On a visit to Phuket, my friends and I were sipping fresh coconut water on the beach when a hawker carrying a huge basket of food passed by. We bought spring rolls and chicken, and we feasted on them. The color and flavors of the chicken will stick to my mind long after we had left the beach. Much later, at home, I deconstructed those flavors from memory and the result was this lemongrass turmeric fried chicken.
What’s so special about this chicken dish anyway? Everything. The bright golden color, the citrusy aroma, the rich flavors of tamarind, the briny saltiness of the fish sauce… everything!
The marinade starts with tamarind juice. You can boil fresh tamarind, mash and strain them. Or you can get dried tamarind from the Asian grocery, rehydrate a portion and use the liquid.
A third option is to use tamarind paste sold in jars. Be warned though that tamarind paste does not taste anything like fresh.
I prefer boiling fresh tamarinds. I strain the cooking liquid and measure to get what I need.
The sourness of the tamarind is balanced by the saltiness of fish sauce.
Next come the aromatics. You’ll need galangal and garlic.
Galangal is not the same as ginger although they look similar. If you can’t get fresh galangal, crushed galangal is available in Asian groceries.
You’ll also need an onion, lemongrass stalks and turmeric.
The aromatics are cut into small pieces, added to the tamarind-fish sauce mixture and everything goes into the blender.
You now have your lemongrass turmeric chicken marinade. Pour it over cut up chicken, mix and let the chicken soak up all those flavors overnight in the fridge.
The next day, drain the chicken and fry.
Lemongrass Turmeric Fried Chicken
- 1 cup tamarind juice
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 3 two-inch pieces turmeric (yellow ginger)
- 1 heaping tablespoon galangal (crushed)
- 3 to 4 stalks lemongrass
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic
- 1 onion or 2 shallots
- 4 to 6 bird's eye chilies
- 1 and 1/2 kilogram chicken thighs and drumsticks (or chicken leg quarters)
- cooking oil for frying
- finely sliced scallions to garnish
- chili flakes to garnish
- Stir the tamarind juice and fish sauce together.
- Crush the garlic, shake off the skin and chop.
- Peel the turmeric and onion and roughly chop.
- Remove the tough outer layers of the lemongrass and cut into small pieces.
- Chop the chilies.
- Pour the tamarind juice and fish sauce into the blender. Add the lemongrass, onion, garlic, turmeric, galangal and chilies. Pulse the blender a couple of times then set the speed to high to finely process all the ingredients.
- Place the chicken in a container. Pour in the marinade. Keep the chicken pieces in a single layer so that each one gets submerged in the marinade. Work the marinade into the chicken meat, moving each piece to make sure that every inch of the surface is covered. Seal the container and marinate the chicken in the fridge overnight.
- Drain the chicken (you can boil the marinade to make a dipping sauce but this is purely optional).
- Heat enough cooking oil to fry the chicken in.
- Fry the chicken in batches until lightly browned and cooked through.
- Enjoy the lemongrass turmeric chicken with rice.