Monday, November 1, 2010

"Cooking from the Heart - The Hmong Kitchen in America" - Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken

Date I made this recipe: October 31, 2010

Cooking from the Heart – The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5326-3
Recipe: Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken – p. 114-115

Today, class, many of you are going to get a geography/sociology lesson. This book is about Hmong (pronounced “Mung”) recipes and depending on where you live in America, you may not be familiar with this culture.

The Hmong people are mountain people from China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. My husband says that they are basically a people without a country and that’s because they haven’t really settled in one place.

During the Vietnam War, the Hmong assisted the United States in fighting the Laotian Communist government. Although many Hmong settled in camps in Thailand during and after the war, many were brought to the United States by religious groups offering them refugee status.

Today the highest concentration of Hmong is in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, they primarily live in an area of St. Paul called “Frogtown” and a drive by the Hmong Market the other day (a cross between an outdoor farmer’s market and a grocery store) prompted me to use this cookbook (recently issued, I might add).

For those familiar with Asian foods, Hmong food is pretty similar. This dish was something I had never had before and seemed like a good thing to make on a Sunday.

And speaking of making this…you might be tempted, like I was, to chop your veggies in a Cuisinart. Resist that temptation. I went a bit overboard and pulsed the entire stuffing mixture and let’s just say that had to be the most unattractive stuffing I have ever seen. Luckily it tasted better than it looked. My husband really liked the flavors but I am not a fan of mint and felt like I was sucking on a Mojito. I suggest adjusting your ingredients accordingly.

Before I leave you with the recipe, let me pass on a few recommendations for books and movies that do an excellent job of providing a peek into Hmong life.

A book that is just absolutely outstanding is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This book chronicles the life of a Hmong family dealing with a young daughter who has epilepsy. The family doesn’t know the Western term for this affliction and so they dub it “the spirit catches you and you fall down.” This book highlights the challenges of Western medicine in dealing with traditional Eastern methods of treatment, including the sacrificing of animals and the summoning of a “witch doctor” to eliminate the evil spirits. It is enlightening as it is moving and I’m sure you will be blown away.

The movie that I highly recommend is Gran Torino, starring (and directed by) Clint Eastwood. Here’s the best thing about this movie: the screenplay was written by local boy, Nick Schenk, who happens to be a friend and former writing collaborator of my brother-in-law, Ben Martin (Ben and his buddies had a retrospect of their cable shows many years ago at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis’ modern art museum. This was a well-deserved high honor). Ben was just busting his buttons with pride on Nick’s behalf when this movie came out. Although the story is based on experiences with the Twin Cities Hmong community, for various and sundry reasons, the movie was made in Detroit. Oh well.

Gran Torino is the story of a grizzled old Korean War veteran (Eastwood) who is having a hard time dealing with the “Huh-mong” people who live next door. At the beginning of the movie, Eastwood’s prejudice against the Hmong ring out loud and clear. But of course things change and his attitude takes a complete 360 after a series of events take place. It’s a great movie and to Nick I say – “Well done!”

One a final note, you will need more time that the recipe calls for when roasting this chicken. The recipe said to roast it for 40 minutes, then baste with coconut milk and then cook approximately 30 more minutes. Nuh uh. The meat was pink and we had to put it in the microwave. Be sure to use a meat thermometer (although note, ours was not much help!)

Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken – serving size not indicated
(A note at the end of the recipe indicates that this recipe was adapted from the Hmong Recipe Cook Book, edited by Sharon Sawyer. (First Presbyterian Church, South St. Paul, 1986).

1 young frying chicken, at least 5 pounds
3 teaspoons salt (you will reserve some of this for later)
½ pound lean ground pork
4 to 6 hot Thai chili peppers, minced (more or less, depending upon desired heat)
1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1 cup toasted peanuts, coarsely ground
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
5 green onion, white and green parts, chopped
1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken well with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Remove the giblets and refrigerate for use in another dish. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with 2 teaspoons of salt.

In a large bowl, mix the ground pork, chili peppers, pepper, and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Add the peanuts, mint, cilantro, green onions, and half of the can of coconut milk and mix well. Stuff the chicken with about two-thirds of the pork mixture. Put the chicken in a baking dish, breast side up. Tuck the wings underneath. Loose the skin over the breast and push the rest of the stuffing under the skin, patting the surface to distribute the stuffing equally. Sprinkle the chicken with the fish sauce, and cover.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the lid and pour the rest of the coconut milk over the chicken. Baste several times with the pan drippings while the chicken continues to cook. It is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the stuffing registers 170 degrees and the chicken is golden brown (about 30 more minutes). (NOTE: as I stated before, use your meat thermometer religiously during this process. I recommend using it on the stuffing and the meat or you will get wacky results!).

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