Trade, travel, and empire have fused together the cuisines of Asia in many delectable ways. This spiced chicken-and-rice dish reflects the Muslim-Indian-Thai culinary marriage.
You may not know of khao mok gai (also spelled kao mok gai) but it is deliciously complex in perfume and flavor. In fact, in the span of a week, I ate it three (3) times while I was in Sydney, one of the greatest places for Thai food outside of Thailand! Go to one of the Chat Thai restaurants for a very good rendition.
Hell bent on replicating it, I found a recipe in David Thompson’s new book, Thai Street Food. I’ve made it several times, the first following the recipe and it was superb. Then I tweaked it slightly for the resulting khao mok gai recipe below. (Disclosure: I provided an official book jacket endorsement for Thai Street Food. Thompson’s recipe for this dish was one of the reasons why.)
Get ready. Khao mok gai takes time to make. It is not straightforward and quick like last week's Thai grilled chicken (gai yang), though you can mix a little of that lovely sweet chile sauce into the rice, if you want to.
But if you make this Thai version of biryani, you’ll have enough for 8 people, or several rounds of eating. Add a salad and you’ve got a celebratory meal that will be sure to WOW your family and friends.
A few notes:
- Basmati is my substitute for the aged long-grain rice (e.g. jasmine) that would likely be used in Thailand.
- The use of dairy (here it's yogurt) and combining cilantro and mint is unusual for Thai cooking but it works for this hybrid dish.
- The chicken and rice are great on their own but add some tart-spicy-sweet sauce and it enlivens the entire dish, making it bright and spritely. The spicy mint sauce below is akin to an Indian green chutney but the galangal zing skews it toward Thailand. Or, you can use some sweet Thai chile sauce.
- Make the paste and fry the shallots a day in advance to get a head start.
- Use a heavy-bottomed, large, wide pot that you would braise a big stew to ensure that things cook evenly. I used an All Clad 6-quart pan.
- Thai cardamom is available at well-stocked Thai markets but regular green cardamom works great.
Dive into the khao mok gai recipe below and parse the cultural influences as you cook and eat. For more background information on khao mok gai, read "Biryani, Bangkok Style" by Austin Bush, a photographer and writer in Bangkok.