Many of us love cilantro. We adore the fresh, fragrant tanginess of the delightful herb. Some hate coriander. They can’t abide the soapy, earthy taste. This is genetic and there is little that they can do about it. For clarity, coriander is cilantro. They are the same thing. It’s not like “vest”. American’s wear a vest over a shirt. Europeans wear it under. It’s also not like “rubber”. Europeans use it to erase pencil marks. Americans, well Americans do something else altogether.
But back to the coriander. The debate is confused further as there is the ‘Generation Snowflake’ thing going on and you are nobody on “Insta” if you are not allergic to something these days. This helps divide the coriander/cilantro debate some more. A Thai restaurant owning friend of mine told me of a customer who said that they were fine with cilantro but were allergic to coriander. They were served their coriander laden dish and loved it. There’s no accounting for fads. In short, if you like coriander or cilantro read on. If you can’t abide one but are fine with the other, go see a shrink.
My recipe for coriander chicken follows a pretty straightforward almost Thai theme. It uses plenty of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chilli and a bit of pepper and sugar. I would have made it more like the real thing if I could have got my hands on some decent lemongrass but, it was not to be so. It is not in any way ‘authentic Thai’. But, it was extremely tasty.
- 1 top quality free range chicken (about 1.5kg/3lb)
- 4 to 6 cloves of good garlic
- 5cm (2 inch) piece of root ginger
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 3 or 4 red chillis
- 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons of Muscovado sugar
- 1 big bunch of coriander (or cilantro, if you insist)
- 1 lime
Peel, slice and dice all the ingredients (that need it) bar the chicken, lime and cilantro. Place everything except the chicken, lime and cilantro in a blender and blitz to an aromatic paste.
Side note on keeping the coriander fresh. Coriander wilts and dies very quickly. If you buy the coriander pre-cut, trim the ends off the stalks and place it in a glass of water as soon as you get home from the supermarket. This will allow the plant to stay at it’s best, right up until you chop it for this dish. If, like me, you need to chop it for a pre-cooking photo, do likewise.
To spatchcock the chicken, lie it down on the chopping board, breast side down. Take a good pair of kitchen scissors and cut through the flesh and bone that runs down the backbone, starting at the side of the ‘Pope’s Nose”. Go all the way to the end.
Side note on The Pope’s Nose. This is not an attempt by me to insult the head of the Catholic church. This is an ancient description (once meant as an insult but now just mildly funny) that refers to the bit of the bird that holds the tail feathers.
Do like wise on the other side of the bird and remove the backbone.
Turn the bird over and place your palm on the breast. Press down firmly. You should hear some cracking and so forth. the bird will lie flat. Press two skewers diagonally across the bird to hold the legs and breast together.
Slash across the breasts and thick part of the legs with a sharp knife. This will allow the marinade penetrate the meat and also helps the bird cook more quickly. If you are using a scrawny cheap supermarket chicken, skip this step as it will only end up in a dried out piece of meat.
Place the chicken in a dish and pour over the marinade ingredients. Rub them all over the bird, massaging into the slashes in the meat. Cover and leave this to improve in the fridge for at least four and preferably eight hours.
Heat the barbecue to high then turn down (or let the charcoals cool) to medium low. Place the bird on, breast side down, spoon over the marinade, cover and leave it alone for twenty minutes.
Turn the bird over leave for an additional twenty minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a skewer or fork into the leg flesh at it’s thickest point. If it runs clear, it’s cooked. After 40 minutes on the grill, it should be.
Chop the coriander, including the stalks, roughly. Sprinkle all over the chicken. Put the cover back on for a couple of minutes to let the coriander wilt. Remove to a chopping board.
Allow the meat to rest for about ten minutes. This is an important part of the process and will give a juicy end result. Just before carving / hacking, squeeze the lime juice over the bird. Remember to remove the skewers. Serve with your choice of sides and enjoy.
Thankfully, we don’t have any coriander/cilantro haters in our family. I do know of one convert who used to hate it but now loves it. There is nothing I can do for you if, like that Thai restaurant diner, you love coriander but can’t abide cilantro. Enjoy.