If it had not been for a viral video clip done by a teenage girl in Trung, a southern province of Thailand, cursing and complaining about her lost “Niaow Gai”–fried chicken with sticky rice–I would have forgotten about this recipe.
I blogged about a traditional wedding ceremony dish of the Trung province earlier this year, Gin Niaow. But I totally forgot that Songkhla province, the hometown of my parents, also has a recipe that is even more famous and popular, and eaten nationally, not only in the South (the nation I’m mentioning is the Thai nation, of course). That recipe is called “Gai Tod Hat Yai”.
You might already know from the previous post that Gai = chicken, Tod = deep fried and Hat Yai = a city in Songkhla province. It actually is just a fried chicken recipe really, but there is a reason why it’s known and eaten all over the country.
What sets this fried chicken apart from all other fried chicken is the marinade and the much needed accessory: crispy fried shallots…lots of them. Do you remember the Thai Chicken Biryani, Khao Mok Gai? That recipe contained fried shallots too. If you want to guess, it’s safe to assume that this is another Halal-derived recipe. Oh, they do love crispy fried shallots.
There is a large Islamic population in the south of Thailand, especially in the four southern-most provinces: Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla. Nonetheless, though my families are not Islamic, we do love Halal food. It doesn’t include pork—which we love–but their chicken and beef dishes are to die for.
For those of you who plan to go to Thailand, you should try this type of fried chicken when there. It’s superb, and a much better alternative to KFC (which travelers to Thailand eat when they want “familiar” food). And you don’t have to go all the way to the south to try this. There are vendors on the street selling this type of fried chicken all over the country. If you are cautious about hygiene, ask to buy the one that’s just fresh out of the hot oil, and you will be just fine. The identifier for the “Gai Tod Hat Yai” is the fried shallots, don’t forget that.
The best things to eat with this fried chicken are Som Tam and sticky rice. They are gluten-free, and a healthy choice since you will get the oil supply from the fried chicken. There is no need to add mayo to your salad or butter to your sticky rice to balance the diet.
Let’s see what we need here for the marinade.
Chicken, cut up in large segments, your choice 3 lb.
Chopped or minced garlic 3 tablespoons
White pepper 3 teaspoons
Coriander powder 1-1/2 teaspoons
Cumin powder 1/2 teaspoon
Salt 1-1/2 teaspoons
Brown sugar 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons)
Oyster sauce (or if you want to go full flavor, use fish sauce) 2 tablespoons
Milk 6 tablespoons
(Optional) Coriander or cilantro root, chopped 1 tablespoon
Rice flour about 1-2 cups. (I don’t recommend rice flour from Bob’s Red Mill brand; it’s too coarse. You need to buy it the right kind at an Asian market but if it is too hard to get, use all-purpose flour.)
Sliced shallots 1-3 cups, depending on how much you like them.
Sticky rice, as much or as little as you want. I used only 1 cup (This is on the lesser side)
Oil for frying, about 4 cups
1) Mush all dried ingredients together until they become paste. Then mix the paste with milk and oyster sauce.
2) Rub all the sauce onto the chicken pieces, under the skin and all. Marinate at least 3 hours. The longer the better. I would prefer overnight if you have time.
3) While you are waiting for the chicken to be marinated, slice the shallots and spread them on a paper towel to dry them a little.
4) Cook your sticky rice. This is another method I use to cook sticky rice. The proportion between rice and water is 1:1.5 (This also depends on how dry the rice is, it could be as much as 1:2, but you would know later). Put the rice and water in a pot, set it on the stove and cook over high heat until the water is boiling. As soon as the water starts to climb up and overflow the pot, turn the heat down to the lowest level and simmer until all the water absorbs. This usually takes about 13-15 minutes.
Take a rice grain and taste if it is cooked through. If it is, turn off the heat, cover and let the rice sit for another 10 minutes. If it isn’t, add more water (about 1/4 cup per each cup of rice), flip the top part down to the bottom and simmer about 5 minutes more, taste it again. It should be cooked through this time.
Cooking the sticky rice this way, you won’t get the perfect-looking rice grains as with the other method I taught you when I gave you the sticky rice and mango recipe but it’s good enough. It’s good for making sticky rice that you don’t have time to soak beforehand. If you want a perfect-looking sticky rice, use the steaming method.
