Barbecued Thai chicken

Thai barbecue chicken. PHOTOS | A. KADUMUKASA KIRONDE II

Thai food is one of those marvellous cuisines which is hardly as well-known in Uganda as Chinese, Indian or Japanese cooking.  Nevertheless, it remains a remarkable wonderful, creative and enduring manifestation of culinary mastery with all the ingredients readily available in Uganda. At the same time Thai food is an original and rich amalgam of evocative aromas, subtle blends of herbs, spices and differing characteristics and flavours which interestingly take their origin from the orient. 

The food is light and fresh without being heavy and overbearing, not to mention the advantage of not being greasy. Vegetables play a key role in this type of cooking and are quickly cooked in order for them to retain their crispness and nutrients. It is rare to find dairy products and meat in the cooking of Thai food with their preference being fish and poultry. 

Last but not least, many Thai dishes can be cooked and ready from scratch within no more than 15 minutes making it perfect for casual entertainment. The flavours that prominently permeate Thai food are the citrus limes that are spiked with clean pine notes, fresh cilantro, coconut milk, garlic and chilies. 

Thai Fruit Salad

Another important aspect of Thai food is that aromatic fresh sweet sour taste which is typical of their food and is derived from tangy lime or tamarind and palm sugar, while mild fish sauce provides the main savoury flavouring. Fish sauce is a liquid condiment made from anchovies which have been swathed in salt and fermented for up to two years. It is used as a staple seasoning in East Asian cuisine and South Asian viz. Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam et al. 

As is the case in most South East Asian countries, rice is an important part of the Thai diet, and besides being the foundation of many one course dishes, plays a vital supporting role for other dishes and acts as a dilution for highly spiced meals. Always bear in mind that when eating Thai food, they are created specifically to be accompanied with rice. 

Thai curries come to mind as they can be frightfully hot and greatly differ from Indian curries in terms of preparation. The former is cooked quickly and is bereft of the richness that is produced from long slow and gentle simmering. Coconut milk is used to lessen the pungency of the spices which in turn fuses the flavours into a sophisticated subtlety to the finished dish. Thailand has a long coastline and many inland rivers which provide a plethora of fish and crustaceans which are varied. Freshwater and sea fish are frequently cooked whole with the head and tail intact just like we do in Uganda. 

Meat is considered more of a luxury and is frequently combined with vegetables, rice, noodles, fish or shellfish or coconut based sauce. Chicken as opposed to meat is more abundant albeit their poultry tends to be smaller in size than are Ugandan farm reared. Ducks are reserved for auspicious and special occasions. In the main, many vegetables are used but seldom are they cooked on their own or served as a special dish. Rather, they are combined with meat, poultry or fish and eaten as a salad, either hot or cold or simply served with ‘Nam Prik”. The old adage that food should be pleasing both to the eye and the stomach reverberates throughout Thai cooking and they are masters of adding beautifully sculptured motifs of fruit or vegetables to the finished dishes. 

Method

  1. Using a pestle and mortar or small blender, pound the chilies, garlic and shallots to a paste. Work in the sugar and then stir in the coconut cream, fish sauce and tamarind water.
  2. Using the point of a sharp knife, cut 4 slashes in the chicken breast. Place the chicken in a shallow dish and pour over the spice mixture. Turn to coat and cover the dish and set aside for 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the grill and place the chicken on a piece of foil and grill for about 4 minutes for each side, basting occasionally until cooked though. Garnish with basil or cilantro leaves.     

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