Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thai Sticky Rice With Basil And Chicken

Let me just come out and say it at the beginning here- this dish Kicks. Ass. It's definitely one of the Best Things Ever and you owe it to yourself to make it. I've been wanting to post it for a long, long time. This is one of my top favorite dishes of all time, something I could eat daily and not get tired of for a very, very long time. I figure now that I'm finally down here in Nash Vegas and mostly moved in and such, what better way to kick off the first post here in my new town/new life than with such a worthy, tasty dish as this.

The name 'Sticky rice' is slightly misleading; it's not really sticky in the sense that most of us think of when we think 'sticky rice.' While it does stick a little to the cloth when it's done cooking, it's not at all like somebody overcooked their rice and it's just a big pile of sticky, starchy goop. I think 'Chewy rice' would probably be a more accurate title for it.
It's a fairly easy dish to make and most everything is easily obtained. If you live in a smaller town somewhere, you might not be able to find Thai basil (if not, it's definitely worth growing your own) but regular basil is awesome too. Not quite as awesome on this dish as the Thai kind, but pretty damn good in it's own right. Anyway, here's a rundown of what you'll need:

Main Dish:

Boneless chicken parts, small-to-medium dice (breast, thigh, doesn't really matter; whatever you prefer)

Thai Sticky Rice (also known as Sweet Rice or Glutinous Rice. It comes in a purple variety, and probably others, but go with the the white kind for this recipe. The other kind cooks different, in my experience, and I haven't been able to get the same texture for it). You'll also need either a bamboo steamer or a colander, along with a cheesecloth or cloth napkin, for steaming the rice. Cooking it on the stovetop, or using a rice cooker, will not work. I tried it once just to see how it would come out, and it didn't. At all. It has to be soaked and steamed.

Some type of adult beverage (not for the dish, but for the cook. Cooking's always better/more fun when you're consuming some type of beer/wine/booze)


Fish sauce
Soy sauce (a good kind, not LaChoy, which is not even a real soy sauce)
Teriyaki sauce
Rice vinegar
Fresh lime juice
Dried basil
Fresh minced garlic
Fresh minced ginger
Kosher/sea salt
Crushed red pepper
Szechuan peppercorns, toasted (those are the things in my header photo. If you don't have a good international market where you live, they can be obtained from Penzey's and other online spice merchants.
MSG (optional, I guess. I always use it, though. I think the whole anti-MSG thing is a bit overblown and I highly recommend the stuff)

The list above is just what I currently typically use. I have no set recipe or list of ingredients or anything like that. If you have other Asian ingredients like Maggi, Soba, or Oyster sauces, they'd probably go pretty well too.


Fresh basil, preferably the Thai variety

Sriracha, aka Rooster sauce or Cock sauce

Chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Fresh lime juice

Bean sprouts

Making it happen-


The rice has to soak for a good 8 hours or so, so you'll want to get that out of the way first. I never bother to measure it out, but when I cook for just myself, I typically use about 1 cup/8 oz. dry rice. I try not to let it soak for more than 10 hours, so if I start it the night before, when I get up in the morning I'll usually just drain the water off and leave it like that until I'm ready. It also doesn't have to soak in the fridge, though I usually put it in there if it's going to be sitting for awhile after I drain the water.


While the rice is soaking, get to work on whipping up some Asian-flavored goodness to marinate that chicken in. Get yourself a good sized metal mixing bowl, toss in a big pinch of salt and a bigger pinch of sugar, add in some hot water to help it dissolve quicker, and mix until it's completely dissolved. Then, little by little, add in splashes of the ingredients listed above until it tastes the way you want. Remember to add more water as necessary (you'll need at least some, so it's not too overpowering) and possibly more salt and sugar. I also typically add the most of the ingredients that are near the top of the list, and go down in volume from there- so more fish sauce than soy, more soy than teriyaki, etc. Go light on the szechuan peppercorns, though. If you're not familiar with them, they're not actually peppercorns, so they're not 'hot' like regular peppercorns. It's hard to describe them, but they have a citrus-y smell and flavor, and if you pop one in your mouth it'll make your tongue kind of tingle and feel a bit numb. That's a good thing. Just be careful not to overdo it; they can be quite strong and I've damn near ruined a dish by using too much. A pinch is all you need to start with. Also, if you don't happen to have any fresh minced garlic (which I don't for this particular batch), the granulated kind is better than nothing.
The main thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to do it, and that what you're shooting for is something that's savory and has a good blend of Hot, Sour, Salty, and Sweet (light on the Sweet, but that's just me. Mostly I just use the sugar for a bit of balance. Plus, the lime juice, rice vinegar, and basil add their own bit of sweetness too). That's my main objective whenever I mix this up. If you're not sure because you've never done it before and you don't have much experience with Asian flavors or whatever, don't sweat it, it's easy. E-Z. Taste it often as you go and add whatever you think it might need more of. It won't be the exact same every time, but that's part of the fun of making and eating it. If you're feeling cautious about it, you may want to actually measure stuff out instead of just adding it in random splashes. Also, you may want to start with fairly uniform and equal measurements of things; say, for example, 1 T each of (almost) everything, and then adjust from there. The main reason I don't have an actual recipe for this is because every time I try and come up with one, it never works out. I'm always adjusting and fine-tuning the marinade as I go, and it's really, really hard to keep track of every little dash of whatever sauce I'm adding, and it always seems to come out vastly better when I don't even try, so I finally gave up on that and now I just focus on tasting as I go, adding more of whatever I think it needs here and there. And it never fails to come out awesome.
Once your super-amazingly-awesome marinade is up to your standards, toss in the chicken and let it soak a bit. Depending on how much lime juice you put in, you could probably get away with 20 minutes or so, but I think an hour is good. Two is too, but if you let it go more than four hours, call a physician. No wait, that's something else. Anyway, you get the point.

