When my husband, Speedy, asked me once if I knew how to make chicken inasal, I said yes without a second thought. In fact, I was rather surprised because the implication was that making chicken inasal was something complicated or that the recipe was a tightly guarded secret. Literally, inasal means roasted, a derivative from the Spanish word asar which means “to roast.”
In contemporary Filipino cooking, however, chicken inasal has become synonymous with the grilled chicken of Bacolod City and Iloilo City in Western Visayas. While there is no single and definitive recipe for chicken inasal, what seems to set it apart from other grilled chicken dishes is the lack of anything sweet in the marinade. Even the dipping sauce — a mixture of vinegar, shallots, garlic, ginger and chilis — is sour.
- 1 whole chicken about 1.2 kg., cut into halves or quarters
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 head garlic peeled
- 2 thumb-sized pieces ginger peeled and cut into thin slices
- 1 piece turmeric (yellow ginger), peeled
- 6 stalks lemongrass (light colored portions of the stalks only)
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 1/2 teaspoon annatto powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Peel off the fibrous outer layers of the lemongrass. Lightly pound the remaining portions.
With a mortar and pestle or a food processor, grind the garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and lemongrass to a paste. Mix with the ground black pepper and annatto powder. Rub the mixture all over the chicken.
Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer in a container. Pour in the vinegar. Cover the container and allow the chicken to marinate for at least two hours. After an hour, flip them over to ensure even absorption of the flavors. Unless you use more vinegar than is actually needed, it isn’t true that the chicken will turn very sour if allowed to marinate for several hours. I marinated my chicken halves for four hours and they were fantastic.
The best way to grill the chicken is to make sure that the pieces are as flat as possible so that every part is uniformly heated. I recommend a grill basket like the one you see above. Once closed, the basket forces the chicken to spread out so that nothing is too near or too far from the heat.
Grill the chicken over live coals, at least six inches from the heat, for about 15 minutes per side. You can use the leftover marinade for basting. I find it unnecessary since the chicken has had enough time to absorb all the flavors. I don’t recommend basting with anything oil-based either (like margarine or cooking oil in which annatto seeds have been allowed to render their color) because oil will just hasten the burning of the skin. I like my grilled chicken cooked through and lightly charred with all the smoky goodness but not burned.
To test if the chicken is done, pierce the thickest portion of the meat (the thigh is a good place) and if the juices run clear, it’s time to bring the chicken to the dining table.
Serve your chicken inasal with a dipping sauce made with vinegar, crushed garlic, sliced ginger, chopped shallots and chilis. A salad and sweet ripe mangoes should complete your meal.