Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice)
A few weeks ago, we spent the weekend in Portland for Joel’s birthday. It is the perfect city for us: a laid back craft beer paradise for him and a plethora of food carts for me. By the end of the weekend, I was brainstorming ideas of how we could sustain a low-key, non-corporate life for ourselves (and still pay my crazy student loans). A baked potato cart like Spud’s in Berkeley, circa 1999? Maybe bicycle soup delivery? Crap, someone’s already doing that. How about selling hemp bracelets at the farmer’s market? Pulling from my past wandering around Grateful Dead parking lot…but that market is saturated and low profit. I will continue to try to come up with my One Great Idea. In the meantime, I made a mean Khao Man Gai, inspired by one of Portland’s Top 10 Food Carts, Nong’s Khao Man Gai.
I was incredibly sick on Friday but crawled out of bed at 10am to get Nong’s Khao Man Gai. The cart is only open on weekdays and they close as soon as they run out, which often happens. I didn’t want to blow my one chance, so we walked the two short blocks (love how small the city is!) to pick up a paper-wrapped packet of goodness for each of us. We were blown away–it lived up to the hype.
It’s basically the Thai version of Hainanese chicken rice but what makes it extra special for us is the dipping sauce: gingery, garlicky, sweet and salty all in one. I forgot to take a picture of the simple but delicious soup its served with: chicken broth & pickled mustard greens…it was all gone by the time I remembered.
I could easily have gone for another portion but ended up napping for the rest of the afternoon before waking up for an afternoon snack at Addy’s Sandwich Bar (we shared the duck confit and the ham & gruyere), craft beer galore, dinner at Park Kitchen, and hipster watching at various bars. Since this trip, I have been dreaming about this Khao Man Gai. I researched recipes on the internet and consulted my (half)-Thai friend, Stephanie, multiple times. Last weekend, I finally pulled the trigger. This is going to be a common meal around these parts moving forward.
I consulted this recipe for guidance on how to boil the chicken. As much as I cook, this was my first time simply boiling a chicken. I bought a small air-dried organic chicken from the butcher and boiled it in my Le Creuset with nothing but a tablespoon of salt and a few slices of ginger. While it was boiling, I skimmed off the gunk like I always saw my mom do growing up. I was a little bit concerned about overcooking the chicken so I stabbed it a couple times before deciding it was done. I dunked it in an ice bath, carved it and set it aside.
(UPDATE 10/22/13): Prior to cooking, depending upon how ugly my chicken is, I have exfoliatedmy chicken per Steamy Kitchen. Also, a note from Steph’s parents, whose method I now use exclusively:
Boil the water first and then when water is boiling, put the chicken in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Make sure the whole chicken can be covered under the boiling water. Then turn off the heat and leave the chicken with the pot cover on for about 45 minutes. Again it depends on the size of the chicken and the timing needs experiment. After 45 minutes or so, take the chicken out.
THANK YOU Mr. & Mrs. Choi!!
Stephanie emphasized that the key to making good rice was to add fat from the broth to the rice. I never bother to wash the rice; simply tossed the everything into the rice cooker:
- 2 cups of long grain rice (brown works too!)
- 3 cups of chicken broth (including fat)
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- A few slivers of ginger
- 1 clove of minced garlic.
I forgot to take a picture but if you look on the table, you will see a clear ice cream bowl filled with soup. All I did was garnish the chicken broth with some chopped pickled mustard greens (available at the Asian market). Add more mustard greens and pickling juice if you like your soup more sour.
Sauce & Garnishes
The sauce is what takes this dish over the top for me. I had to make some substitutions based on what I had in the pantry but used the same recipe for guidance as well as some notes from Stephanie. I whirled everything in the food processor and then heated it briefly in a pan to caramelize the sugar:
- 1/3 c. chopped ginger (plus a little more since I like it gingery)
- 3 peeled garlic cloves
- 2 serrano chiles (my corner market doesn’t carry birds-eyes)
- 1/2 c. Lee Kum Kee Black Bean Garlic sauce (UPDATE: Steph’s parents said to use fermented bean paste, which is more authentic. However, what I used is easier to find)
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/3 c. low sodium soy sauce
- 1/3 c. white vinegar
The dish is garnished with sliced cucumbers and cilantro, a must. Next time, I will cut the sauce in half and remember to chiffonade the cilantro like my mom used to.
Oh! And I had enough leftover chicken broth to make a batch of chile verde & Spanish rice and some grits. LOVE.