Ayam Besengek is an old recipe that is popular during colonialism era of Indonesia. This dish has a tied history with Indonesia’s feminist hero from Java; Raden Adjeng Kartini. Unfortunately, Ayam Besengek dish isn’t too common anymore to be found in Java anymore.
R. A. Kartini and Her Cooking’s Story
Raden Adjeng Kartini (or sometimes abbreviated as R. A. Kartini) was born into an aristocratic Javanese family in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. She received a Dutch primary school due to her position as a Jepara princess. Her aspiration to further education but the option was unavailable to her and other girls in Javanese society at that time was made her a prominent Indonesian national heroine from Java.
Some disagree with the history of inequality between men and women that was happening in Javanese society based on R.A. Kartini’s story. However, there is always a controversial figure in every nation. I won’t discuss about it.
My interest isn’t about the controversial behind it. I’m more fascinating about her involvement in Java’s diplomatic efforts. She introduced Javanese culture through cooking Javanese dishes for Dutch guests. Her Javanese cooking love was pouring into a cookbook with her sisters titled Kisah & Kumpulan Resep Putri Jepara: Rahasia Kuliner R. A. Kartini, R. A. Kardinah dan R. A. Roekmini or also known as ‘The Story & Collection of Recipes by Jepara Princesses: The Secret of Culinary by R. A. Kartini, R. A. Kardinah and R. A. Roekmini’.
Ayam Besengek Recipe
- 1/2 chicken (about 800 grams or 1.7 lbs), pat dry with paper towel
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil or grapeseed oil
- 500 mL or 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 lemongrass
- Himalayan pink salt
Grind bumbu to a paste:
- 6 small shalllots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 large red chillies, de-seeded and slices
- 1 cm (2/5 inch) galangal
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander seed, toasted
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted
- 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste (terasi), toasted
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (gula Jawa)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
* If you grind the Bumbu with a food processor or blender, make sure you add a bit oil to have a smoother consistency.
* I prefer to add shallots at the end when I grind them with a food processor . A non-continuously method needs to be applied when you process with a food processor or blender to reduce a bitterness on shallot due to oxidation. So start, pulse and start for a couple times.
- Rub chicken with salt. Set aside for 15 in the fridge.
- Portion chicken into a half by cutting it and grill both sides until cooked.
- Once, it’s cooked, flatten chicken by pounding it lightly.
- At a medium-high heat, add oil into a dutch oven or pan. Saute bumbu or spices paste until it’s cooked thoroughly and fragrant.
- Stir in coconut milk, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Let it cook for a boil.
- Place grilled chicken in to a boiled spiced coconut milk.
- Turn the heat down and simmer until coconut milk starts to evaporate and the gravy begins to be oily. Serve it hot.