Friday, 22 June 2012

Burmese Chicken Curry and Cock Scratchings (Recipe)

Where's your self re-cocking-spect?

Apparently people hate those posts where errant bloggers go, "I'm so sorry for being AWOL" or "So you're probably wondering where I've been". I'm just going to say I was ill which meant I stopped giving a shit, but now I'm back.

A Cock Tale

The Ginger Pig is one of those semi-legendary butchers, and one fine day, they're kind enough to offer me one of their new 100 day French chickens to play with (cook, I mean. Not befriend. That would be weird).

I can go for a cock or a pullet (Google those words, and an awful joke comes up which you can probably guess), and I choose the cock. 

They then offer me a choice of prepared or intact - I've had cockscomb in salads before, and I love me some chicken feet, so I figure I can make good use of the extra bits, so I say, "Bring it on". 

Friday, my office doorbell rings and a nice chap appears with a beautiful bag containing a small, dead body. He hands it over, and I wedge it inside the office fridge, hoping no-one asks me what it is.

Ignore the blood

Saturday morning, I wake up to see a Facebook photo by Hollow Legs saying that her cockerel (for she is also playing) is still full of guts and gore. And I go, "F*ck".

For in my gung-ho food twattery, it completely didn't occur to me that intact means intact. I panic and ask her how she intends to tackle it, and she says, "Youtube is your friend". 

I then spend the next 30 minutes watching the same video over and over again until I start to feel spiritually at one with the redneck survivalist hiding in the woods.


I disrobe my own cockerel from its Ginger Pig wrapping, and its head lolls, then clunks onto my chopping board. It's totally CSI, and I can feel myself blench. 

I grab my cleaver and I decapitate the cock. It's so not a clean cut, and, as I hack away at the gristle and then loosen its oesophagus and windpipe ("just hook them out with your finger"), I wonder what I'm doing with my life.

Poultry gang signs

And the feet - THE FEET. Like a f*cking velociraptor. These are not dainty talons to braise in soy and then nibble on. These are offensive weapons. They quickly join the feathery head in the "bait bowl".

Suddenly it looks innocuous. It's just a lovely, lovely chicken, right? Wrong, I still need to disembowel the bastard. 

Bait bowl

With a sharp, stabby knife, I cut a slit "to open up the cavity", trying desperately to avoid nicking the intestines with the blade. 

And then, with rubber gloved hand (f*ck me if I'm going to reach in there naked), I pull out its guts. 

I made a little video for you to share the experience.

It reeks.


I then yank out the rooster's windpipe and oesophagus through its arse (you're meant to do this).

It's a relief to clean up the parts I'm more familiar with - preserving the neck, the liver, the gizzard and the heart. I'll spare you what I had to do to prep the gizzard. 

These bits will be chef's treats - I deserve something, goddammit.

Have a heart

Now it looks like a lovely, safe chicken. 

I rip its skin off, Buffalo Bill-style, to make rooster scratchings, and then I joint the bird ready for my recipe.

Smug MiMi

I feel good, like I've achieved something, and I ring my mum to tell her just how awesome I am.

She says, "What did you do with the intestines?" and I say, "I chucked that shizz away", and she says, "Fool - in Burma, we clean and plait the intestines and then put them in the curry".

That's me told.

The Burmese Chicken Curry known as Gahlar-thar Hin

Gahlar-thar Hin - A Burmese Chicken Curry 

The full moon of November heralds Tazaungdaing in Burma, a festival of mischief-making where young men are encouraged to go on a kind of scavenger hunt as well as muck about. In villages, they “steal” chickens which have been deliberately left in the backyards of rich people to create a midnight feast - in towns, they're more likely to just buy the bird.

This is the festival dish they make - it's easy, and you use the bones and all.

"Gahlar-thar" means "sons of our times"; "hin" just means a dish and is usually translated as curry, though this is more of a stew. I used to call this Bachelors' Curry, till people thought I meant the Cup-a-Soup purveyors.

Serves 8


  • 1 cockerel or large chicken, jointed
  • 1 large bottle gourd / small winter melon / medium mooli (daikon) / 4 courgettes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Large white onions x 3
  • Large ripe tomatoes x 4 or 1 can of plum tomatoes
  • Garlic x 2 bulbs
  • Ginger, 4 inch piece, peeled
  • Coriander stalks, full bunch
  • Birds' eye chillies x 4
  • Shrimp paste (belacan), 2 tbsp
  • Mild chilli powder, 1 tbsp
  • Sweet paprika, 1 tbsp
  • Sugar, 2 tbsp
  • Fish sauce, 4 tbsp

Place all the ingredients in a blender, except for the meat and the gourd, and mince it roughly into a paste.

Heat 4 tablespoons of oil on medium in a deep saucepan or stockpot which you can cover with a lid, and sauté this paste for at least five minutes until it loses the raw onion and garlic smell and becomes fragrant. Then add the meat and continue to sauté till the meat browns a little.

Then add enough water that the meat is submerged. Simmer for 4 hours (cockerel) or 2 hours (large chicken) with a lid on, topping up with water whenever the meat rises above the level. 

A slow cooker is particularly useful for this - I adore the Flavour Savour which Morphy Richards gave me, because you can use it straight on the hob too.

Half an hour before you intend to dish up, chuck in the pieces of gourd so they cook through.

Serve with plain, steamed rice and the chicken scratchings (see below). 

This is a broth-like dish, and your rice should be swimming in rich gravy.

Aka Gribenes

Cock or Rooster Scratchings

I like deep-frying stuff, partly out of gluttony, and partly as I love textural contrast in my food (as all Burmese people do). 

I often make fish and chicken scratchings, and I realised that the cockerel's skin was so thick that it would work brilliantly - almost as well as the standard pork.

This requires some advance prep, but it's worth it.

  • The skin of a cockerel or large chicken
  • Plain flour, 3 tbsp
  • Salt, 1 tbsp
  • Pepper, 1 tbsp
  • MSG, 1/2 tsp

Remove the skin of the chicken/cockerel in as close to one piece as possible. Wash and then dry the skin as much as possible using paper towels (this is the key to proper Peking Duck as well).

Toss the skin in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients, so it's thoroughly coated. The MSG is essential. This is why KFC tastes like heaven. If you're a pussy, use a crumbled chicken stock cube.

Then cover the bowl with paper towels rather than cling film (so it can breathe and keep drying out), and leave in the fridge overnight - or at least 6 hours.

When you're ready to make the scratchings, chop the skin into bitesize strips with scissors or kitchen shears.

Heat about two inches' depth of oil in a wok or deep saucepan with and when you can feel waves of heat coming off the pan with the palm of your hand, turn it down a little and add a handful of strips at a time. 

Turn the strips in the hot oil with a perforated heat-proof spoon till they're golden and crisp and then fish them out and dry on paper towels.

When you've fried all the skin, sprinkle a little more salt on top and then serve with the curry and rice, or just eat them as a snack.


See how the others fared with their Ginger Pig chickens:


I'm really chuffed to say that the restaurant Solita in Manchester has put my Rooster Scratchings on their menu and it looks like they're one of the most popular dishes!