ugly crackling chicken rice
Previously on Lady and Pups, the bloodthirsty 9-days marathon of recipe-massacre was mercifully ended by the heroic Jasmine green tea granita, thus temporarily closed the tormenting gap between culinary imagination and reality. But the narrative failed to mention the other type of food blog-limbo. One that’s even more ill-hearted, ironic… a humorless prank that leaves the subject, in this case me, in a helpess panic with all hope diminishing after each and every other attempts to right it. In this episode, we are going to closely examine this type of sucker.
Imagine, just imagine… someday your dream-scenerio happens with a BUT. Imagine if you managed to bump into your whorish cheating ex in your optimal, this-sexy-ship-has-sailed glowing condition BUT just so happens to be growing a cosmic-sized, fluid-pumped ZIT centered right between your eyes… Imagine if you finally landed on the make-or-break interview of your career, armed with every single piece of information studied up like the back of your hand, BUT just so happens to be experiencing the most ferocious bowel-movement of your adult life and ended up farting your way through the entire Q&A… Well, the culinary equivalent for a non-professional food-blogger… imagine if I nailed it on a recipe… nailed it as in the-stars-are-aligning and the-choir-is-singing kind of smashing success, BUT just so happens that all the final photos taken paraded out of the camera in utter, bleak disagreement. Then another try. They disagreed. Then I tried again. Disagreed again. The only joy-receiving end of this carnage is Jason, who mopped up the result. Stop imagining, because you are looking right at it.
The concept that “ugly foods taste best” is well accepted by most… in action, not on paper. In my experience, no matter how tasty I think something was to snack on, to binge on or to sink my face into, if I didn’t have a pretty photo to show for it, little attention would come to its defence. And this, I believe, reins supreme so far. It was an inspiration drew from the Balinese signature tourist attraction, the world-famous babi guling (roasted suckling pig w/ skin crackling), and my incompetent Canon and lousy tripod failed to do it justice. What the photos say is a shapeless pile of messy meats smothered in a greenish puddle, is in fact, juicy and tender chicken dark-meat nicely browned on the skillet then pulled and tossed into a flavour-symphony mixture of garlic, fresh herbs and coconuts. What the photos say is an unidentified object in a funny, irregular shape being randomly placed across the plate, is in fact, a meticulously flatten chicken skin that was baked in its own fat until transformed into the thinnest, crispiest and MOST GLORIOUS SKIN-CHIPS, which was then strategically positioned on the side… the top… the bottom… in variously failing results. I don’t know what to tell you… the whole is greater than the sum of its pictures.
If you promise not to judge a dish by its cover, if you pity the hairs I pulled from my amateur head, if you can just try to close your eyes and HEAR the skin CRACK… “KA-TS!”… Like it. Pin it. Let the world know. Ugly is delicious.
I made this out of 2 whole chicken legs (drumsticks plus thighs), de-boned and skins reserved for the cracklings. You can of course purchase boneless/skinless chicken thighs, and ask for chicken skins (as much as you’d like) separately from your butchers. When mixing the chicken and pesto, add the lime juice at the last minute before serving because the chicken and the pesto need to sit for awhile to develop flavour, but the acidity will further soften the chicken and make it mushier as it sits. This is especially important if you want to make the chicken hours ahead (which you can).
“2 heaping tbsp” is about a handful for each herbs.
Pulled chicken in Asian pesto w/ skin crackling:
- 2 whole chicken legs with skin (drumsticks plus thighs)
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- Asian pesto:
- 1 tsp of toasted sesame seeds
- 5 kafir lime leaves, with the tough center-ribs removed
- 3 tbsp of ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 shallots
- 2 heaping tbsp of fresh mint
- 2 heaping tbsp of fresh basil
- 2 heaping tbsp of green scallion
- 1 Thai red chili
- 2 1/2 tbsp of fish sauce
- 2 tbsp of unsweetened finely shredded coconut
- 1/4 tsp of lime zest
- 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
- 1 tbsp of lime juice
- Steamed rice and extra lime to serve
Make the pulled chicken and pesto: Debone the chicken legs, and remove the skin from the meat. Scrape off any fat-lumps attached to the under-side of the skin, but carefully without breaking it. Set the skins over a baking rack to dry off slightly. Then heat up a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Lightly season the chicken-meat with approx 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of black pepper, and cook in the skillet until nicely browned on both sides and cooked through completely, a few min on each sides. Reserve the oil and liquid in the skillet and set the chicken aside to cool.
To make the pesto, start with ingredients that are the hardest to break down. In a mortar (or you can use food-processor if it’s powerful enough to grind sesame seeds), first finely grind the sesame seeds. Then add/finely grind the leafy part of kafir lime leaves (with the tough center-rib removed). Then add ginger, garlic and shallots and pound into a paste. Add the fresh mint, fresh basil, green scallion and red chili, again grind into a fine paste. Finally, add fish sauce, shredded coconut, lime zest and ground white pepper, plus 2 tbsp of the oil used to cook the chicken. Mix evenly into a pesto. Set aside.
Shred the cooked chicken with your hands. The shredding creates textures and strings in the meats that hold onto any sauce/pesto much better than pieces that are cut with a knife. Reserve 1 tbsp of liquid from the pesto for the chicken skin, then mix all of the rest with shredded chicken. Let the chicken/pesto sit for 1 hour to deepen the flavour. At the last minute before serving, mix in 1 tbsp of lime juice.
Make the chicken skin crackling: Preheat the oven on 410ºF/210ºC.
Lay a large piece of parchment paper on a large baking-sheet. Dab the chicken skin on both sides with paper towel to remove excess moisture, and season both sides with salt and black pepper. Lay the chicken skin flat on the parchment paper without any foldings or overlapping. Brush the reserved pesto liquid over the skin, then lay another piece of parchment paper on top of the skin, press down with your hands, then put another large baking-sheet on top (the baking-sheet on top has to cover the entire surface-area of the chicken skin). It’s VERY IMPORTANT to sandwich the skin with parchment papers so that it doesn’t stick to the baking-sheets.
Bake in the oven for 15 min first. Take the baking-sheets out of the oven and remove the top sheet. Peel the top-parchment paper from the side to allow the steam/moisture inside to escape. Reposition the chicken skins if you see uneven brownings, then press them down again with parchment paper and the top baking-sheet. Return to the oven and bake for another 8 ~ 10 min. It should take a total of approximately 25 min for the chicken skins to become perfectly crispy. Once they do, remove them from the baking-sheet and place on top of a cooling rack to dry off slightly for 5 min.
Serve the pulled chickens in pesto with steamed white rice and a large piece of skin crackling on top, plus a wedge of lime to squeeze and plenty of orange red chili sauce.
Orange red chili sauce:
- 4 large long red chilis
- 4 small Thai red chilis
- 2 tbsp of lime juice
- Flesh from 1/2 orange
- 2 tsp of orange zest
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of sugar
Blend long red chilis, small Thai red chilis, lime juice, orange, orange zest, salt and sugar in a blender until very smooth. Let the sauce sit for at least 2 hours for the flavours to combine.