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.
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.
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Yum! It’s just about impossible to get good Thai food where I am these days, so I’ll have to make some myself — thanks for the recipes!