When eating abroad, often I find that the place where you eat is just as novel and exciting as the food that you eat there. One of the most fun places we went to for dinner in Indonesia, was the night market on Gili Air. It was only really called Night Market, it wasn’t really the type of night market you might be imagining, but it was good. It was open air, there was lots of choice and it had a more or less markety feel about it.
The system was pretty casual. First, you chose what you wanted to eat and went to the corresponding counter. You ordered, you paid, and you told them your name and in which general area you were intending to sit. Then you’d go to find a free spot at one of the big tables, where they’d come and find you to drop off your food when it was ready.
Whilst you waited, the ladies would walk by the tables with the most delicious looking dishes, calling “Francesco? Francesco here?” “Sarah?” “Andrew?” And every time you’d be tempted to just go “Yeah, that’s me!”, because everything looked so delicious. But you knew that whatever you had ordered would be worth the wait, so you let Francesco have his yellow curry and you waited patiently for you chicken taliwang. And the day after you’d resist Sarah’s chicken taliwang, whilst you waited for your swordfish skewers, and the day after that you’d pass on those in favour of your mie ayam, or whatever you happened to have ordered that night. Everything at that place was equally delicious and amazing.
Except for the chicken taliwang, which was slightly more delicious and amazing than all of the rest.
For 2 people, use:
- one large chicken breast
- a small cup of coconut cream – about 100 ml
- a largeish shallot
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 tsp of brown sugar (or, as ever, if you have, a lump of palm sugar)
- one fresh red chili
- one dried chili
- one macademia nut
- a chunk of galangal
- a decent pinch of salt
So first of all, put all the ingredients except the chicken and the coconut cream in a blender with a little bit (like, a shot glass) of hot water. Grind it all up into a smooth paste.
Cut your chicken into small – medium bits. Grab your favourite griddle, heat some oil in it and cook the chicken in it. When they’re going white (just on the side that’s frying, it doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through), add the taliwang paste. Stir a bit, then add the coconut cream. Now what we need to do, is practice self restraint. This bit is pure will power. You need to mix briefly, , turn down the heat, and then leave the griddle alone. Your sauce is going to look like it’s burning. Let it. What we’re going for is a really dense, half dried up sauce.
After about ten minutes, take the chicken out of the pan, by gently shaking it onto a plate. Now grab a wooden spatula, and start scraping the sauce from the bottom of the griddle. If it’s gone well, it should be a pretty thick, darkish red paste. Put that on the chicken.
Serve with rice!