Although this dish is called Portuguese-style chicken rice casserole, it in fact did not originate from Portugal. It was invented in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that is located on a tiny peninsula and island in southern China. The city, which is full of historical features with its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, is now more famous for its reputation as the “Las Vegas of Asia“, where the first thing that greets you when you arrive on the ferry is the blinding lights of casinos and hotels.
To add to the contradiction between the name and the origin, the first time I had this dish was actually in a Hong Kong-style cafe (a cha-chaan-teng). The first time I ordered it, its curry-coloured sauce deceived me that my taste buds were going to experience a sharp tang of heat. Surprisingly, the sauce was creamy and smooth. The spices softly complemented with a familiar fragrance that I couldn’t quite put my finger to. It did not have the harsh punch of the traditional curry that I was expecting. I later realized that it was the rolling sweetness of the coconut milk added to the sauce that created the perfect harmony with the spices. No curry powder is used to this recipe. The vibrant yellow was from the colour of turmeric, and any faint taste that mimic the warmth of curry is from the cumin. Because no curry powder nor chili were used, there is no heat (perfect for those with zero-tolerance for hot foods). The champion of this recipe is coconut milk.
When my friend came over for dinner last time, it was a weeknight. I was pressed for time, but still wanted to make a hearty comfort meal (it was Friday night afterall) and so I decided to make the Portuguese-style chicken rice casserole. On my way home from work, I bought some chicken thigh meat and vegetables. The second I got home, I dashed into the kitchen, slapped on my apron, and started cooking up a storm.
Contrary to my super multi-tasking skills, this casserole had more steps than I expected, and of course took longer than I had planned. I was still not done when my friend arrived. However, we both rolled up our sleeves, chatted and laughed as we casually put everything together. The casserole took longer than planned, but we had fun. That’s all it matters, especially on a Friday night.
PORTUGUESE-STYLE CHICKEN RICE CASSEROLE (4 servings)
Time Required: 1 hour 30 minutes – 1 hour 45 minutes
- I baked the potatoes so that they are dryer and aren’t as soggy. But this step is optional if you are pressed for time, or if you don’t mind soggy potatoes
- This recipe has a lot of steps, but actually many of them can be done simultaneously to save time. For instance, boiling and baking the potatoes, marinating the chicken, and cooking the rice in the rice cooker could all be done at the same time while chopping the carrots and onions. You can continue baking the potatoes while cooking the onions and browning the chicken, since the potatoes aren’t needed until the end.
- Fried rice is optional. You can use plain rice too. You could refer to my post on how to make fried rice which teaches you how to cook plain rice.
- You can pre-make the sauce several days before serving. The sauce can last in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Chicken thigh meat – 2 thighs
- soy sauce – 2 tsp
- sugar – 1 tsp
- corn starch – 2 tablespoons
- Shao Xing cooking wine – 2 tablespoons
- 2 Potatoes
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Onion
- Cooking oil
- Turmeric – 2 and 1/2 tablespoons
- Ground cumin – 1 tablespoon
- Hot water or chicken stock – 300 mL
- Coconut milk – 1 can – 400 mL
- Cooked jasmine rice or fried rice – 2 and 1/2 cups
(Note: Remember to cook the rice before you start the recipe first if you haven’t yet – just to make sure you don’t forget!)
1. Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, or until they can be softly pierced with a paring knife. Strain the potatoes, and cut them into medium size wedges.
2. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet or baking tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle cooking oil over the potatoes, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until they are dry and some edges are starting to brown.
3. Meanwhile, cut the chicken thigh meat into 1 inch thick pieces and place it in a medium sized bowl or plate. Add the soy sauce, sugar, Shao Xing cooking wine, and corn starch, mix well, and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.
4. Cut the onions into strips and set aside.
5. Dice the carrots and set aside.
6. In a wok, or a wok-shaped pan, add 2-3 table spoons of cooking oil, turn to medium-high heat.
7. When the oil is heated, add the onions, and cook until translucent. Remove from wok into a plate, and set aside for later use.
8. Add the chicken to the pan, and pan fry until brown and cooked through.
9. Add the cooked onions and diced carrots into the pan with the chicken and mix well. Sprinkle on the turmeric and cumin and mix well until the spices are evenly covered over the chicken and the vegetables.
10. Add the hot water (or chicken stock if you wish) into the pan, cover the pan with a lid, and let the mixture simmer at medium-high or high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by 1/3.
11. Open the lid of the pan and add the potatoes and coconut milk to the pan. Mix well with the spatula and the sauce simmer at medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced by 1/4 to 1/3. This is now your completed Portuguese-style chicken sauce. (Note: You can now ladle up a bowl of this sauce and serve it with a bed of rice. If you like the sauce to be a bit browned, continue with the instructions below).
12. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a 16″ x 13″ pan (or a pan of a similar size), spread a layer of the cooked jasmine rice or fried rice on the bottom.
13. With a ladle, pour the Portuguese-style chicken sauce on top of the rice evenly.
14. Put the casserole in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
15. Remove the casserole from the oven. Set the oven to broil setting at high (I set mine to 4 (it goes from 1-5)). Return the casserole into the oven, this time on the top rack, and broil for 1 1/2 minutes, or until the top is slightly charred.
16. When the broiling is done, remove the casserole from the oven, and your Portuguese-Style Chicken Rice Casserole is now ready to eat!