5) Put oil in the wok over medium heat. We’re first going to fry the sliced shallots that we will then air out to dry. Wait until the oil is hot, about 300ºF – 325ºF, drop the shallots in and increase the heat to medium high.
You will see the oil bubble all over, so stir the shallots constantly and keep watch. As soon as the shallots have some golden spots, take them all out of the oil right away. You can turn off the stove or drop the heat down to low.
Don’t worry about how white they seem. Let them sit in the scooper or lay them out on a paper towel.
This is just the first step. The shallots will get darker and darker as they sit. You will need about 2-3 minutes for them to rest.
In the meantime, crank the heat up to medium again. Wait until the oil temperature increase to medium high again about 300-325ºF, and at the same time the shallots should look light golden. Now, if you’ve taken the shallots out of the mesh scooper, put them back in it.
Don’t put all the shallots in the scooper this time. (I’m telling you not to do it the way I did, alright? Learn from my mistakes!) You don’t want a deep layer of shallots in the scooper, so you may need to do this in two or three steps. Now dip the scooper in the hot oil,
shaking it just to make sure that all the shallots touch the oil, and then take it out right away. The whole dipping should last no more than 30 seconds. Lay those shallots on the paper towel to absorb the oil.
Repeat it if you have shallots left. The shallots should be crispy and look all deep golden after cooling for about two minutes. If they’re a little too dark, you dipped them too long.
6) Now we’re ready to fry the chicken. Put rice flour in a bowl big enough to put the all the chicken pieces in. Roll the chicken pieces in the rice flour and shake off the excess flour. You can use a plastic bag and shake the chicken pieces in the bag if you like that method better.
Heat the oil in the wok over medium heat. Let the oil reach about 350ºF before you put the chicken pieces in. Make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 250ºF. If you put in too many pieces, the oil temperature will drop too low and the chicken will soak up too much oil, so limit the number of pieces to not overload the wok.
Let the chicken fry in hot oil over medium heat. Watch them, and you might want to turn them at least once. It’s even okay to turn them more than once. You will have to fry them at the least 6-7 minutes, so be patient. After about 5 minutes, increase the heat to medium high. If you look at the chicken pieces, you might start seeing the blood seeping out of the chicken. That’s a clue to increase the heat, too.
The best way to gauge if the chicken is done, (I usually listen to the sound and look at the bubble but that’s difficult to explain to anyone), is to pull out your thermometer to track what the exact temperature of the oil is. During the period of frying, the temperature will rise slowly at first and then faster, and when the temperature starts to rise a little faster, that’s when you increase the heat.
We increase the heat to make the batter or the skin crispy. This is called the one-pan method. I usually use this method if I don’t fry that many pieces. But if I have to fry many more pieces, I take the cooked chicken out a little before they’re done and let them sit on the oil absorbent paper until I’m done frying the whole batch. Then I increase the oil temperature to 375ºF and then I put the chicken pieces back in the oil for just one to two minutes, or until the outside turns a deeper shade of golden before I take them out. This is called the two-pans method.
If you ever watch a street vendor in Thailand cooking this fried chicken, you can see how this is done. They might have a gigantic wok that looks just like a witch cauldron: black, filled with dark liquid, bubbling, sizzling, seeming like they have just dropped a strand of phoenix hair in it or maybe a lizard. Then they stir the pot and you will smell the yummy chicken goodness. They keep doing that a few times, then they scoop the chicken pieces out. You’re watching and thinking, alright, after all this, now I get to eat my fried chicken.
Nope. They then dump the chicken pieces into another equally intimidating wok! What the heck? That’s what I mean by the two-pans method of frying. The chicken needs two different sets of temperature to make them crispy on the outside, cooked through and still juicy on the inside.
7) Now you are ready to serve the fried chicken, but wait a minute. Don’t forget the Nam Jim. Which one is the one to be used for fried chicken? Of course Nam Jim Gai, Thai Sweet Chilli is the one. Don’t forget to include the fried shallots.
You don’t even have to go all the way to Thailand to have this yummy fried chicken, and you don’t have to suspend your hygiene concerns or have to worry about the amount of trans fat you have consumed right after you have sated your hunger. So sink your teeth in the crispy fried chicken, put fried shallots on top of the sticky rice and enjoy the treasure of Hat Yai in your own home. Do not forget to make Som Tam for the perfect accompaniment.