Red, white and blue...pepper (Recipe: Burmese dry chicken curry)
Updated December 2011.
In a week that hosts both Canada Day and the Fourth of July, it might seem a bit surprising to celebrate something in my pantry that comes from halfway around the world.
I can't help myself. Look at these adorable red and white peppers in blue-and-white crocks! Just under two inches tall, they were a gift from Laverne, who brought them home from her recent trip to Vietnam.
On the left, ground red (medium-hot) chile pepper. On the right, whole white peppercorns.
The two peppers are used differently, in different parts of the country. In the north, where the food is flavorful but not particularly spicy, the seasoning of choice is white or black pepper. White peppercorns are, just like black peppercorns, the berries of the pepper plant Piper nigrum; the difference is that the black are unripe berries, and the white are berries that have been allowed to ripen fully on the vine. The outer shell is removed by soaking the ripe berries under water until the shells fall off, revealing the white interior.
The hottest food comes from the central part of the country around Hue, the ancient imperial capital, where everyday food shows the influence of the royal cuisine, and fresh chiles are used liberally. Cayenne would be a good substitute for this ground red pepper.
My pantry holds a dozen or more varieties of chile peppers -- whole, ground, red, green, hot, mild -- and I use them somewhat interchangeably. Of course it's most fun, when I'm lucky enough to receive a gift of authentic spices, to make dishes from the same part of the world.
Not from Vietnam but from a stop along the spice trail, this aromatic recipe for oven or grill can be made with bone-in or boneless chicken pieces, and makes a great picnic dish with a cabbage- or rice-based salad.
Burmese dry chicken curry
Adapted from Sandeep Chatterjee's classic The Spice Trail: One Hundred Hot Dishes from India to Indonesia. Serves 6.
4 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tsp ground white pepper
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp red chile powder, mild or hot to taste
2 lb chicken parts, bone-in, skin-on (or 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
Add all ingredients except the chicken to a large bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the chicken, stir to coat each piece, and marinate at room temperature for 3-4 hours (not longer!). Remove the chicken from the marinade and cook over medium heat on the grill, or under the broiler, turning occasionally, until done.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Asian crispy chicken wings, from White on Rice Couple
Asian chicken kebabs, from My Baking Addiction
Cantonese soy sauce chicken, from Rasa Malaysia
Garlic and coriander chicken, from My Cooking Hut
Teriyaki chicken breasts, from Simply Recipes