 cup hot water. Strain through a sieve, pressing pulp through with a rubber spatula. Set liquid aside and discard seeds.
2. Crush together shallots, chiles, garlic, ginger, galangal, turmeric, candlenuts, and coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle to a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add spice paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes. Push paste to outer edge of skillet, add chicken, skin side down, and cook until skin begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken, then stir in tamarind liquid and lemongrass, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces by one-quarter, about 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and simmer, basting chicken frequently, until it is cooked halfway through, about 10 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate and continue simmering sauce until thickened and pastelike, 7-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, preheat grill. Grill chicken over medium-hot heat, basting with sauce and turning halfway through, until completely cooked, 15-20 minutes. Serve at room temperature, with Steamed White Rice, if you like.
First published in Saveur, March 2002
Dan's notes: tasty! I cooked it with the bone in (except the breasts) and then cut it off the bone and served it as shredded chicken with the sauce. The breasts dried out a little bit, so maybe keeping them on the bone would be a good idea too. Second time I made it (grill and everything) it wasn't so good.