Of course, if you’re among the half of this page’s readers (myself included) who’s overcoming a chest cold, the ginger will clear your airways in addition to making this dish delicious. If you’re fortunate enough not to be afflicted, just enjoy ginger’s sweet, fragrant bite.
This recipe comes from Cambodia, a tropical land of perpetual summer, so you can bet cooks selected ginger for its unique flavor profile, spirited and somehow soothing, rather than for its ability to fight the common cold. Even so, ginger’s allowed many of us to breathe, smell and taste fully for the first time in weeks, so its flavor is just a delicious bonus.
Strictly speaking, this is the first purely Cambodian recipe featured in these pages – the “Cambodian” Chicken dish a few months back is a Cambodian-American hybrid, wherein Khmer refugees tried to recreate the tastes of their childhoods using ingredients readily available in their new home. This one, however, comes from Khmer Krom Cuisine, a great website overloaded with all sorts of delicacies directly from Cambodia. This won’t be the last time we hear from them.
The recipe at hand is simple, allowing each flavor to make its point, but don’t reach the wrong conclusion. Although the ingredients list is relatively short, the components are chosen and blended masterfully, creating a wonderfully complex and intriguing taste profile. There’s ginger’s sweet, mild burn, of course, alongside the occasional fiery fleck of hot chilies. Garlic contributes its own heat, but generous amounts of scallions add a vegetal coolness, keeping the fire at safe levels. A dash or two of sugar balances it even more, insuring the dish is flavorful without being “hot.”
Ginger is the star, though. Take a deep breath and enjoy the show.
Sach Moan Char Chia Mui Chnay
(Cambodian Chicken with Ginger)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (*1)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (*2)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar (*3)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 chili peppers, finely chopped (*4)
- 1 cup water
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (*5)
Heat a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the oil, garlic, ginger and chicken and stir well.
Add the fish sauce, sugar, salt and chili pepper and stir well.
Add the water and reduce heat to medium, allowing the chicken to simmer until tender, about fifteen minutes.
Add the green onion and black pepper, stir well and remove from heat. Serve hot; with rice, if desired.
1 – When trying Asian cuisine I prefer to use peanut oil.
2 – This works out to about two pounds. I used boneless, skinless thighs.
3 – As Cambodian cooks employ mostly palm sugar, I substituted light brown sugar to replicate the taste.
4 – Because the Szechuan peppercorns I used bring their own heat (see Note 5, below), I added only two peppers; in this case, some of the Thai bird chilies still in my pantry, any reasonably hot chili will do, such as serranos or even a jalapeno.
5 – As mentioned, I used Szechuan peppercorns instead of “plain” black pepper, due to its interesting taste profile. Black pepper is more than adequate, though, and indeed, it’s what the recipe suggests. After all, black pepper originated in Southeast Asia.