Here’s our recipe for ayam goreng (AH-yahm GOH-rehng; fried chicken), Javanese-style. We should warn you that like every dish in Indonesia–and anywhere else, for that matter–there are probably as many different versions of Javanese fried chicken as their are mothers and grandmothers in Java. Rather than trying to decide on just one, "canonical" fried chicken recipe, we’ve decided to adopt what we call the "modular" approach. Give the basis of the recipe, so far as we can tell, and list some various combinations. So here we go.
For the braise
One small whole chicken, cut into parts (save the back for stock, of course); or just buy parts
1 cup water
1 stalk lemongrass (optional)
1 sour carambola, sliced (optional)
For the spice paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 shallots, peeled
1 inch ginger, peeled
1/2 tsp. salt
1 inch fresh turmeric, peeled; or 1 tsp. ground (optional)
1 tsp. peppercorns (optional)
1 tsp. whole cloves (optional)
1 tsp. whole coriander (optional)
1 tsp. whole cumin (optional)
3 whole macadamia nuts (optional)
2-3 cups vegetable oil, or enough to just submerge the chicken
First, make the spice paste. Grind the garlic, shallots, ginger and turmeric (if using) in a mortar and pestle or food processor until smooth. Add the macadamia nuts (if using) and process until smooth. Toast the spices (if using) in a pan, and then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Combine dry ingredients with the rest of the paste and the salt, and combine.
Combine the water, spice paste, and lemongrass or sour carambola (if using) in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring the mixture to a oil and add the chicken. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the mixture has reduced, about 30 minutes or so. Remove the chicken from the braising liquid and set aside to cool and dry.
While the chicken cools and dries, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken pieces and fry, turning once or twice, until the chicken is deep golden brown, about 3-5 minutes total. Remove the chicken and drain. Serve the chicken with a spicy sambal and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis).
NB: What makes the recipe modular is that you can decide on the spices that you prefer. We’ve done it with just peppercorns, but other recipes call for a mixture of cumin and coriander, or cloves and cumin, or something else. Some recipes seem to include macadamia nuts or candlenuts (which we have never seen in the US), but some don’t. The purpose of the sour carambola or lemongrass is of course to flavor the broth, and both serve to give the chicken a slightly sour but tropical flavor. So that’s it…experiment away!