Cambodian Street Food: Khmer Stuffed Chicken Wings
Everywhere I go in Asia, I always find myself surrounded by food stalls. We push and pull like magnets. I’m on a strict diet of NSMY (not stuffing my face), so I’m always trying to pull away, but always, it pulls me in; like Winnie to his honey pot. I just can’t win. Especially against Cambodian street food; specifically, stuffed chicken wings or stuffed frogs (kang keb baok).
Not far from Siem Reap, a locally loved, and popular funfair surrounded by dozens of authentic street food stalls, pulled me in with its alluring scent, and exotic arrays of barbequed yummies (is that not a word?). This isn’t the usual, chicken and beef barbeque of the North American variety. These were frogs stuffed with fragrant yellow kroeung and pork, on a stick; pork lungs and liver on a stick, barbequed fish eggs and other Asian delicacies, all on sticks. If you explored the less travelled areas of Cambodia, you will soon notice that we love our stuffed amphibians. Take a ride along Phnom Penh’s Russian Confederation Boulevard in the evening or ride a bike around any popular lake, and rivers where the local love to picnic, and you will find stall after stall displaying these delicious pork stuffed frogs.
During Cambodia’s wet season, between May to October, when the south-west monsoon brings with it some three-quarters of Cambodia’s rainfall, it also unintentionally brings in an abundance of frogs. In the countryside, many of my nephews’ favourite pastime was frog catching. I remember my little nephew of six asking me if I’m hungry. It was 9 pm, and we had already eaten around 7 pm. He obviously didn’t cook so I was curious as to what he was offering, and he said,
“If you’re hungry, lets go catch some frogs.”
I wasn’t very hungry, but the thought of frog catching with a bunch of 6 years old sounded intriguing, and so there I was, mud up to my ankle in my mother’s rice field, watching my little nephews doing some frog catching with a torch. It was quite the sight, and not surprisingly, they caught a lot, and with such an abundance of them, it will have to become my favourite night time snack. Which isn’t very hard, frog tastes almost like chicken, but much lighter, and crisper. It was hard, not to love this Cambodian favourite street fare.
Khmer Food and Drinking Culture
For Cambodians, kang kaeb baok is a favourite of people who enjoy meat with their beer, wine or palm wine —the crispy, spicy amphibians are usually served as snacks to accompany an evening of drinking and socialising. Although most Cambodians love frogs, my father, on the other hand, prefers his chicken. So while everyone is eating their kang kaeb baok with their favourite selection of alcohol, my dad would ask my mother to make slab moan baok (Cambodian stuffed chicken wings) instead. He doesn’t drink much. Or socialise much. But when there are food and company, he likes to sit there, smile, and enjoy the ambience.
Stuffed chicken, or what we Cambodians call moan baok, is another street food favourite for Khmers. It is also found at most street food stalls along with kang kaeb baok, intended for the chicken lovers, or the less adventurous.
Usually, when buying street food in Cambodia, I like to pick out my own uncooked meat item to be barbequed, as I like em fresh, piping-hot, golden skin and completely crispy. It’s quite amazing to see the chicken, or frog completely cleaned out and stuffed to the brim with a pork mixture consisting of kroeung, lemongrass, peanuts, and sometimes, bean thread. Looking at it, you would think de-boning chicken wings and thighs would be complicated and hard. But, while cooking with my mother, I learned that it doesn’t take much practice. Like my mother told me,
“It’s just like pulling off a really tight leather pant. The only skill required is patience.”
How to Stuff Chicken Wings
My mother obviously has never worn leather pants, but there’s many a time where I’d asked her to help me removed mine. The struggle was real. A Little advice: Don’t wear tight leather pants on rainy days. Anyways, where was I? Oh right. I have the attention span of a goldfish, but when I watched my mother went to work on this chicken wing, it was somehow hypnotic. I tried a couple and came to the realisation that it is quite easy. The trick is to keep your knife as close to the bone as possible to avoid tearing the skin. When you find the leg joint, just insert the knife right against the bone and slowly start detaching the skin from the bone, slowly taking off it’s ‘leather pant’.
Slab Moan Baok (stuffed chicken wing), is a really popular Cambodian dish. During any Cambodian celebration or a house party, you will always see slab moan baok. Although it looks labour intensive, it really isn’t. Many Cambodians make it as an accompaniment to salad and soups at home monthly. When we make it at home, we always have a little bit of the pork stuffing leftover. And, I love it! I would then use it to make either hamburger patties, and eat it as a hamburger with fresh herbs, or turn it into chicken stuffed bell peppers, which are equally as delicious. It is such a versatile stuffing. Next time, when I’m craving something greasy and heart-attack inducing (can’t be helped, I’m Canadian, and I love my bacon), I will use this lemongrass stuffing to make bacon wrapped jalapeno stuffed chicken.
Cambodian Food Recipe:
How to Make Cambodian Stuffed Chicken Wings
The main ingredient of Cambodian stuffed chicken wings is kreoung, lemongrass, pork and chicken, as pictured below. As always, I used pre-made kreoung from my kreoung paste recipe; defrosting one cup overnight in the fridge so that I can use it the next day. For this recipe, I prefer a more lemongrass taste, so I will be using one extra stalk of lemongrass to add to the kreoung paste, along with one bird’s eye chilli pepper. I do love my food a little spicy.
