Khao na kai for one (chicken in brown gravy on rice ข้าวหน้าไก่)

Another solid recipe from Leela’s Simple Thai Food: a very simple, comforting, and old-fashioned Chinese-Thai one dish meal.

I didn’t grow up eating this, but instead I had a similar dish called rad na, smoky-sweet wide rice noodles topped with a smooth, deeply flavourful brown gravy. My Pearents made it with chicken, broccoli, and scrambled egg. Rat na chiefly differs from khao na kai not only in its different starch vehicle, but in that it includes salted soybean paste, so the profile is a little more assertively beany (god, I sound like a ponce).

Khao na kai is a comforting dish of tender textures and deeply savoury flavours. There’s tender chicken in a gravy flavoured with soy sauces, oyster sauce, a hint of Shaoxing wine and a dash of white pepper, which warms the throat. It’s simply poured over a plate of rice and garnished with green chillies and coriander, which add a fresh bite to an otherwise mild dish. I’m sorry that I came to it later in life. I’ll have to make up for lost time.

 

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This dish is only as good as the sauces you choose. I first made it with Sharwood’s oyster sauce (9% oyster extract, £1.89/150ml bottle, smells like feet) and then with Mae Krua oyster sauce (30% oyster extract, £1.70/300ml bottle, smells like oyster sauce) and the difference was incredible.

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Any Chinese or Thai brand you can find in an online or brick-and-mortar Asian supermarket will do. No need to get fancy. Look at Kasma’s list of recommended brands–I’ve seen most of these at my local little Thai shop, usually for under or around £2 – £3. They’re much better value and you get so much flavour.

If there’s one thing to know about soy sauce, it’s that Japanese shoyu and Thai si iu is not the same. Only use shoyu if you actively want to alter the flavour of this dish–no judgement, I think it would be delicious, but it won’t quite taste like khao na gai. Honestly, I’m not a soy sauce snob and probably couldn’t tell the difference between individual brands, but I can tell the difference between regular shoyu (rich, mellow salinity with caramel notes) and si iu kao (a thinner, sharper, funkier salinity). For a quick, clear guide to soy sauce, check out this primer by Jenny Lee-Adrian on SeriousEats.

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Well, that was a lot of fuss. But, you see, once you’ve got everything, it’s a very simple matter of just mixing, marinading, and then a bit of cooking. As Leela says, dinner is just 10 minutes away if you marinade the night or morning before.

 

KHAO NA KAI
Adapted from Leela’s Simple Thai Food.
Scaled down to make enough for 1 generous serving with rice. Ideally, allow time for marinading. This dish is best eaten immediately.

Tip: If making in a larger amount, a mix of breast and thighs is best. Also, I use a 1/4 teaspoon and 1/2 tablespoon measures, doling out ingredients in the order given, as this minimises washing up.

ingredients

to marinade the chicken:

150g – 200 g boneless, skinless chicken, which is probably 1 breast or a couple of thighs
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
3/4 teaspoon cornflour or ground tapioca
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon dark sweet soy sauce (kecap manis, or black soy sauce, si iu dam ซีอิ๊วดำ)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce (also known as light or white soy sauce, si iu kao ซีอิ๊วขาว)
1/2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (optional; I really recommend it)

to finish:
100ml chicken stock (have a couple more tablespoons to hand if necessary)

to serve:

1 serving of rice, kept warm
A few springs coriander
Sliced green chillies
Crispy fried egg (instructions here. Co-ordinate this while you’re cooking the chicken, or just afterwards. I love it fried in duck or goose fat.)
If wanted, any other fresh crunchy vegetables you like.

instructions

Cut the chicken into 1 – 2 cm/approximately 1/2 inch pieces and thoroughly combine with all the marinade ingredients. Cover and chill. Ideally you’ll leave it to marinade for 8 – 12 hours for the best flavour and texture, but I’ve certainly cooked it within 10 minutes of mixing and it was still delicious.

When you’re ready to cook, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over a medium heat. When the edges are bubbling,  add the chicken, scraping in all the marinade. Stir constantly as the chicken cooks and the sauce thickens, adding more stock or water a spoonful at a time to get a good gravy. Once the chicken is cooked, taste. It should be perfect as is, but you can season it however you like.

Remember that cornflour sauces will thin if boiled too hard. If the sauce turns out far too bland or thin for you, combine 1 tsp soy sauce with 1 tsp cornflour and then thoroughly mix into the sauce. Let it bubble for a few seconds and taste; it should be very savoury, and with a silky smooth, spoon-coating consistency. Conversely, thin with stock or water if it’s too gloopy or intense for you. Continue in this way until you have the perfect gravy.

Pour over your waiting plate of rice, top with your coriander, chilli slices, and fried egg. Eat right away.

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