Monday, August 16, 2010

Foodie Fights: Tamarind and Brown Sugar

Indonesian Spatchcock Chicken and Kederok Salad

Everywhere I look these days someone is spatchcocking a chicken. And no, this has nothing to do with Mixed Martial Arts or WWE. But it does sound like a wrestling move, doesn’t it?  To spatchcock a chicken, is to butterfly a chicken but it’s much more fun to say spatchcock. A butterflied chicken allows for a whole chicken to cook evenly and quickly on the grill, stovetop or in the oven. Since I can’t seem to escape it, I’ve decided to join the maddening crowd and use the technique in this week’s battle. If you want to try it this video might help.

As soon as I saw the ingredients for the latest Food Fight Battle knew I would be cooking Indonesian food.  I was introduced to this delicious cuisine many years ago when I first met my late husband. His mother was born in the Netherlands and his father was born in Indonesia.  My mother-in-law Rita is a fabulous cook and my father-in-law was her biggest fan.  For special occasions Rita would cook for days to create a bountiful rijsttafel or rice table. Other times the feast was potluck with every cook bringing her best dish.  In addition to an incredible feast there was always music, dancing, singing, and laughter.  The women would always spend part of the evening discussing where to find the unusual ingredients needed to create these dishes. If one of them was going somewhere known to sell these unique things she would take requests from the group and at the next gathering the first order of business would be to deliver the groceries in anticipation the next rijsttafel feast. 

My in-laws and their friends arrived here over fifty years ago and had to go a long way to find the herbs, spices and other things needed to create dishes easily prepared in the Netherlands and Indonesia. But with so many hard to find ingredients they were great at figuring out substitutes for just about everything. It’s hard to imagine now that coconut milk was among the things not found at the local grocery store.  As I recall, they tried soaking baking coconut in regular milk and adding coconut extract.  Palm sugar was replaced with brown sugar and lemon juice would stand in for tamarind.  Brown sugar is not a bad substitute and so we still use it often but the same cannot be said for using lemon juice in the place of tamarind.

I poured over Indonesian cookbooks and hand written recipes I’ve collected over the years to come up with something for this battle. Many dishes use sugar and tamarind so narrowing it down wasn’t easy.  I don’t have time to create an entire rijsttafel but will give you a taste for one with this chicken dinner. 

The sauce for the Spatchcock chicken is delicious; it’s rich and the sharp bright flavor of the tamarind keeps the sauce from being cloying and the brown sugar softens any sharpness the tamarind might have. I’m afraid I ran out of natural lighting so the photos do not do this dish justice. The crispy skin of the chicken works beautifully with the creamy sauce.  The variety of textures and shapes in the Kederok Salad look great next to the chicken.  The chilies in the dressing lend a nice amount of heat and the tamarind liquid thins the peanut butter without thinning the flavor.

Spatchcock Ayam Setan (Red Devil Chicken)

3-½ pound chicken

2-3 serrano chilies (arbol or Thai), rough chop           
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
¼ medium white or purple onion, rough chop
¼ teaspoon fish sauce
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate, dissolved in ¼ cup water
1 13.6 ounce coconut milk

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife or poultry shears, cut along one side of the backbone and open the chicken like a book. Cut down the other side of the backbone to remove. Reserve backbone for stock or discard. Turn chicken breast side up and, using the heel of your hand, press firmly against breastbone until it cracks and the chicken lies flat.

In a blender combine chilies, garlic, onion, fish sauce, paprika, salt, sugar, tamarind liquid, and coconut milk. Blend until smooth.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large ovenproof frying pan. Starting with the skin side down cook the chicken for 10 minutes on each side until well browned. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the sauce to the frying pan. Cook the chicken, basting frequently for 20 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by two-thirds and the chicken is fully cooked (165˚).  Test with an instant read thermometer.

Meanwhile preheat the broiler to high.

Place the chicken under the broiler, skin side up, baste with any sauce left in the pan and broil for five minutes, or until it is crisp and sizzling.

Cut the chicken into serving size pieces and serve with the Kederok and plenty of steamed rice to soak up the delicious sauce.

Kederok (Fresh Salad with Peanut Sauce)

2 serrano chili, cut into thin slices
2 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoon tamarind, dissolved in ¼ cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons natural crunchy peanut butter

2 cups bean sprouts
2 cups shredded Savoy cabbage
1 cup peeled and thinly sliced cucumber (if using English cucumber you can leave the skin on)
1 cup sliced, blanched, and chilled carrots
3-4 ounces blanched and chilled snow peas

Whirl chili, garlic, salt, ginger, tamarind liquid, and brown sugar in a blender until smooth.

In a small bowl whisk the tamarind brown sugar mix into the peanut butter.

Toss the vegetables with three quarters of the dressing reserving the rest to pass with dinner.  


  1. Thanks Peggy, it was lots of fun. My biggest challenge was my having my little dog underfoot while the chicken was spattering away on the stove. She could smell it cooking and was hoping to that something would fall her way.

  2. Yum!! And that poor chicken! lol... I'm going to have to try that technique--what a great way to cook a whole chicken on a grill. I love all the spices you used. Super, super yum! Good luck! :)

  3. Angela, I'm drooling as I view this dish from my monitor! It's been a while since I've had spatchcock chicken, but your dish brought back memories, so I'm going to surprise my family with this soon. Btw, I love your interesting story about your in laws!

  4. I say well all come together for our own rijsttafel. Two desserts, how could we go wrong?