Lemongrass is a stiff grass native to India. This citrusy plant is widely used as a herb in Asian cuisine, usually taking starring roles in many Southeast-Asian cuisines. It adds unique flavours to everything from meat, soup, and curries to cold drinks, or tea. In addition to its uses in South-east Asian kitchens, it is also valued medically as a remedy for a wide range of ailments. From stomach troubles to fever, and depression. As its name suggests, it has a citrus aroma and lemony flavour. About 15 years ago, it was hard to find it in regular supermarkets. You would need to go to an Asian supermarket to find one in Canada. But now it has become a mainstream, and this much-beloved plant can be found anywhere in the produce section of your supermarket.
How To Shop For Lemongrass
Look for firm, pale green, almost white stalks, with fat bulbous bottoms, and fresh, green spiky tops. Avoid purchasing lemongrass that is soft or rubbery —they’re old. The best part of the lemongrass, where much of the flavouring comes from, is in its lower, cane-like bulbous stalk. Many markets will trim off their lesser flavoured, leafy tops, leaving only a few short, spiky blades attached. Although those hard, spiky blades can be a bit dry, do not purchase ones where they’ve turned yellow. Fresh lemongrass is usually sold in groupings of three to four, secured with an elastic band. As I’ve mentioned previously, they’re sold everywhere. However, if you don’t have the time to prepare and chop the lemongrass, you can find pre-chopped lemongrass stalks. They’re sold in frozen packets. Look for it in the freezer section of your local Asian grocery store.
How To Use Lemongrass In Your Cooking
To use fresh lemongrass in your cooking, cut off the tough spiky green leaves and remove any hard outer leaves. The main stalk, the bulbous, almost white part of the stalk, is what we usually use in Cambodian cooking. But don’t throw away the green spiky section! Throwing away any fresh, and usable part of the food are sacrilegious in Asian cooking —reserve the upper spiky green stem for broths when making soup or curry. It gives it that extra flavour. Before cutting them into thin slices for kroeung, I usually bruise them by twisting them around or crushing them with a large knife. It releases that extra-lemony aroma, but it also makes it easier for you to cut, and pound later in the mortar and pestle. The same goes for using them in soup, crush the lemongrass stalk with a knife, tie it in a knot and then just put em in the pot.
After de-boning the chicken thigh/quarter, I like to flavour the chicken a little bit by rubbing it with crispy fried garlic, crispy fried onions, knorr chicken stock, salt and a little bit of ketchup to give it a nice colouring when barbequed. You don’t want to over flavour the chicken skin here, the pork stuffing is flavourful enough, and is the showpiece in this Cambodian food recipe.
I like to use chicken thigh or chicken quarter, rather than chicken wings to stuff because it’s just so much easier to de-bone (and stuff). Here, I don’t just stuff the thigh, I make it overflow and flatten it to the bone area. I then use toothpicks to close it up for cooking. You don’t have to do this step, but it gives the chicken quarter a much prettier profile when cooked.
Cambodian Stuffed Chicken Wings Recipe
- 2 lbs ground pork
- 6 pieces chicken thighs/leg quarters
- 1 cup kroeung paste
- 1 stalk of lemongrass
- 1 piece of bird eye chilli pepper
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon knorr chicken broth mix
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoon palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon of roasted peanut crushed
- 1 teaspoon crispy fried onion
- 1 teaspoon crispy fried garlic
- 1 teaspoon knorr chicken mix
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ketchup (optional, for colours)
First off, debone the chicken thighs/leg quarters. When you find the leg joint, just insert the knife right against the bone and slowly start detaching the skin from the bone, slowly taking the meat off the bone. The trick is to keep your knife as close to the bone as possible to avoid tearing the skin. Once the bone is removed, remove as much of the chicken meat as you can from the skin, making sure not to tear the skin. Place the removed chicken meat on a cutting board and start chopping/grounding it into small pieces. Keep the skin (you will be stuffing it later), and throw the bones (or keep it if you want to use it to make chicken stock).
Make kroeung paste based on this recipe. Keep one cup and freeze the rest to use in other Cambodian food recipes.
Cut the lemongrass stalk into small slices. Combine the lemongrass with kroeung paste, and one bird-eye chilli pepper in a mortar and pestle. Pound away until all the ingredients are crushed into a coarse paste. If you don`t have a mortar and pestle, use a coffee grinder instead, and do it in small portions. Once done, put the ingredients into a large bowl, and combine the rest of the main ingredients: ground pork, ground chicken pieces, salt, knorr chicken broth mix, fish sauce, palm sugar, and roasted peanuts.
Combine all the chicken rubs seasoning ingredients in a bowl, along with the de-boned chicken thing/quarter (now only skin and tiny bits of chicken meats are attached to it). Let it stand for at least 20 minutes in the fridge to let the seasoning soak in. Once done, you can start stuffing the chicken with the pork/kroeung mixture, making sure not to over-stuff.
Place it on a grill and cook until brown. If you're using an oven, cook it at 350 degrees, turning it once after the 20 minutes mark, and letting it cook for another 20-30 minutes. Once cooked (check with a food thermometer for 165° Fahrenheit), take it out of the oven and pan fry it on your highest setting to give the skin that browning (less than 1 minutes on each side), Plate your chicken, and serve it as an appetizer with salad or as a meal with steamed rice and pickled vegetables.