I love, love, love anything cooked with what’s often called ‘Vanilla of the East’ especially well-loved and revered around the corner of the globe in Southeast Asian kitchens. I keep my personal pot of pandan plant as sacred as I can in my garden corner of ‘edible nature’, keeping my fingers crossed that it shall outlast my laksa leaves which go through seasons of unbridled blossoming followed by untimely deaths (especially through the winter months).
Perhaps better known as ‘screwpine’, these aromatic pandan leaves are indispensable to me whether in my Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak rice, or when I use its scantily obtainable juice (squeezed like blood out of stone) as part of a list of ingredients for a cake, roast it with flours to add flavour to Asian biscuits and cookies, to boil as part of a sweet Asian drink, to simmer in a clear Asian-type dessert soup, to steam in a coconut-based dessert, and not forgetting, used as a wrap in one of my favourite Thai recipes to grill meats, especially chicken.
If you’ve never tried using this amazingly fragrant perennial grass wrapped around chunks of coconut-milk-marinated chicken, first steamed then lowered in hot frying oil to reveal a savoury deep-fried chicken dripping with its tasty caramelised sweet juices, here’s a recipe to help you get started so you can savour this beautiful ‘Gai Haw Bai Toey’ Thai chicken dish at home. Trust me, it has a rating of ‘maximum eating pleasure’! None of that ‘masquerading as Thai’ Thai cuisine we find in Brisbane, that’s for sure. I would even recommend these parcels of fried chicken for your next party as finger food.
The only tough part about this recipe is perhaps learning how to secure the pandan leaves around the chicken pieces before frying them. Be delicate so as not to tear the pandan leaves but ensure your knot is well tied so that the chicken is secure in its parcel during deep-frying.
P.S. You might also like to review a pandan-flavoured bread recipe Pandan Red Bean Scrolls
Deep-Fried Pandan Chicken ( Gai Haw Bai Toey) Ingredients:
6 chicken thighs (must be boneless), halved
1 TB light soy sauce
1 tsp salt or chicken seasoning powder
1 TB curry paste (for extra spicy zing & flavour)
1 TB kecap manis
2 tsp ground coriander seeds (or powdered spice)
drizzle of sesame oil
1/3 C grated palm sugar or light brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, peeled and squeezed through garlic press or finely diced
1 knob of ginger, diced finely (about an inch long)
1/2 C coconut milk
2 tsp *corn flour (cornstarch)
*sprinkled on top last, after pouring rest of marinade over chicken
a dozen pandan leaves
peanut oil for deep-frying
My recipe for Ginger Chilli sauce dip for pandan chicken:
(makes about a cup)
Great with fried or grilled meats!
2 knobs ginger (about 2 inches), pressed through garlic press or diced fine
2 cloves garlic
2-3 stalks coriander leaves and stalks included
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, finely diced
1 stalk lemongrass (white part only; finely sliced)
juice of 1 lime (or lemon if lime is unavailable)
2 TB fish sauce
2 Thai bird’s eye chillies
1 TB brown sugar
Mix all the marinade ingredients into a bowl (except corn flour). Pour over the chicken thighs, then sprinkle cornstarch after and toss to coat the chicken thighs well. Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.
The next day (or after 6 hours), wrap each chicken piece in a pandan leaf in the centre of the leaf and criss-cross the leaves, then tuck it just behind the back of the bottom of the centre and bring it over to the front again, tying a knot to fasten. Secure it further with a toothpick just to be sure! Wrap loose ends of the remaining leaf around the chicken, and tie second knot at the back to secure chicken like a parcel and trim off extra ends. Arrange the pandan-wrapped chicken on a bamboo steamer basket or plate for steaming. Steam for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool, blot with kitchen paper to keep parcels as dry as possible.
Heat oil in a wok or saucepan. Deep-fry the chicken parcels until cooked through. This should take only about a minute or two; drain on paper towels. Unwrap and serve with chilli sauce.