The first time I went on a business trip was to do market research for an ingredient called Kecap Manis. I was ten days into my new job when I flew to Jakarta with our New Business Development Manager named Don (who happens to be one of my best guy friends). We stayed in Indonesia for ten days and concluded that, Kecap Manis was going to be a versatile ingredient in any commercial kitchen. But that was 2004 and our "new business" idea didn't pass the funnel.
A year later, I found myself in Indonesia again -- vacationing in Bali! I fell in love with the place. And found the very same ingredient I researched so extensively on whilst in Jakarta. Kecap Manis was heavily used in their satays. With my quarterly I-must-be-crazy visits (for both work and leisure) in Bali from the years 2006 and 2007, I learned more and more about their culture and cuisine. Thanks to the many chefs I met on my trips and their gracious welcome to their professional kitchens, I validated that Kecap Manis was the usual suspect (for good cooking) in any commercial or home kitchen. And I couldn't agree more! It's both sweet and salty with the right amount of umami.
Here's how I made today's lunch using Kecap Manis:
In a mortar and pestle, pound some ginger. I usually use galangal (blue ginger) but couldn't find it in the market today, so I opted using local ginger.
Pound some garlic too. I use a 50:50 ratio between my galangal/ginger and garlic.
Use your chili of choice (mine happens to be siling labuyo grown in The Young Tongue's garden). You can opt to slice, crush, or pound it - depending on the potency of your chili and the amount of heat you want in your dish.
Get some good Kecap Manis. I personally like ABC from Indonesia.
Squeeze some lemon juice into a bowl. I used a whole piece for about 12 cuts of chicken. Lemons (or any form of acid) help break down meat - in other words, it helps tenderize.
Pour about half a cup of Kecap Manis.
Toss in your chillies.
And about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix well.
Combine this mixture with your chicken supreme and thigh cuts. No need to marinate, you can simply cook right away.
I was planning on grilling this over charcoal with the overcast clouds this morning but it suddenly became so sunny, so I roasted it in the oven (at 180 degrees celcius for 45 minutes). You may have to work out the roasting time because I used a le creuset cast iron dish which is a very good conductor of heat. If you're using a regular baking pan, you may have to roast for an hour.
While the chicken is being roasted, chop some parsley.
Check on your chicken in the oven every twenty minutes or so. If your chicken's skin is getting too burnt on the outside, you may cover it with an aluminum foil, shiny side down (so that heat does not get deflected) and continue cooking in the oven.
Once your chicken is thoroughly cooked, remove from the oven and toss your freshly chopped parsley.
And there you go, some simple yet tasty makan (Bahasa word for eat)! Some Balinese-inspired dish that you can either grill or roast that's perfect for Sunday barbecues with family or by the beach!
And oh, Kecap Manis (not the ABC brand) was launched into the market by the company I used to work for, a few years after Don and I left the local business.