Ayam Panggang (Grilled Chicken)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The hallmark of a good roast chicken is crispy skin, right? Nah, not necessarily. Crispy skin requires hours of air-drying and I can't be bothered most of the time. It's good enough for me if the skin is nicely browned so that there's a 'roasty' aroma.

What? That's good but not very sexy? Ok, let's sex it up a bit.

Lather the tanned chook with lots of sambal that's full of spices and enriched with coconut milk, then stick it back in the oven. As the spicy paste bubbles away merrily in the heat, it caramelizes and forms a crust, transforming the ordinary roast chicken into – tadaa! – Ayam Panggang. How's that?

What? 'Flavour' is only skin deep? Banish the thought! The chicken is marinated with the sambal for a whole day before it's roasted. The meat is infused, right down to the bone, with the fragrance of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander seeds, shallots, belachan, white pepper . . . . Happy now?

Whilst I don't air-dry the chicken for Ayam Panggang, I do dry it in the oven. I roast the bird at a low temperature – 130°C or so – for about 25 minutes. The heat is too low to cook the bird much but it dries out the skin quite well. I then crank up the temperature to 230°C and the skin, already dry, browns nicely in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the meat is just cooked and the breast still moist.

To get the ideal combination of brown skin and juicy meat, the roasting time, temperature and size of the chicken are crucial considerations. The type of bird chosen is also important. For Ayam Panggang, I prefer to use a regular chook that's tender and juicy as it is, and doesn't require brining to tenderize and moisturize the meat. A brine would make non-organic chicken too soft, and is better suited for organic birds with drier, firmer meat.

Let's give the chicken a good grilling, shall we?

AYAM PANGGANG
Source: Adapted from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's The Best of Singapore Cooking
(Recipe for 6 persons)

Sambal
10 dried chillies, soaked in warm water till soft, about 1 hour
1 tsp belachan, toasted till fragrant
2 red chillies, seeded
⅓ cup shallots
1½ tbsp galangal
1½ tbsp lemon grass, white part only
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp ground white pepper
½ tsp dark soya sauce
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
⅓ cup coconut milk

1 small chicken, 850 g trimmed and spatchcocked

Rinse and trim all ingredients as necessary. Blend everything except chicken and 1 tsp salt till smooth. Pour mixture into a plastic bag. Place chicken in the bag. Move mixture around so that it covers chicken (kind of) evenly. Leave to marinate for 12-24 hours, refrigerated.

Remove chicken from the fridge. Scrape marinade into a pot. Place chicken on a rack for about 1 hour to come to room temperature.

Whilst chicken is warming up, cook marinade over medium heat, stirring all the time, till thick, fragrant, and colour darkens. Add remaining 1 tsp salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat to cool down.

Preheat oven to 130°C (270°F). Line roasting pan with aluminium foil. Place rack in the pan. Place chicken on the rack, skin side up, legs on the outside. Roast till skin is dry, about 25 minutes. Increase heat to 230°C (450°F). Roast till chicken feels firm, skin is brown, and juices run clear, about 15 minutes. Spread evenly with half of sambal. Turn off bottom heat in the oven. Continue roasting, this time with the chicken breast on the outside, till sambal is bubbling and brown, about 7 minutes. Remove chicken from the oven. When cool enough to handle, chop/carve and serve with remaining sambal as a dip, adding a squeeze of lime juice if you like.

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