Who woulda guessed that an episode of MasterChef UK would go on to unite Southeast Asian countries to wage war against an Englishman’s basic misunderstanding of a beloved dish? Malaysians, Indonesians, and (to a smaller extent) Singaporeans were brought together in righteous fury to defend the reputation of their (co-)national dish: rendang.
The Southeast Asian internet essentially blew up after a Malaysian contestant on the cooking reality series was eliminated because the show’s English judge Gregg Wallace thought her chicken rendang wasn’t “crispy” enough and “couldn’t be eaten.” In response to the overwhelming #CrispyRendang backlash, the dude insisted what he actually meant was that the chicken the Kuantan-born contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin had served him was undercooked. Whatever you say, lad.
Nonetheless, RendangGate went viral. Singaporean companies and even government agencies couldn’t resist the opportunity for Moment Marketing and waded into the pot with their own takes on the matter. The latest endeavor had Bay Hotel Singapore’s Indonesian eatery Rumah Rasa launching an actual Crispy Chicken Rendang dish: a chicken thigh marinated in house-made rendang paste overnight before being steam-baked and deep-fried to crispiness. And then cooked again with rendang sauce before serving it with nasi lemak telang, sambal, ikan bilis, cucumber and belinjau crackers.
We could tell you where to get actual, authentic chicken rendang in Singapore and we could tell you where to find actual crispy rendang chicken. But we’ve decided instead to one-up your expectations and tell you how you can make your own super-soft rendang chicken with crispy skin right in your own rendamn kitchen.
Before we go on, this is not at all an endorsement of the misshapen comprehension of rendang chicken, but rather a culinary experiment as we try to recreate Masterchef UK’s (woefully misinformed) concept of the classic dish.
While the judges’ demands are undeniably wrong, they’re simple enough:
- Chicken flesh must be soft and falling apart
- The chicken skin must be crispy
- No sauce on the chicken skin
- Should not be served with nasi lemak
So! That’s easy enough to create — we’ll need to slow-cook the rendang chicken till it’s hyper-tender, with that complex spicy flavor embedded deep. I’m using boneless chicken thighs (because it’s the best cut of the chicken) with its skin separated because it needs to be crispy.
Well, you could make your own home-made rendang paste by blending onion, chilli, lemongrass, garlic, tamarind puree, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and salt together. I’m just gonna grab one of the many ready-made rendang paste packets off the supermarket shelf.
Don’t forget the coconut milk for that creamy tinge of sweetness. Every respectable Asian household should have some on hand anyway, and your mum will thank you for grabbing a spare carton of it.
Knife the chicken skin off and resist any temptation to cook it right there and then. Put the chicken skin in the fridge so they’ll stiffen up — this makes it easier to bread them later.
Toss the de-skinned chicken meat into a slow cooker pot. Pour a small cup of water, the rendang paste and coconut milk on’em and mix well. Use your hands, because you’re Asian.
Put the slow cooker on “low” and leave the chicken to simmer in the mixture for about four to five hours. Awesome, awesome smells will start wafting in your house, but don’t you dare lift the lid while its cooking. Every time you take the top off for a sniff and look-see, the temperature inside the pot will drop, and that’ll extend the cooking duration.
After four hours or so, the meat should be cooked through, but you’re not done yet. To make it all extra creamy, you’ll have to scoop most of the watery sauce out onto a pan. Reduce the sauce to a sludgy, thick residue and pour it back into the pot. Close the lid, leave the slow cooker on “High” for an hour.
While waiting, start breading the chicken skin. Eggwash the skin and douse it generously with seasoned flour.
Fry those bad boys up, and let the sputtering oil remind you of the rage you have over Wallace’s comment about the rendang chicken skin needing to be crispy.
And you’re done. Season, plate and garnish accordingly, making sure that none of the sauce ends up on top of the crispy skin.
Nasi lemak is a no-no, so soak it all up appropriately with some bread or naan. Consume while it’s hot, and be reminded that this version, while tasty, remains vastly inferior to the proper chicken rendang you grew up eating.