This is an easy dish that makes use of all parts of the bird. It takes only about 90 minutes to make from start to finish; while the chicken is cooking, make a side dish of vegetables, as well as some steamed white rice, which can soak up the delicious sauce.
Skillet chicken with lemongrass, turmeric, chillies and coconut milk
1 fresh chicken, about 1.2kg
1 onion, about 250 grams
3 large garlic cloves
2 lemongrass stalks
2 red bird’s-eye chillies
3 red banana chillies
1 green banana chilli
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
160ml coconut milk
15 grams shredded toasted coconut
15 grams fried shallots
Fine sea salt
Cooking oil, if needed
Cut off the head, neck and wingtips from the chicken, and pull out the excess fat from the cavity of the bird. Cut the chicken into nine pieces: two wings (drumette and middle joint together), drumsticks, thighs and breast (cut the breast meat from the bones), plus the lower back. Put the upper back, wingtips, breastbone, head and neck into a saucepan and add about 600ml of water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels, then put them skin side-down on a cutting board and sprinkle lightly with salt. Turn the pieces over and sprinkle the skin side with salt, then leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
Finely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic. Cut off the juicy lower portion (about 6cm) from the lemongrass stalks. (The woody upper portion of the stalks can be roughly chopped and used for lemongrass tea.) Lay the lower portions of the lemongrass on the cutting board and crush them with a meat mallet or the side of a cleaver. Very finely chop the lemongrass. Cut the bird’s-eye chillies into thin rounds, shaking out and discarding as many seeds as possible. Slice the red and green banana chillies on the diagonal about 5mm thick.
Take the chicken fat (from the cavity of the bird) and put it in a large skillet placed over a medium flame. Heat it until enough of the fat renders out to lightly coat the skillet. Remove and discard the solid part of the fat.
Turn the flame to high and when the skillet is hot, brown the pieces of chicken. Do not crowd the pan; do this in batches. After browning the chicken on both sides, place the pieces on a tray or plate.
Pour off all but about 20ml of fat from the skillet. Add the onion, garlic and a sprinkling of salt. Cook over a low flame until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the turmeric and chilli powder and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, then mix in the lemongrass, bird’s-eye and banana chillies and the lime leaves. Turn the flame to high and ladle in about 300ml of the chicken stock.
When the stock simmers, add the thighs, drumstick, wings and back, nestling in the pieces so they are in one layer. Cover the skillet with a lid and adjust the heat so the liquid is at a low simmer. Cook for 10 minutes then add the chicken breasts, laying them on top of the other pieces if they don’t fit in one layer in the skillet. Cover with the lid again and continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked.
Drizzle the coconut milk into the skillet, tilting and swirling the pan so the milk gets mixed into the liquid (if needed, take out some of the chicken pieces, to make this process easier). Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed. If you took out the chicken pieces, place them back into the skillet and simmer for a minute or two, occasionally spooning the sauce over the meat. The sauce should lightly coat the chicken pieces; if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock.
For a casual meal, serve the chicken straight out of the skillet; for something a little more elegant, arrange the pieces on a serving platter. Scatter the toasted coconut and fried shallots over the chicken and serve with steamed white rice.