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Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane in Romertopf, clay pot

The expedition continues. Sugarcane and spice.

I’m determined to cook with all my fruit. Not purely reserve them for out-of-hand eating, so when I had left-over sugarcane from my juice bar, I decided it would be absolute perfection to use up my rock salt- legally obtained from a salt factory in Port Harcourt many moons ago. To enjoy my Romertopf, the claypot cooker that has lain fallow on a shelf for too long. To revel in the deep hues of annatto oil, the seeds long mine but never touched. *Sigh*.

And of course cook with sugarcane.

Enter Luke Nguyen. And Ga Nuong Lu. Whole Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane.

The Key Elements

Rock Salt

Common salt occurring in solid form as a mineral.

Not iodised. 

Iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable, cause of brain damage. Iodized salt is a universally effective and cheap technical solution to addressing it.

In this case – perfect for cooking

Rock salt, from NPA Port Harcourt

I have a cupboard full of salts, from smoked to Hawaiian, New Zealand flakes (Thanks Norma), Sel Gris from Guérande. I could go and on.

Flavoured salts. Regular table salt. Kosher…..

But I’d never been to a salt factory. Before that day. Or salt lake.

I didn’t know for instance that salt was imported into Nigeria and processed in the city I live in. Port Harcourt.

NPA Port Harcourt Salt factory_mountains of salt

Mountains of salt, before iodising occurs

And that it required heavy machinery.

Moving salt about at NPA Port Harcourt

One of my fave pics…can’t say why though!

That the air is rife with small particles so nose masks are a necessity.

Nose masks in NPA Port Harcourt salt factory

That it starts out as rock salt. Not iodised.

Rock salt at NPA Port Harcourt

And then makes its way through various processes of cleaning, sorting, sieving, grinding, and iodising before being bagged in various sizes for distribution to factories…

Bags of salt for sale at NPA Port Harcourt Salt factory

…and the marketplace.

Iodised bags of salt, in small retail packs

We got loads of iodised and a few people got rock salt. I was one of them.

Which has turned out quite useful for me…..as the kids have ‘made ice-cream’ the old fashioned way. And I’ve had my day in the kitchen using it as a bed for some sugarcane.

Annatto Oil

One thing that got me excited about Luke’s recipe was that I’d finally get to use my Achiote seeds. Achiote. Which I bought, as I do most food things… on a whim. With no fixed destination in mind. Definitely fruit, veg., herbs and spices before shoes. Any day.

Annatto seeds

Achiote. Annatto. Component of Aztec chocolate. Learnt from a Barca chocolate museum.

Seeds red and earthy and shaped like little pyramids with a pointed top and a broad, somewhat wounded base. Seeds that taste like ‘clay’. Earthy. Slightly Tart.

achiote (ah-chee-‘oh-tay) The red, inedible seed of the annatto, a small shrub native to tropical America and also cultivated in Southeast Asia and other tropical climates. The seeds contain a natural coloring pigment called annattoThe Pastry Chef’s Companion: A Comprehensive Resource Guide for the Baking and Pastry Professional by Glenn Rinsky & Laura Halpin Rinsky

Annatto seeds

Poached in hot oil, it makes an oil so brightly coloured, it rivals palm oil. Though without the peculiar ‘palm oil’ taste! Can’t articulate that but I will some day.

annatto (uh-‘nah-toh) Yellow-red food coloring derived from soaking achiote seeds in water or cooking them in oil. Available in seed or liquid extract. Popular in Latin American and Indian cooking, primarily to color food and pastries; also used to color butter and cheese. Lends a slight astringent, earthy flavor; The Pastry Chef’s Companion: A Comprehensive Resource Guide for the Baking and Pastry Professional by Glenn Rinsky & Laura Halpin Rinsky

Making Annatto oil Making Annatto oil

Annatto oil

Vietnamese Ga Nuong Lu: Chicken, Dry Steamed in Rock Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane, adapted from Luke Nguyen

Ingredients (my changes are in green)

1 whole chicken (1.5 kg), cut into quarters
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (I added an extra teaspoon)
1 teaspoon green cardamom pods, crushed but left whole
1 tablespoon annatto oil
1 tablespoon honey agave syrup
1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine
2 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoon finely diced garlic & ginger
1 cup rock salt
1 kg fresh sugar cane, chopped into 2 cm x 10 cm pieces
Lemongrass leaves

Tips for using clay pots:

Soak the top and base of your clay pot in cold water, for at least half an hour prior to cooking with it in the oven

Always start cooking food in clay pots in a cold oven to prevent cracking due to the differences in temperature

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine 5 spice powder, annatto oil, honey agave syrup, cooking wine, fish sauce and garlic.

Chicken marinade for Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane

Mix well then coat the chicken and marinate for 2 hours or overnight for a better result.

Marinating chicken

In a large clay pot, add the rock salt and lay the fresh sugar cane on top. Add the lemongrass blades, knotted into a pretty bundle.

Rock salt, from NPA Port Harcourt Sugar cane in clay pot for Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane

Sugar cane & lemongrass stalks and leaves  in clay pot for Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane

Then place the chicken on top of the pile.

Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane

 Cover with a lid and cook on the middle rack/ in the centre of the oven on 180 deg C for 40 – 60  minutes or when the rock salt ceases to pop.

Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane in Romertopf, clay pot

Transfer the chicken to a plate and serve….

(Lots of juices will pool at the base of the pot – they will be inedible, farrrrrrr too salty for anything useful.)

Luke Nguyen's Ga Nuong Lu -  Chicken, Dry Steamed in Sea Salt and Fresh Sugar Cane

…with some Vietnamese Jasmine Rice and a side of lightly pickled & peppered cucumbers. A la Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid.

Vietnamese Jasmine Rice, Chicken and cucumber salad

The Verdict

All round, from child 1 to 2 and 3, heads nodded. Mouths moved. Chicken was loved. And there was sufficient for lunch boxes the following day!

The only thing we missed was a sauce for the rice.

The sugar cane didn’t ‘add’ a single thing to the flavours. Its primary purpose was to provide a bed, and that it did. So please don’t look to it for taste!

More sugar cane exploits coming up soon – a tale of sugar cane juice, 3 ways!

Stay well.

The week is almost gone . *Wink and thank God for Wednesdays – they personally announce the start of my weekend!

Lots of love.

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