Let me start off by saying that this won’t be the most attractive dish you will ever make. Everything ends up looking like an unappetising greyish mush, but as you all know, appearances are deceiving. The flavours of this dish make up for its lack of aesthetic appeal – the fragrant ginger, garlic, lime and lemongrass with a bit of heat from the chilli make this a satisfying and filling meal, especially on a rainy night (seriously spring, where do you keep disappearing to?).
This stew was inspired by a similar dish I had at Bolaven in Mt Eden a little while ago. Of course, I came up with this recipe to suit my own tastes (more coconut and spice). I cooked down the eggplant quite a lot as I wanted it to be a bit mushy (I find the texture of boiled, firm eggplant a little bit like biting down on a sponge which has been soaking in water), but of course, you don’t need to cook it down as much if that doesn’t appeal to you.
I garnished the dish with coriander, chilli, mint and crispy shallots, which adds a lot of flavour and freshness to the dish. You don’t need to use all these things if you don’t want to, but I do suggest adding fresh herbs at the end as it does really help the final dish with its flavour (and of course it improves how it looks as well!). Serve the stew with a side of steamed or sticky rice.
Laotian inspired chicken, eggplant and mushroom stew
2 small skinless chicken breasts (about 400g)
2 C water
small knob of ginger
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 stalk of lemongrass, bruised
juice of 1 lime
1 red chilli, split
200mL coconut milk
1 large eggplant (or several small Asian ones), cut into thick batons
large handful of cloud ear fungus and shiitake mushrooms, sliced (can be dried and rehydrated)
sliced red chilli
fried, crispy shallots
Put the water in a pot along with the ginger, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, garlic cloves, lemongrass stalks and lime juice. Bring to a boil, then add the chicken breasts. Bring it back up to the boil, then cover with a tightly fitting lid, take off the heat and leave for 40 minutes to poach the breasts. Remove the chicken, leave to cool slightly, shred into pieces and set aside.
Bring your stock back up to the boil again and add the chilli, mushrooms and eggplant. Bring it back to the boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer and season with fish sauce to taste (start with a couple of teaspoons first if you’re not sure).
Leave it to simmer until the eggplant has softened and started to break apart (about 10-15 minutes). Add the coconut milk and bring it back to a simmer. Taste and then season with more fish sauce if necessary.
At this point, you can remove the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and lime leaves if you wish. Stir in the chicken and once it has come back up to heat, the stew is ready.
Garnish with coriander, mint, chilli and shallots and serve hot with a side of rice.