Complicating a lazy dinner: Guamanian chicken kelaguen and red rice

This post is brought to you from the semi-redecorated Mash kitchen. Well, technically it’s brought to you from the computer upstairs, but works continue below undaunted. Fortunately, most of the sanding (and subsequent clouds of dust) has ceased, so we were able to cook this meal from Guam without also ingesting tiny specks of paint and plaster.

591a Redecorating husband compressed

Guam is yet another Pacific Island. Like the Northern Mariana Islands, it is a territory of the USA and is a part of Micronesia (the subregion as opposed to the country). Apparently, some of its key traditional dishes are barbecue, red rice and kelaguen. Much as we would love to have used this as an excuse to extract our BBQ from the shed, putting our kitchen back together was a bigger priority, so we opted for red rice and chicken kelaguen instead. There are a lot of different recipes for kelaguen out there, but we opted for one from From My Impossibly Tiny Kitchen, partly because it also included a red rice recipe, and partly because we didn’t have any chicken in the house and this gave us the option of using a ready-cooked one from the supermarket (hence the ‘lazy dinner’ part. The ‘complicating’ part is because one of kelaguen’s key ingredients is coconut, so we had to make a coconut-free Fussy Husband Version as well as the actual recipe).

Chicken kelaguen and red rice

For the kelaguen:
1 small rotisserie chicken (or barbecue your own!), skin removed and shredded – about 4 cups
1/2-3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup desiccated coconut (or, even better, shredded fresh coconut)
4 birds eye chillies, thinly sliced (the original recipe said 8, but we’re not insane)
4 spring onions, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

For the rice:
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups white rice
3 cups water
1 1/2 tsp achiote (annatto) powder
Salt, to taste

1. Combine the chicken, 1/2 cup of lemon juice and coconut (if using!). Stir to combine.
2. Add the spring onion, white onion and chillies. Stir to combine, and taste. Add salt, additional lemon or chillies to taste.
3. Chill (or, if you live in England and spring doesn’t mean warmth, leave on the bench) to let the flavours marry while the rice cooks.
4. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until softened (about 5 minutes).
5. Add the garlic, rice, water, achiote powder and salt. Stir to combine.
6. Set heat to low, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked through (about 15 minutes). Fluff the rice with a fork.
7. Serve the rice with the kelaguen and garnish with chopped spring onions if you thought to reserve any for this purpose (we didn’t).
Serves 4

592a Kelaguens compressed

594a Kelaguens and rice compressed

595a Kelaguen and red rice compressed

We loved the kelaguen. Almost Thai in its flavour profile, it was sharp and spicy and absolutely full of flavour. We wouldn’t bother buying a rotisserie chicken in order to make it again, but we’ll definitely consider it next time we have some leftover roast chicken. The beauty of it is that the quantity of ingredients is flexible. Don’t like spicy food? Leave out or decrease the chilli. Don’t like coconut? Leave it out. Want it more lemony? Add more lemon. Easy peasy.

We were less enamoured with the rice. We’d never come across achiote powder before, so maybe it’s just a taste we need to get used to, but it gave the rice an almost banana-like flavour and we couldn’t help feeling that we’d have enjoyed plain rice just as much. It’s also possible that we added slightly too much achiote powder, as we were trying to adjust the recipe to serve 2, although that shouldn’t really have made much difference. For those unfamiliar with it (as we were), achiote powder is the dried and ground seeds of the Bixa orellana, which is native to the Caribbean, so the tropical, fruity flavour probably makes sense. It’s used to add both flavour and colour to dishes and probably isn’t available in your local supermarket – but fortunately we live in a very multi-cultural area of London where virtually anything is available if you know where to look. It was actually harder to track down a rotisserie chicken than it was the achiote!

Excitingly, we are nearly all the way through these island nations – only one more to go!

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