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Published on 5 September, 2010, by

Known as Thai street food, Khao Man Gai is plentiful in Thailand and is based on a Hainanese (Hainan is an island off the coast of China) dish made similarly of boiled chicken, rice and broth. But what sets the Thai version apart is the spicy fermented soybean sauce, which is not too hot but full of vibrant flavor. Served with cooling, sliced cucumber, topped with cilantro and accompanied by a fortifying cup of deeply-stewed chicken stock with floating greens, this comforting dish will have you hooked. The Thai version, by adding the sauce, allows the many layers of flavors reveal themselves in such a way that once you’ve tried it, you will find yourself craving it intermittently for days afterward. As an added bonus, this dish, laden with broth, ginger, garlic and watercress is extremely good for the immune system and  a welcome comfort to an aching body.

From “Nong’s Khao Man Gai”

Here in Portland, I was first introduced to this cleansing dish by the downtown food cart “Nong’s Khao Man Gai” (featured in my Top Ten Food Carts series.) Nong’s makes only one dish, no variations (unless extra chicken counts) – just one divinely delish dish called Khao Man Gai. It takes a lot of guts or confidence to open a cart that makes just one dish but Nong’s pulls it off brilliantly.

The only problem – that one dish is SO good that people line up at 10am to get their hands on this comforting fare and often, Nong’s is sold-out by 11:30am (just as the lunch bug is starting to bite.) As a fan (and nearly an addict of this dish), and after missing my chance several times in a row, I finally became desperate enough to explore the origins and variations of this dish.

While the city I live in offers me a wide array of purveyors (from local Asian grocers like Thanh Thao Market to larger chains like Uwajimaya) where I can pick up authentic Thai ingredients, I like this dish enough to want to play around with a quicker and easier version. A version that anyone could make with ingredients found at any commercial grocer.

This is not to say that I don’t notice the difference when the dish is made from freshly stewed chicken stock, or Thai red chilis or yellow bean paste but as a busy full-time, working mom, I don’t always have the time to run to specialty markets or to cook broth for hours. Thus, “Quick n’ Dirty Khao Man Gai” was born. Faithful followers of this dish, may too, be able to pick out the subtle differences but it’s a close enough approximation that it’s satiates my longing and has my hubby happily asking for more, even after eating it three times in the last two weeks. The sauce itself is so freshly flavored and taste bud stimulating, that I plan to top salmon and bok choy with it tonight.

Enjoy! And send me your variations.

Down n’ Dirty Khao Man Gai

Makes 4 hearty servings

Pairs well with Hitachino Nest White Ale: Citrus notes compliment the ginger in this dish.

All ingredients readily available in meat, produce and Chinese/ethnic aisle at most grocers.


Chicken

  • 1 package of two bone-in chicken breasts (remove skin and reserve)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 qt water
  • 4 chunks (about 3 inches total) sliced, peeled fresh ginger, smashed

Remove fat and set aside for rice. (See Rice section below.)

Timing with this dish is crucial. I recommend actually starting the cooking of the chicken, simultaneously with the cooking (not prep) portion of the rice. Bring water, salt and ginger to a boil.  Add chicken, breast down, bone up in water and return to a boil, covered. Reduce heat and simmer chicken,  covered, 10 minutes turn of heat and let chicken stand in hot broth, covered cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Time this to be ready as your rice is complete. Remove chicken from pot and let cool to warm for ease of handling. (See Assembling below)

Skim 1 cup of top layer of broth broth and add to soup pot. (See Soup section below)

Sauce

  • 2 (3 to 4 inch-long) fresh jalapeno or serrano chiles
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 inches of peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 medium garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp Sun Luck black bean garlic sauce
Depending on the heat you want in your dish, remove all or some of the seeds from your peppers (and stems, of course.) I remove all seeds and cut into four pieces each and add to the food processor. Smash garlic with mallet or butcher knife to remove skin and release flavor — add to processor. Remove skin from shallot, add to processor. squeeze 1/3 cup lime juice and add to processor, along with salt. Pulse until all ingredients are minced. Add fish sauce, vinegar, black bean and garlic sauce to processor and pulse until mixed. Taste and adjust seasoning (spicier, more stringent or salty) to your taste. Remember the sauce’s flavor, like salsa will develop even more as it sits. Since the sauce’s ingredients, should be your first prep (though you can wait to pulse them til closer to completion) you’ll need to watch timing if you prefer a milder flavor (or reduce ginger, garlic and chile ingredients). If you would like to keep the sauce from getting too spicy, refrigerate until serving.

