A long long time ago, the European and the Arabs used to call the Malay Archipelago the fabled Spice Islands. In fact, Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires who was in Malacca between 1512 to 1515 said, “Whoever is the lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice!” Such was the allure of the spices from Malaysia. Surely the early European visitors must have noted with wonder as they saw locals marinating meat with an abundance of spices to be grilled over open fires.
The Malays are very adept at marinating meats and fish with spices. The most renowned is of course satay (grilled spiced skewered meat) but other equally delicious dishes include ayam percik (grilled chicken slathered with spices) and ayam golek (grilled chicken rolled in spices), all liberally marinated with spices like turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, galangal (lengkuas), cumin, coriander, and the likes. Fishes are normally slit and stuffed with spices. They are then clamped on split bamboo sticks or placed in a grill basket over wood or charcoal fires.
This month’s theme for World on a Plate is GRILLING. This time I am sharing a dish from the Malay community in Malaysia. Ayam means chicken, panggang is grill, and kunyit is turmeric. This dish is often goreng or deep fried in which case it is called ayam goreng kunyit. This simple but tasty and aromatic dish is a favorite at a typical Malay rice stall.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family with a central bulb and numerous short “fingers”. It has a brownish yellow skin and a bright yellow-orange flesh. Ground turmeric has an earthy scent, with hints of pepper and ginger. Fresh turmeric smells brighter and spicier. When working with fresh turmeric, do wear a pair of rubber gloves if you do not want to have yellow fingers.
I made two versions of this Ayam Panggang Kunyit, one using turmeric powder and the other fresh turmeric. Both can be purchased at the Asian grocery stores. Turmeric powder is very convenient and I always have a jar of it in my pantry at all times for flavoring curries, meats, fish, vegetables, and rice. Fresh turmeric is great and when I get a chance to buy them, I keep them frozen. Turmeric stains and so you want to be careful not to get them on your clothes or dish towels.
- 1 3½ lbs (1.6kg) chicken, cut into 10 to 12 pieces
- 2 tsp turmeric powder or 4 knobs of fresh turmeric, ground or pounded into a paste
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- Canola oil
- Place chicken pieces into a large Ziploc bag. Add turmeric powder (or ground turmeric paste), salt, and pepper. Press out as much air as possible from the bag before sealing. Mix everything well by kneading the bag to make sure chicken pieces are well coated with spices. Place in the refrigerator and allow it to marinate for at least an hour.
- Pre-heat an outdoor grill to medium heat, about 250°F to 300°F (120°C to 150°C). Brush the hot grates of the grill with a little oil. Arrange the chicken pieces on the preheated grill. Brush the tops of chicken pieces with oil. Allow it to cook for about 20 minutes, turning once mid-way. Increase heat slightly to brown meat, turning whenever necessary. This will take another 5 minutes.
- Remove and serve immediately.
The Ayam Panggang Kunyit below is marinated with freshly pounded turmeric and roasted in the oven. I prefer to pound the fresh turmeric in a stone mortar and pestle and not grind it in my Kitchenaid food processor as it does stain the container. My sons call this dish “yellow chicken”.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!