If you want to eat in Angus An's kitchen, you better be able to take the heat. "We don't believe in Westernizing a dish to get North Americans to like it; we serve traditional Thai food without dumbing down the flavour or heat," says the chef at the always-busy Maenam in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood. An's menu, heavy on local ingredients, puts a modern spin on authentic Thai food, but one of his favourite things to eat is northern Thai street food. "Restaurant after restaurant in Chiang Mai offers its own version of charcoal-grilled hen." In his version, featured here, the hens are butterflied and marinated, then grilled over embers instead of flames, resulting in juicy meat with plenty of intense Thai flavour.
Servings: 4 to 6
Ready time: about 10 hours
4 Cornish game hens (1 to 2 pounds each)
2 cups palm sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups fish sauce
4 cups garlic cloves, whole
4 cups coconut cream
½ cup dark soy sauce
Pinch white pepper
Hot and Tangy Sauce
¼ cup sticky rice, toasted and ground (see Method)
½ cup shallots, finely sliced
¼ cup long-leaf coriander, finely sliced
½ cup tamarind water
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
Large pinch blue-tongue powder (or chili flakes toasted in a dry pan)
Sugar to taste
To butterfly each hen, insert a sharp chef’s knife inside the cavity and cut down against the backbone on one side. Lay hen flat and cut against backbone on the other side and remove backbone. (Alternatively, cut backbone out with a set of sharp kitchen shears. In that case, turn hens back-side up and make cuts.) Reserve backbones for another use. Flatten hens lightly by pressing on breast bones. Blend sugars, fish sauce, garlic, coconut cream, soy and pepper in a food processor or with a hand mixer.
Marinate hens in mixture overnight in refrigerator.
If charcoal grilling (the preferable method), let hot charcoal burn for 45 minutes or until flames have turned into embers. Remove hens from marinade and grill over embers spread out in a single layer for about 7 minutes per side. If gas grilling, set heat to medium low and grill about 7 minutes per side or until juices are no longer pink. Allow hens to rest off the grill.
To make the sauce, toast and grind the rice: Toss uncooked sticky rice over low heat in a dry wok or pan until golden brown and nutty. Crush rice in mortar and pestle until fine but not powdery.
Fry half the shallots in 1 teaspoon oil.
Combine rice, fried and raw shallots, coriander, tamarind water, lime juice and fish sauce in a bowl.
Add blue-tongue powder or chili flakes and sugar to taste. (The flavour should be equally balanced among sour, salty, spicy and sweet.) Stir until sugar dissolves.
To serve hens, cut in half and plate with Thai sticky rice and dipping sauce.