I’ve ashamedly been back in New Zealand after a month of glorious European/UK summer holidaying for well over a fortnight, and this has been my first proper foray back into the comforts of the kitchen. Beyond baking a breast of chicken and steaming some broccoli in the microwave (I am aware this makes me sound very virtuous, but I have also been through more jars of almond butter than I would care to admit and have developed a serious gluten free bagel addiction), I’ve really not experimented much – and what’s perhaps more unfortunate, is that I haven’t felt inspired enough to really make the effort to come up with something new to cook.
It’s not so much that I haven’t had ideas (I desperately want to recreate the pea soup that I had alongside ceviche in Palma and dining at Nopi had me realising I need to be a bit more bold than just frying polenta chips). I suppose it’s more that the longer I don’t cook for, the more the concept of creative cooking becomes an intimidating one. Thankfully, eating out at Apache during Wellington on a Plate was enough to reignite a return to the kitchen.
Inspired by their poulet au caramel dish, this is a beautifully fragrant Thai/Vietnamese style dinner that comes together easily enough. I omitted the sugary soy component and squeeze of lime from the actual braise itself as I find that soy tends to catch and burn rather easily when cooking, and the lime alters the texture of chicken if left on for too long. The aubergines caramelise beautifully and work so well with the glaze.
As the final, and arguably essential flourish, aramelising the peanuts was absolutely the most enjoyable stage of creating this meal. Honey roasted could perhaps be used as a substitute at a pinch, but I would urge anyone to have a go at making even a double batch, as they are just as delicious as a snack as they are a topping.
This dinner made plenty of food for 4-6 adults, and would freeze well (unadorned with nuts) if you have any left over!
lemongrass and tamarind braised chicken and aubergine with sticky soy glaze and ginger caramel peanuts
Lemongrass chicken and aubergine bake:
- 2 tbsp freshly minced lemongrass (I buy mine frozen from Asian food stores)
- 4 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp brown/palm sugar
- 4 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 4 shallots, finely diced
- 1.5kg chicken breast/leg portions, skin on
- 1 large aubergine, cubed
- 400g kumara/sweet potato, peeled and diced
Sticky soy glaze:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce/tamari if GF
- 1/4 cup brown/palm sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Ginger caramel peanuts
- 150g raw peanuts
- 40ml water
- 100g sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
To serve: fresh lime wedges
- In a large bowl, combine the lemongrass, tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, oil and shallots to form a chunky paste. Add the aubergine and chicken, tossing to coat the vegetables and meat evenly.
- In a large roasting dish brushed with a little oil, scatter the cubed kumara over the bottom of the dish before arranging the chicken and aubergine on top. Cover with cling film and refrigerate to marinate for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F bake, season the chicken with salt and cook the dish uncovered for an hour, until the aubergine is starting to caramelise and the chicken skin is browning.
- While baking, prepare the sticky soy glaze by combining the soy sauce, sugar, water and rice wine vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over a low heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced in volume by about half. Set aside.
- Caramelise the peanuts by mixing the raw peanuts with the water, sugar and ground ginger in another small saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring the peanuts constantly to allow the sugar to “seize”. Continue heating the peanuts – the sugar will turn sandy in appearance at one point. Continue to stir the sandy peanut sugar mixture until it begins to caramelise, mixing to coat all the peanuts in the sticky sugar. When the sugar has turned a golden brown, add a generous sprinkling of salt, stir and tip the nuts out onto a baking tray lined with nonstick paper to cool. Chop half the peanuts into rough pieces and store in an airtight container if not using immediately.
- When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and pour half of the soy sauce mixture over the dish, reserving the rest to be used at the table if desired.
- Serve the chicken bake with green vegetables, a generous squeeze of lemon and finely sliced spring onion, covered in plenty of the caramelised peanuts for crunch.