Tell me I’m crazy, maybe, I know. Can’t help lovin’ dat massaman curry!
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Unusually, there were two potential puns from the same show for this dish: Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, both from the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat. Based on Edna Ferber’s novel, Show Boat was arguably the first modern “serious” musical play, with its themes of racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love, and follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Mississippi River show boat, the Cotton Blossom.
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man is sung by Julie La Verne, the leading lady of the showboat’s troupe of performers (played by Ava Gardner in the 1951 film), about her husband and leading man, Steve Baker, and, in the process, betrays her secret mixed race heritage by knowing a song sung by “colored folks”. Julie and Steve are subsequently threatened with arrest for their illegal mixed-race marriage and dismissed from their jobs on the boat.
Fish got to swim and birds got to fly,
I got to love one man till I die.
Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine.
This is my take on a massaman curry crossed with a Sunday roast. Traditionally, potatoes are part of the curry which is served with rice, but I decided to ditch the rice and turn the potatoes into a side dish, roasting them with spices. I was roasting two chickens, so adjust the quantities according to whatever you’re doing. You can, of course, simplify things by using a store-bought curry paste.
Ideally, you should start this the day before you intend to eat it, but try to allow the chicken a couple of hours at least to marinate.
Bash up and roughly chop the lemongrass stalks and, along with the roughly chopped garlic, shallots, chilli pepper (if using) and ginger, toast in a dry non-stick frying pan for a few minutes. Add to a small food processor or blender along with the honey and oil and blitz to a paste. Once the paste is starting to form, add the dry spices and process to a smooth paste. (I had to switch to a stick blender as my mini food processor couldn’t cope with the lemon grass). Set aside half the mixture until the next day for the sauce and divide the remainder in two.
I’ve got you… under my skin…
OK – wrong song again, but the next job is to spread the paste UNDER the chicken skin. Untruss the chicken and insert your hands between the breast meat and the skin, starting at the neck cavity. Any connective tissue will soon give way so keep pushing your fingers gently forward. You might soon feel like a weird serial killer wearing a chicken glove, and the fact I’m now going to tell you to reach past the breasts and loosen the thigh and leg skin probably won’t help. Smear a portion of the paste over the meat under the now loosened skin and, having withdrawn your hand, you can then massage the skin to spread the paste around as evenly as you can. Repeat with your next victim, sorry, chicken. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least two hours).
Rub a little oil and salt over the skin and then roast the chicken as you would normally (45min per kg plus and extra 20min at 180C fan is the usual guide, but I often find the extra 20 mins unnecessary). Allow the chickens to rest for at least 20 minutes.
Peel the potatoes (use a roasting variety – I prefer King Edwards in U.K.) and cut to the size and shape you like for roast potatoes. Add to a pan with water, salt and bicarb and bring to the boil. Drain after 10 minutes and allow them to sit in the colander until the surface starts to go visibly dry and fluffy. Meanwhile, melt some butter and stir in the roughly crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cardamom seeds, stirring for a couple of minutes. Spread out the potatoes in a roasting dish and pour over the butter and spices. Gently stir the potatoes round until they are all covered in spices and butter and add a sprinkle of sea salt. Add to the oven for the last hour of chicken roasting time, leaving them in while the chickens rest until golden and crisp.
While the chicken and spuds are roasting, it’s handy to cook the vegetables in advance and cool them down in iced water – 4 minutes in boiling salt water should be enough for the beans and broccoli.
Skim off the fat from the chicken cooking juices (a separator jug is handy for this kind of thing). Slice an onion and fry until soft. Add the remaining curry paste and allow this to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken roasting juices (I had 400ml, so top up with some stock if you have significantly less) and bring to the boil. Add coconut milk, tamarind paste and the lime juice and zest, and adjust the seasoning. Add your pre-cooked vegetables to warm them through and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro/coriander and turn off the heat.
Carve up your chicken into suitable portions (I divide each breast into two and separate the thigh from the drumstick) and arrange in a suitable dish with the vegetables and most of the sauce. Garnish with more cilantro and the toasted nuts (peanuts or cashew nuts would be more traditional, and I could have sworn I had some in the cupboard…. but settled for pecans). Serve with the roast potatoes and some additional sauce on the side.
Don’t forget to boil up your chicken carcasses for a really aromatic chicken stock!