I have a weakness for Indonesian grilled chicken (or Ayam Bakar as you will often find on Indonesian menus) - the char and smokiness from the caramelized chicken skin, the sweet aromatic spices, the distinctive taste of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) combined with the heat from the savoury sambal belacan, all complemented with a mound of steamed white rice. The preparation method involves first simmering the chicken in the pot with the spice mix (bumbu or rempah) so that the chicken absorbs all those wonderful flavours. I then reduced the sauce to a thick syrupy paste which I used to baste the chicken before placing under the grill. This gives it a more concentrated flavour and also helps form a shiny dark coating on the skin.
I was a little sceptical about making this for the first time, as I wasn't sure if the kids would take to the complex spices in this dish. Well, it turned out that they couldn't get enough of it! If only they could eat chilli, they don't know what they are missing out on without the sambal belacan!
Ayam Bakar Recipe
1.6kg (3.5 lbs) chicken Maryland (thigh + drumstick)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 lemongrass, white part only, bruised
1 inch galangal, bruised
4 pieces kaffir lime leaves
2-3 cups water
6 tbsp kecap manis (I used Bango brand)
1 tbsp tamarind puree/juice
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Dash of black pepper
Spice paste (finely blended):
100g (3oz) shallots
4 cloves garlic
3/4 inch ginger
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- Heat vegetable oil in a pot (large enough to arrange the chicken in one layer). Fry the spice paste for 5 minutes on medium heat until fragrant. Add lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, water, kecap manis, tamarind puree, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and simmer for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked. Turn off the heat. If you have time, you can leave the chicken to soak in the sauce for another hour to let the flavours permeate into the meat.
- Transfer the chicken to a baking dish or pan, as you will need to grill the chicken in the oven later. Leave the sauce in the pot, and bring it to a boil. Simmer until sauce is reduced to a thick paste. Spoon some of this paste onto the chicken (skin-side up).
- Turn on the oven grill/broiler. Grill the chicken for 20 minutes or until the skin is caramelized and black. Be careful not to burn it. Brush on more of the reserved paste from step 2 above if you like and grill again.
- Transfer to a serving dish and serve with steamed with rice, cucumbers, a drizzle of kecap manis and sambal belacan (see recipe below).
4 small chillies and 4-6 long red chillies (as desired)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp toasted belacan
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
Splash of lime juice or vinegar
Remove the chilli stalks. Place chillies and candlenuts in a pot of boiling water, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain of the water. Roughly slice the chillies. Place chillies, belacan, candlenuts and garlic in a food processor/blender and chop finely. Add salt, sugar and lime juice to taste. Transfer to a small dish, and serve with Ayam Bakar. If desired, drizzle some kecap manis over the sambal belacan before serving.