Soup
  • 1 cup of freshly made broth from boiling chicken
  • 3 cups chicken broth (I prefer low sodium, organic versions)
  • 2 cups veggie broth (I prefer low sodium, organic versions)
  • 1 bunch of watercress (remove stems)

Once chicken is done, remove from water and set aside. Since we are trying to cut overall cooking time, I cheat on the soup a bit by skimming the top of the broth from the freshly cooked chicken (it has the most fat and therefore the most flavor) and adding store bought stock, a mix of veggie and chicken broths to add depth of flavor. pour them all into a sauce pan and bring to a boil adding the watercress and allowing to boil just until leaves get bright green. Then shut off the heat and let sit while plating the rest of the dish. Serve in small bowls that you can easily drink from with pieces of watercress floating inside.

Rice

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 4 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2tbsp rendered chicken fat

Prep: Take fat, removed and reserved from boiling chicken breast, and add to small saucepan with 1/4 cup water and let boil and render until water has evaporated and fat has boiled out of the skin. Remove from heat and lift leftover skin from pan, disposing of it. You should have close to 2 tbsp of chicken fat, if not, augment with canola or vegetable oil. Prepare shallots and garlic (peeling and chopping.) Rinse the rice in cold water until it runs clear (this helps remove some starches and keeps rice from getting too sticky.  All of this prep can be happening beforehand, along with ingredients for sauce. Again, timing with this dish is crucial. I recommend actually starting the cooking portion of the rice, simultaneously with the chicken for perfect timing. Cooking: Add shallots to chicken fat and saute until golden brown, add garlic and stir for another minute, then add rice stirring until coated with fat and flavor. Add broth and let boil until bubbling throughout rice (about 3 minutes), reduce heat to simmer and cover, cooking until water is evaporated (15 minutes.) Remove from heat, let stand covered (5 minutes.) Fluff with fork and begin plating process.

Garnish

  • 1 cucumber (English or seedless are preferred but all other types work as well)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • Finely chopped, fresh cilantro leaves
While rice and chicken are cooking, combine the soy sauce and sesame oil, set aside. Remove stems from cilantro and finely chop (as much as you like to top your dish — I do about 2 tbsp chopped.) With your vegetable peeler, peel the cucumber and then proceed to make long cucumber ribbons, soaking them in ice water until the dish is ready.
Assemble
When all components are ready, assemble as follows:
Tear or cut the chicken into chunks in a bowl and toss with soy/sesame dressing. Plate rice and top with the dressed chicken. Arrange the chilled and drained cucumber ribbons around the rice and chicken on the plate. Do not place them on top of the hot dishes — they are meant to remain, cool and crisp to cool down your mouth from the heat of the dish. Top chicken and rice with cilantro garnish and dish up helpings of the sauce in separate ramekins, so that each individual can dole out the amount of spicy flavor they would like topping their dish.  Serve with warm watercress broth concoction — this is both savory and soothing to the heated mouth from spices, adding another complex dimension to the dish.
Though this dish has many components, which make timing a concern, it actually quite an easy dish to make for a weeknight dinner and once it has been mastered, can be put together in about 35- 4o minutes. Try it the first time, on a weekend to get a feel for the timing and prep — you will not be disappointed.
Vegetarian conversion:
Substitute tofu, veggie broth and vegetable oil for chicken ingredients. I recommend freezing firm tofu and then defrosting it the day of ,to give it a more “meaty” consistency, then drain, slice into strips or cubes and let dry on a towel while prepping rice (shallots, garlic and veggie oil with a dash of sesame oil and veggie broth.) Once sauce (sans fish sauce- add soy sauce), rice and soup are ready. Saute prepped tofu in 1 tbsp canola oil, until golden on both sides. Plate rice, toss tofu with soy/sesame dressing and place atop rice, garnish with cilantro and cucumber and serve with sauce and soup.
 

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