Malaysian Nonya Fried Chicken Re-imagined for the Barbecue!
Inchi Kabin, Inchi Kebin, Enche Kabin or any combination of spellings refers to Nonya (Malaysian Peranakan)-style fried chicken. In its simplest incarnation, Inchi Kabin is chicken marinated with spices and coconut milk and deep fried till crispy, and traditionally served with a dipping sauce featuring a surprising ingredient – Worcestershire sauce, an oh-so-British remnant of their colonial rule in Malaysia.
As much as we love fried chicken (doesn’t everyone?), it’s not something that we eat on a regular basis. On the other hand, it is summer at the moment and therefore by unwritten law, numerous barbecues must be conducted.
This year, I’ve been cooking spatchcock chickens with wild abandon thanks to a recent discovery courtesy of Serious Eats. So the question became whether I could adapt the principles of Inchi Kabin to grilling the chicken on the barbecue instead of frying it.
To that end, I started by spatchcocking and marinating a whole chicken with a blend of spices, coconut milk, and fermented red bean curd. Fermented red bean curd isn’t a classic addition, but I did see it used in a recipe from Penang Nonya A-Ma Secret Recipes. It lends an interesting dimension to meat dishes, so I included it here for something a bit different – but leave it out if you so wish!
Many recipes call for a ready-mixed curry powder, but if you are so inclined you can use a mix of your own ground or whole spices to taste. I’ve used a combination of whole and pre-ground spices here, so feel free to subtract or add any that you fancy. In a further nod to the British legacy, I’ve added some mustard powder to the mix as well…you often see mustard incorporated into the dipping sauce, but I’ve integrated it into the marinade in order to keep the sauce light and tangy.
At the end of the day, I discovered that Inchi Kabin is like Highlander – there can be only one. Deep frying produces that crisp outer layer and helps to caramelise the spices and coconut milk, concentrating those flavours and showcasing them in a way that barbecuing can’t achieve.
However, while barbecuing the chicken isn’t Inchi Kabin, it still produces a worthy dish in its own right.
The barbecued chicken emerged much more tender and juicy, and had a better balance between the taste of the spicing and the chicken itself. The charring from the barbecue also adds its own character but means that the aroma from the spices isn’t as intense.
What I liked about the barbecued version is that it becomes much more versatile. Not everyone is able to (or indeed may want to) deep fry chicken, so this methods offers a tasty alternative to serve for dinner with the option of using up leftovers for salads or sandwiches etc.
The recipe below is for the barbecued version of the chicken. If you want to fry the chicken as per the standard method, simply cut the chicken into pieces (or use already-jointed chicken pieces), coat with the marinade overnight, and deep fry till golden brown and cooked through.
Recipe adapted from Nyonya-Style Spiced Fried Chicken, Cradle of Flavour by James Oseland
* Before barbecuing the chicken, I recommend you read this article, which is much better written than mine!
Disclaimer – This recipe is still in a fairly embryonic stage and will probably take a little more work to fully take flight. If you make this and have any comments or suggestions, post them here and help improve the recipe!