Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Aromatic, Succulent Belachan Chicken

It’s Belacan Chicken!! It’s not Indian and I am selling it at the restaurant. I classify it as an Uniquely Singapore Indian dish. Before this recipe came into being, I did lots of experiments. First, I had to try other people’s Belacan Chicken. Found some so oily that I could not eat anything else the whole day – just the thought of the oil bursting out from the chicken wings nauseated me. Then there were some that were so salty, I would have used pieces of that chicken to salt my curries J. Some too smelly, some wings uncooked, some overly browned, some totally no flavor of belacan. I gave up after trying for a few weeks.
Then I started researching. I asked Chinese friends, Peranakan friends, Malay friends, Indian friends and even Filipinos. My world of belacan expanded - so many stories and so many ways of making Belacan Chicken. I had to choose one method that would work for me.
In case you are wondering what Belacan Chicken is….. it is chicken pieces marinated in shrimp paste and other ingredients, dipped in batter and then deep fried. You have to marinate it long enough so that the marinade seeps through every molecule of the chicken and make it very aromatic. The Belacan Chicken should be crunchy on the outside and burst with flavors in your mouth!! And I managed to do that. And chances are, when an Asian eats a good Belacan Chicken, all other colonels’ fried chicken will be forgotten J The smell of Belacan Chicken being fried will make your neighbors hungry.
Must tell you this - Some marinate the chicken pieces in belacan and some coat the chicken with belacan infused batter. And while some use belacan powder, I use belacan paste
For those who of you who think you are going to make me give you a recipe for the Belacan Chicken – fat hope!
But I can recommend something easy and almost like it – Use Maggi Shrimp Paste Chicken Mix. Well, it is good if you do not want to go through getting all ingredients and finding the right recipe (I am definitely not sharing mine). The direction in the package will tell you to marinate the chicken pieces for 15 minutes and then deep fry. Well you will get a nice aromatic golden brown chicken.
The Chinese in Hong Kong have Ha Cheong Gai – a version of the Belacan Chicken. Pink creamy shrimp paste from Hong Kong is used for this and the batter is made of potato flour.

Talking about belacan too much…..some of you may not know that there are many types of shrimp paste in the market. Belacan is made from small salted shrimps that have been allowed to ferment in the sun until very pungent. The mixture is then mashed and dried. Some are semi-dried. It may smell unpleasant to many but taste divine when cooked. In the hands of a good cook, belacan can work wonders and a bit of belacan with ground chillies and a squeeze of calamansi makes a meal near sublime.

Take note that belacan must always be cooked before being eaten. It can be grilled if using in raw salads and fried along with other spices for curries and sambals. If you need to grill belacan at home without making the whole house stink like a belacan factory, wrap the amount of belacan in aluminum foil and then grill in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, turning the package a couple of times in between. Alternatively, you can place the aluminum package directly on gas stove, but keep turning the package. Do remember that belacan is not something you will use in large amounts………a bit goes a long way!