Also, I was planning on doing a little video clip of me mixing up the marinade, just so you'd have some sort of reference point, but my Flip cam has suddenly disappeared, even though I just had it a few days ago when I originally started writing this post and was planning on doing it then. If it turns up at some point, I'll do the video and then update this post with it, but for now I got nothing.

Cooking the rice/chicken-

When you're ready to start cooking the rice, you'll need to drain and rinse it thoroughly. Like, put it in a fine-mesh colander and rinse it underneath the faucet until the water starts to run clear. When it's ready, put it into your cheesecloth-lined colander or bamboo steamer and set it on top of a pot of boiling water to steam. Make sure it's evenly spread out and that there's not too much- depending on what you're using and how big it is, you're probably going to have to keep it to 2 cups (dry) or under. Cover it with another cloth and then set a lid on tightly to keep as much of the steam in as possible.
In the past, I used to use one of the more traditional style conical bamboo steamers-

But I don't really like the way those cook. This is a fairly decent sized basket, big enough to cook for 4-5 people, but unless you're cooking only a small amount, like enough for 1-2 people, the cone shape tends to cause the stuff at the bottom to be overdone while the stuff at the top isn't even close, and probably won't ever be. I found this out the hard way while trying to cook for several friends. So now I've switched over to the round kind, which typically has 2 steamer baskets and it's own lid. You see them at Bed Bath and Beyond for 20 bucks or so. I got mine at Williams-Sonoma for about $15. It's a large one with only one layer. (Maybe a bit too large, since I currently don't have any pots that big around, but I make it work.) I like this style a lot better, since it allows for much more even cooking, so you can fit more rice in for more people. Depending on how much rice you're cooking, it usually takes about 20-25 minutes to steam. When you're getting close to that time, just lift the lid and scoop out a small amount with a fork (or a long pair of tongs, if you have them) to test for doneness.
While the rice is cooking, get out your wok and turn that thing on high high high. Let it get super scorching hot. Like, to the point that it starts to smoke. Make sure your chicken has been thoroughly drained, since the liquid will cool the pan down considerably, and the chicken will still throw off some more liquid anyway. Do not do what you might be tempted to do, and what most people probably do, and add oil to the pan. You do that and then when you drop the chicken in it's just going to splash up and burn you in the face. You don't want to be blinded or horribly disfigured, do you? If you're already blind and horribly disfigured, then do whatever you want, but for your own safety, either hold off on the oil until after you add the chicken, or toss the chicken in a little bit- just enough to coat it- before you add it to the pan. Either way, it's not gonna stick (if you're using any kind of decent cookware, that is. Cheapo pans that don't conduct heat well might give you some problems, but use a good wok or cast iron skillet and you'll be golden). If you use no oil at all, then it may stick a little at first, but the super high heat will sear the outside nicely and then the chicken will start throwing off juice, and then that will loosen things up. If you saved any of the marinade (always a good idea, just in case) you could add some of that after a bit to help it along too. The chicken won't take long at all to cook, under 10 minutes easily, so try and time it so that it's done around the same time as the rice, because Thai sticky rice doesn't keep for very long at all. It dries out quite quickly. If you're not sure when to start, just remember the chicken will probably hold for much longer than the rice so if the chicken's done first, not a big deal, you can just hold it warm in a 150 degree oven or whatever.
Make sure you have a large plate or bowl ready for when the rice is done. When it's ready, cut the heat and lift the lid (and top cloth, if you're using one); as soon as the steam clears enough for you to grab the cloth napkin or whatever you're using, grab it by its corners and quickly turn it over onto the plate or into the bowl. The cloth will still be wet enough that you can easily remove it from the rice and then lay it back down as a cover, without much, if any, of the rice sticking to it.

From there, just break off as much or as little as you want and spread a layer of it on a plate. I typically sprinkle some fish sauce on top of that layer, then cover it with a layer of my freshly-wokified chicken, then cover that in a fairly thick layer of Sriracha, fresh Thai basil leaves, fresh lime juice, crushed peanuts, and sometimes bean sprouts (when I'm brave enough to buy them. I've just heard too many horror stories about them. Going to have to start growing my own just to be safe).

It usually ends up looking something like this:

This is what Awesome looks like

Prepare to be blown away when you take a bite. Especially if I happened to make it for you.

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