Rama Chicken Quest: We Take Matters Into Our Own Hands

Thai CookbookMy (M) quest for the perfect Rama Chicken began years ago when I first had the dish at a Thai restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. Since then, I’ve gone around the Chicago area looking for the perfect manifestation of my favorite peanut-sauce chicken delight. But it had never occurred to me to actually try to make the dish myself, so last week, L and I gave it a try. A while back we had picked up a copy of Jennifer Brennan’s Original Thai Cookbook at a used bookstore in Wrigleyville. It’s the first Thai cookbook ever published in the United States, so we figured it would be a good bet for a more “authentic” recipe. Here’s the recipe the book gives (this makes 4 servings, we halved it for the 2 of us. Our variations are in parentheses):

1 pound young spinach, washed and cut into pieces
4 cups thick coconut milk
2 pounds chicken (cut into thin slices)
3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons palm sugar, or brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour, mixed with 4 tablespoons water
5 dried red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Laos powder (we couldn’t figure out what this is, so we didn’t use it)
7 shallots, chopped (we’re not big on oniony things, so we used less)
8 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemon grass, minced

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
(we used organic PB for a more natural flavor)
1/2 cup coconut cream

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and drain. Set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add the chicken, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked to your taste. Remove chicken and set aside. Simmer remaining liquid in saucepan until it is reduced by one half. Add flour/water mixture and stir until it thickens. Set pan aside. In a mortar or food processor, pound or grind the chillies, Laos, shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and salt to a paste. Stir in the peanut butter and mix well. Reserving two tablespoons of the coconut cream, heat the remainder in a wok until thick and oily. Introduce the peanut/spice paste and stir-fry until it changes color (about 2 minutes). Add chicken slices and stir until coated. Now add the coconut chicken sauce and simmer, stirring for five minutes. Arrange the spinach on a platter. Lift the chicken slices from the sauce and arrange on the bed of spinach. Pour the sauce from the wok over and around the chicken slices. Spoon the little dollops of the reserved coconut cream on the chicken slices and serve immediately.

cimg0234.jpgWe have to say, for our first time making a really complicated dish, this turned out pretty well. The sauce could have been more peanut-y, so we’d probably recommend reducing the coconut milk/peanut butter ratio. We also didn’t feel the need to bother with the “little dollops” of coconut cream. We also made some rice to serve alongside our concoction – because really, what is Thai food without a small dish of rice next to it? All in all, this recipe provided a really intelligent mix of good flavors. I was originally leery about the amount of shallots and garlic in the sauce, but we trusted the recipe and were rewarded in the end. We’re looking forward to making more from this book!

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