Pandan Leaf Chicken | KitchenTigress

Pandan Leaf Chicken


Whenever I see pandan leaf chicken, I'd remember the lunch I had with my Australian boss in a Thai restaurant in Melbourne. That was a long time ago, when Australians probably weren't as familiar with Thai food as they are now.

One of the dishes we had was pandan leaf chicken and, as I chatted away, Boss did something that I still remember now. He picked up a piece of fried chicken, unwrapped it, and put the entire pandan leaf in his mouth – no chicken, just the stiff, wiry leaf!

My eyes widened in horror and my mind went, "WHOA! WHOA! YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!"

I guess I should have warned him immediately but I was too taken aback. I was speechless for a second and then – when I was about to yell, "DON'T EAT THAT!!!" – I could see that the leaf was already halfway down his throat. "Oh sh¡t! He's gonna choke, and I don't know how to do the whatever manoeuver!"

As I panicked at the thought of my boss lying on the restaurant floor, dead, he stretched his neck like a pelican or seagull swallowing a big fish. And then, lo and behold, the leaf was down! Crikey! See the photo? A fried pandan leaf is stiff enough to stand upright but he managed to swallow it.

Glad that I didn't have to phone for an ambulance and there was someone to drive me back to the office, I breathed a sigh of relief and continued eating. I didn't say anything about the pandan leaf, and my boss thankfully didn't try to eat another piece.

Some years after the pandan leaf incident, I ordered some vine leaves wrapped with rice and whatnots whilst having lunch with a friend. Being the country bumpkin that I was (and still am), I had never had dolma before.

After the Greek dish arrived, I looked at the vine leaves and remembered my ex-boss' culinary faux pas. 'Hmm, am I supposed to eat these things that look like lotus leaves?' I wondered. I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my new friend, so I unwrapped the leaves and gingerly pushed them aside.

"Aren't you going to eat those?" my friend asked.

Dang, those leaves were meant to be eaten! I was wrong but, hey, not as wrong as the man who ate a fried pandan leaf. "I don't like vine leaves," I said without batting an eyelid.

PANDAN LEAF CHICKEN (GAI HOR BAI DTOEI)
Source: Thai Food, David Thompson
(Recipe for 5 persons)

3 chicken legs, about 600 g skinned and boned
Marinade
1 piece ginger, thumb size, wash, peel and chop roughly
2 coriander roots, wash and chop roughly
3 cloves garlic, peel and chop roughly
10 white peppercorns
5 tbsp palm sugar
3 tbsp red rice vinegar (or any sweet vinegar)
pinch of salt
½ cup kecap manis (thick, sweet soya sauce)
2 tbsp white sesame oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of ground star anise, optional

large pinch of white sesame seeds, toasted
24 large pandan leaves, washed and dried
oil for deep-frying

1. Wash and dry chicken. Chop bite-size.

2. Blend or pound marinade ingredients till smooth. Use half to marinate chicken for at least 2 hours. There should be enough to almost cover the chicken. Chicken may be marinated overnight without being overseasoned.

3. Remaining marinade is the dipping sauce. Taste and, if necessary, dilute with 1 tbsp water. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds. Cover and set aside.

4. After the chicken is marinated, wrap each piece in a pandan leaf. Click here for a video on how to wrap the chicken. Don't cover the meat completely. Exposed parts will turn brown and fragrant after deep-frying.

5. Drain wrapped chicken for a few minutes to remove excess marinade. Deep-fry in just smoking oil over high heat till leaves are brown and meat just cooked, 2-3 minutes. Drain. Serve immediately with the sauce on the side.