In the almost limitless world of Chinese food, Beggar’s Chicken is a famous enough dish to have its own Wikipedia page. It’s a delicacy with competing mythologies. There’s always a beggar, and—of course—a chicken. There’s also the river mud or clay and lotus leaves used to encase and cook the chicken. Sometimes there is an emperor. And if you’re reading a recipe and not a book of lore, it’s likely to call for 6 pounds of pond mud. Not surprisingly, there are culinary opinions about the provenance of the mud matters. (Talk about terroir.)
I was hoping that Indonesian Beggar’s Chicken would share some of these legendary roots , but the origin of the Indonesian variant appears to be the mind of Dana Jacobi, and her delightful The Best of Clay Pot Cooking. I know exactly when this recipe entered our lives because the clay pot was a wedding gift along with a brick-textured cooking vessel called a Römertopf (German for Roman pot). This slender volume has produced more than its fair share of excellent its recipes. Three of them have become family staples: cornbread, lemon orzo, and Indonesian Beggars Chicken.
The modifications here were pretty simple: add more garlic and cilantro to offset the removal of the hot peppers. And add some Indian long pepper and Grains of Paradise for a little no nightshade kick.
The real question is, do you really need a Römertopf or a chicken brick or some other clay pot to cook this properly? So far the only alternative I’ve experimented with was a foil covered glass pan. It was adequate, but not as juicy as the clay pot cooker. There’s something about the clay pot that synergizes the spices, the moisture, the temperature, the meat. The broth that materializes in the bottom of this dish is extraordinary and delectable.
- One medium onion, chopped roughly
- 1/4 to 1/2cup cilantro,
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- 1 anchovy filet or1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- zest from1 small line
- 1/2 teaspoon Indian long pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Grains of Paradise
- 1/2 tablespoon grated, fresh ginger
1Prepare your clay pot. With our Romertöpf this means soaking it in water for several hours. Your mileage may vary.
2Prepare the roasting chicken according to your own best practices. (I know the culinary world is divided on whether or not to wash a chicken. Public health departments the world over suggest not to, because tap water splashing off of the chicken can spread potentially harmful bacteria in your kitchen. These bacteria will die if the chicken is properly cooked.)
3Set aside the chicken. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor bowl and blend to a paste.
4It is useful to have the chicken dry, so if you’re not going to use a paper towel to accomplish this then place the chicken, uncovered, on a plate in your refrigerator for a couple of hours.
5Smear the chicken, inside and out, with the spice paste. You want the paste on all available surface areas on both the inside and the outside of chicken. About a third goes inside the chicken, and there’s obviously no real aesthetic benefit to spreading it around perfectly. But the more evenly distributed the paste is within the body cavity, the better the opportunity for those flavors to fully co-mingle with the chicken. The remainder should be spread evenly over the outside of chicken. If you have a silicon pastry brush, this works particularly well.
6For best flavor results return to the refrigerator for1 to 2 hours. (Full disclosure: it’s rare that I’m so organized. It’s still a very tasty bird if it’s popped directly into the oven.)
7Bake in a 425 degree oven for approximately 70 to 90 minutes. You’ll have your own metrics for when a roasting chicken is done, and they will no doubt suffice. Personally, I prefer to cook until the leg joint is clearly loosening from the body. At this stage the meat is practically melting off the bones.
8Allow to rest for 15 minutes. The juice ladled over rice is divine.