Do not skimp on marinating times – give the chicken a good long soak for best results. Photograph: Jill Mead for the GuardianA culinary revelation in Colombia inspired this recipe for fried chicken, made with a coconut marinade to soften and sweeten the meat. Potatoes with a Latin-American salsa and slaw accompany – a surefire feast to thrill a crowd.Fifteen years ago, I went on a two-week trek deep into Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. During the daytime, my then girlfriend and I strode through the humid rainforest, stopping only for a dip in a stream or to pluck our lunch from the avocado and papaya trees that grow wild there. It was all very Gabriel García Márquez.
At night we camped or, on one occasion, lay in hammocks slung under the eaves of one of the many coca farmhouses concealed under the jungle canopy. There, we were lulled to sleep by the warm breeze, the harmonic insect chorus and the good-natured chatter of the farmers as they measured their dried cocaine base into plastic bags.
It struck me then that the prevalence of cocaine in Colombia might be connected with how difficult it had been to get hold of anything decent to eat in its cities. I am generally not one to set out to make enemies, let alone of the inhabitants of an entire nation, but while the jungles were heaven on earth, the food we ate in towns was, almost without exception, terrible.
I say almost, because the one exception was some chicken we ate in the remote river island town of Mompós (made famous by Márquez)that had been marinated in coconut milk before frying it. The coconut not only tenderised the chicken, but gave it a slightly sweet flavour. Magical realism made (chicken) flesh.
Jane’s recipe below uses coconut water instead of coconut milk, which makes the dish less rich. She also uses a cheat to make frying the chicken much less nerve-racking for beginners. She poaches it in advance. This takes away any concerns you might have about poisoning your guests, and the poaching liquid makes the base for a delicious chicken noodle soup – just add some cooked noodles and strips of chicken.
Colombian fried chicken
Other flavourings can be added to the coconut water marinade, such as lemongrass, fresh turmeric and galangal. You can reduce the poaching time a little if you are in a hurry.
400ml coconut water
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 shallots, chopped
2cm cube ginger, grated
2 red chillies
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
8-10 chicken thighs (about 1.2kg)
100g plain flour
Rapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil) for frying
1 Roughly blend the coconut water with the garlic, shallots, ginger, chillies and spices. Put the chicken in a shallow container and pour over the coconut spice mix. Massage this on to the chicken with your hands until the pieces are well coated. Leave to marinate for at least 3 hours – or preferably overnight.
2 Put the chicken and marinade into a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to cool down in the marinade. At this point, the chicken can sit in the marinade in the fridge until needed.
3 Fill the pan with oil to a depth of about 4-5cm and heat to 180C/350F – or until a piece of bread dropped in it turns brown quite quickly.
4 Mix together the two flours and tip on to a shallow tray or plate. Remove the chicken from the marinade and toss it in the flour.
5 Gently lower the pieces into the hot oil with a slotted spoon. Deep fry for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. It is best to do 3-4 thighs at a time. Overcrowding the pan will lower the temperature of the oil and the chicken will stew in it. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon on to kitchen towel. Keep them warm while you fry the rest of the chicken.
The day before
- Marinate the chicken
- Poach chicken, then cool and refrigerate
- Make the aji salsa
- Cook potatoes and dress with aji salsa
- Heat-up oil
- Mix flours
- Fry chicken
Aji potato salad
The aji salsa can be as coarse or as smooth as you like.
1 bunch spring onions, finely, chopped
A small bunch of coriander, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, chopped
Juice of ½ lime
50ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
700g small new potatoes, washed
1 Mix together all the ingredients, except the potatoes. Transfer 2 tbsp of the salsa to a bowl, blend with a stick blender to a puree, then stir back in with the rest.
2 Cut the potatoes in half. Boil in salted water for 10-15 minutes, until just cooked. Drain well.
3 Put the salsa in a bowl, tip in the potatoes and stir well. Leave to marinate until it is time to serve.
Slaw with avocado dressing
Veg dressed with a Latin-inspired take on green goddess dressing.
Makes around 500g
¼ white cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
¼ red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 apples, finely chopped
¼ cucumber peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
For the dressing
2 tbsp sour cream (or plain yoghurt)
1 ripe avocado, peeled and stoned
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chilli sauce (preferably chipotle)
Salt and black pepper
1 In a large bowl, combine all the prepped veg for the slaw.
2 Liquidise or blend together the dressing ingredients.
3 Add the avocado dressing to the veg and fold through. Season well.