I HAVE NO DOUBT that y’all will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that the sense of smell has the ability to transport you to previous places and times in life. Sometimes you know it’s coming, like when you’re putting on a pot of your mother’s famous bean soup in the fall. Other times, it catches you off guard, like when you’re walking to work, and the scent of the wind brings memories of summers picking honeysuckle in the backyard. This dish of Malaysian chicken thighs with green sambal and congee floods my kitchen and my brain with the delicious aromas and memories of my unforgettable adventure with my future wife last year in Southeast Asia.
I have always looked at food as a (sometimes literal) melting pot of cultures. I’m eager to discover the exciting, different, and still surprisingly similar ways food brings people of all walks of life together to cook, eat, and socialize. From the time that I was a kid, I would watch the television show Great Chefs of the World in awe of all of the different flavors, languages, and ingredients.
While some of the ingredients in this dish may seem completely foreign at first glance, the components are very reminiscent of familiar comfort foods. Born in New York and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing Southern cooking as both an insider and an outsider, and I feel like it has given me the freedom to interpret Southern favorites in a way that is both innovative and rooted in rich traditions.
At Odette in Florence, Alabama, we have a chef from Malaysia who I can thank for introducing me to the flavors of Malaysian cuisine and for the trip to Southeast Asia. She has worked with me since she came to the United States after graduating from culinary school in Kuala Lumpur. Last year, I was honored when she invited me to her wedding celebration in her hometown in Malaysia. The bride and her family were gracious hosts—so friendly and willing to share their culture and their food with us.
This particular dish was one we tried completely by chance. Expecting to eat at a restaurant that was famous for their duck, we were disappointed to find out that they had closed. Hot and hungry, we were drawn to a busy open-air restaurant where chicken was being cooked right out front—the smell was intoxicating!
Happily breathing in the aromas of the garlic and lemongrass, we watched the cooking process. The bird was marinated with a paste of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, onion, and spices. It was not breaded, just cooked in huge woks of hot oil until crispy on the outside and very juicy inside.
When each piece was done, the cooks would skim some of the crispy garlic-lemongrass mixture from the woks and drizzle it over the hot chicken. When I returned to Florence, I immediately recreated this dish at home and put a version of it on my menu at Odette. Guests loved it, my family loved it, and I hope you will as well!
Josh Quick is the Executive Chef of Odette in Florence, Alabama.
- 1½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 pieces)
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- ¼ cup chopped red onion
- 2 tablespoons peeled, chopped fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 2 tablespoons rice flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Congee and Green Sambal, to serve
- Garnish: fresh cilantro leaves, sliced green onion
- Place chicken pieces in an airtight container.
- In the container of a blender, combine garlic, onion, ginger, lemongrass, 2 tablespoons oil, soy sauce, egg, chile pepper, curry powder, five-spice powder, rice flour, and salt. Pulse until incorporated, 5 to 6 times. Pour over chicken, cover, and toss to coat; refrigerate for 24 hours.
- In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat remaining 1 cup oil over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375°. Place a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.
- Remove chicken from marinade, letting some excess drip off. Carefully place chicken skin side down in skillet. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion registers 170°, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Remove and let drain on prepared rack. Serve over Congee with Green Sambal. Garnish with cilantro and green onion, if desired.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- ¼ cup diced shallot
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- ¼ teaspoon star anise (about 1 pod)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 1 (32-ounce) container chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk
- In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots; sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in ginger, star anise, cinnamon, five-spice powder, black pepper, and white pepper. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Add rice, stirring occasionally, until rice begins to brown and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in stock and salt. Simmer until rice is broken and a little mushy, 18 to 20 minutes.
- Stir in coconut milk and season to taste. Serve immediately.
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, leaves and stems
- ½ teaspoon lime zest (about 1 medium lime)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (about 1 medium lime)
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped shallot
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- In the work bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients. Process until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.