Friday, April 16, 2010

A Week of Coconut: Chicken Kelaguen

This meal came about when I asked Andy what he would like for his birthday dinner this year. Now, he usually responds with something like, "I don't care; I'm not picky," or "whatever you think." So imagine my surprise when he actually came up with this great idea!

Andy was born on the island of Guam, but he didn't live there very long. He certainly did not live there long enough to remember any of it, let alone remember the cuisine of the island. But he thought, with it being his birthday and all, that it would be kinda neat to research the foods of Guam, the basic staples and common dishes and whatnot, and make some of them this year. I agreed; I thought it was brilliant! We're always open to trying new and different things and food combinations, and I couldn't wait to look it up and see what was out there.

I discovered that some of the common Guamanian staples were things we would really like. The first Google search I did produced the name of a dish: chicken kelaguen. Chicken? Count us in! I also discovered that they make a red rice, using the annatto seed to color the grains. Another side dish they make is marinated cucumbers. Finally, I discovered that one of their primary staples guessed it, coconut! (This is a coconut-themed post, after all!) After a visit to my favorite recipe website in all the land, Recipezaar, I had acquired the appropriate recipes and was ready to start cooking!

Since there were going to be so many components to these dishes, we got to work on them the day before we were going to eat them. We started with a chicken. I had Andy grill a whole chicken. That's right, he actually grilled an entire chicken. He had to butcher it, too, since I had bought it intact. He was very critical of his work, saying he had done a terrible job, but I kept telling him to give himself a break. It was his first time taking apart a chicken, and no matter what, it was still going to taste good!

Once he had finished grilling the whole chicken, and allowing it to cool a bit, he set to work on shredding the meat. We stored it in the refrigerator overnight; it was pretty much ready to eat the next day. More on that in a little bit.

Next, I had to assemble the marinated cucumbers. They were going to need time to sit in the fridge and let all the flavors mingle; I was reading online that they were better the longer they sat. The marinade was pretty simple and fast, so I threw it together, sliced the cukes, tossed everything into a large Ziploc bag, and it was ready for the fridge.

So how does it all come together? I'm glad you asked! Picture, if you will, a nice, big pile of whole wheat pita breads and corn tortillas. Oh, wait, you don't have to picture it; I pictured it for you!

You pile your pita bread, or your corn tortilla, with the shredded chicken (which I had gently reheated in a low-ish oven, wrapped in foil). Top the chicken with finadene sauce, and then freshly grated coconut. First off, I have to say that I was surprised and intrigued by the addition of the fresh coconut. I wasn't sure what effect it would have on the overall flavor of the dish. I definitely thought it sounded too interesting not to try it, though. As for the finadene sauce, well, what a find this turned out to be! It is basically an extremely spicy soy sauce, but it is oh, so much more than that. There's 6 very hot peppers in this sauce (we used 3 habaneros and 3 small green thai chilies), chopped very fine, as well as some scallions and lemon juice. I love all these ingredients, but I have to admit that I was worried about this combination as a whole. I thought it may turn out to be an inedible, too-spicy, too-acidic mess. Boy, was I wrong!

Now, you can't go overboard on this sauce, mind you. It is very spicy. However, the way this stuff complements the rest of the ingredients of the pita is amazing. It flavors the chicken meat, and it balances out the mellowness of the coconut. Furthermore, it is superb on the red rice. I found the rice, on its own, to taste slightly bitter, but when you spoon some of the finadene on top, it changes the taste. The way it evened out was perfect. I did not take a picture of the red rice by itself, but it does make an appearance in the opening picture of this post. If I had to choose a least favorite part of the meal, the rice would probably be it, but I'm still glad we tried it; it made the whole thing that much more authentic. (The zucchini rolls from my last post appear on the finished plate picture, too, but obviously they were not really meant to be eaten with this Guamanian meal!)

All in all, we were very happy with our first foray into the food of Guam. I think we're going to be venturing even further into this cuisine in the future. I've already found more recipes to try! As for the fresh coconut, I was so psyched to buy my first real coconut to use for this dish. We had another use for the coconut, but you'll have to wait until my next post to find out what that other use was. It's a doozy, if I do say so myself!

The recipe for the marinated cucumbers can be found here.
The recipe for the finadene sauce can be found here.
For the Chamorro Red Rice, I used this recipe as a guide, but what I did was slightly different.

Chamorro Red Rice
adapted from Recipezaar
serves 4-6

2 cups short-grain rice
4 cups water
2-3 tsp. annatto seed, ground into a powder
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine water and annatto powder in a medium-sized saucepan and bring water to a boil. Add rice, salt, and pepper, stir briefly, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover the rice, and cook for 18-20 minutes, until water is absorbed and the rice has taken on an orange-reddish tint. Fluff with a fork, take the saucepan off the heat, and let stand with the lid on for about 5 minutes. Serve with chicken kelaguen.

Chicken Kelaguen

1 whole (3-4 lb.) chicken
3/4-1 cup freshly grated coconut (not the sweet shredded stuff you get in a bag in the baking aisle of the grocery store)
6-8 whole-wheat pita breads, slightly warmed
6-8 corn tortillas, slightly warmed
finadene sauce, to taste

1. Prepare the chicken by grilling (or poaching, or baking, or whatever method you find easiest) until cooked through. Shred all the meat and reserve.
2. Assembly: choose either a pita or a tortilla as your base. Sprinkle shredded chicken on your bread of choice, add some grated coconut, and top with finadene sauce. Serve with red rice on the side.

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