javanese grilled chicken [ayam bakar solo]

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I love grilled chicken. And so does my mother in law. One day while we were watching Bébé play, out of the blue she told me that it has been a while that she hasn’t eaten chicken. Ever since her stroke episodes, she doesn’t really get to eat chicken much back home in Indonesia. My sister in law cooks her a lot of fish and vegetables. But chicken, not so much. I don’t really know why this is because she is allowed to eat chicken albeit only the white part. So I started racking my brain for Indonesian chicken recipes that don’t involve frying/oil, nor the use of coconut milk. Fried chicken is out. Boiled and steamed chicken just sound horrible. So of course, grilled chicken it is!

This is a very traditional recipe that would normally accompany festive meals back in Java. What makes this chicken so special is that you first braise it with spices and coconut water for long hours and then grill it over charcoal to get a nice charred look. The result is practically melt-in-your-mouth, falling-off-the-bone chicken. You can make the chicken a day in advance, just up until you’ve finished braising them. Store them in the fridge, then grill them the next day.

Twice Cooked Javanese Grilled Chicken [Ayam Bakar Solo]

Serves 4

FOR THE SPICE PASTE

  • 10 Asian red shallots
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 5 candlenuts
  • 1 inch (2.5cm) fresh turmeric
  • 1 inch (2.5cm) fresh ginger
  • 2 inches (5cm) galangal
  • 1 1/2teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
FOR THE CHICKEN

  • 1(2-3 pounds) whole chicken, cut up into 8 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 lemongrass, white part pounded with a pestle and then tied into a knot
  • 5 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind water (obtained by mixing 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste and 1/4 cup warm water)
  • 500 ml unsweetened fresh coconut water

Directions:

With a mortar and pestle, POUND ALL OF THE SPICE PASTE INGREDIENTS into a coarse paste. You can also do this with a food processor.

TO BRAISE THE CHICKEN: Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot/ dutch oven over medium heat. When oil starts to shimmer, add the spice paste and lemongrass. Cook until aromatic, around 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and the rest of the ingredients into the skillet. Mix well. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn the heat to low. Maintain a very gentle simmer until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed by the chicken and you are left with a thick sauce. This process can take up to 3 hours (sorry!). It will make a very tender falling-off-the-bone chicken pieces so do not disturb the chicken at all during this process so that they stay intact. When the liquid has reached a thick consistency, immediately remove chicken from heat.

Heat a charcoal grill and COOK CHICKEN PIECES OVER THE GRILL until nicely charred. Serve immediately.

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