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03/15/2018

~ Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole ~

IMG_5746Thai-Malaysian pineapple-fried-rice is a classic Thai dish that's easy to get addicted to.  It's divine. Grains of fragrant jasmine rice bejeweled throughout with bits of golden pineapple, cashews and raisins -- it's a taste unlike the fried rices of China and Hawaii.  It's a staple item on the menu of most Thai-American eateries, the choices being pineapple-fried-rice, or, pineapple-fried-rice with chicken or prawn.  It can be served in a pretty bowl as a side-dish or a main-dish, or, as they do in the tradition of Thailand, baked and served in a carved-out fresh pineapple.

A hearty 4-season casserole w/all the taste of the tropics:

IMG_5739IMG_5749If you're a fried rice fan, you're gonna love my American-home-kitchen version of the iconic Thai fried rice.  Every bite is a bit different. Sometimes the sweet and savory combination of pineapple and chicken stands out. Other times, the herby-spicy flavor the cilantro, chiles and onions shine through.  

Still others, the contrasting textures of the the rice, raisins and nuts blow you away.  Considering the yummy end result, this dish, relatively speaking, isn't difficult to prepare.

Using fresh vs. canned pineapple in recipes containing protein:

IMG_5708Fresh vs. canned pineapple:  If this is a meal you would like or need to prepare a day ahead, without any compromise to the recipe, bypass the fresh pineapple in the produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle of your grocery store.  

Why?  Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, a natural tenderizer (in papayas it's called papain and does the same thing).  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains. Culinarily, when used as or in the marinade for protein, it does the same thing -- quickly.  Read on:

Tenderizing any protein is good to a point, but, be forewarned, if the assembled casserole is left to sit for just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it can render the chicken (the protein) mushy.  Keeping the chicken mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down, but, here's the information you need to know: bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked separately from the other ingredients first, (prior to marinating it or cooking it with protein), the bromelain is neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple pieces or simmering crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.

Fresh = Assemble & bake immediately.  Canned = Can be assembled a day ahead.

IMG_5684Oh my Thai chicken & pineapple-fried-rice casserole:

IMG_56314  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, diced into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces 

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

8-12  small, minced, bird chile peppers, more or less, your heat choice

1  ounce cilantro, some leaves and some stems

2  20-ounce cans sliced pineapple, packed in 100% juice, well-drained (1 can puréed in food a processor, 1 can diced into bite-sized pieces

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

8  ounces whole, unsalted cashews, roasted on center rack of 350º oven oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly-toasted and fragrant, or, "dry-fried" in a skillet or wok*

1/4  cup sesame oil

1  teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 cans (1 can + 1/2 can) from 2, 14 1/2-cans coconut milk

3  tablespoons Maggi seasoning

6  tablespoons Squid brand fish sauce

6  tablespoons light brown sugar

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole (Note:  Use 1, 4-quart casserole, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, not, a 3-quart 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.)

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice

1/4-1/2  cup additional minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623~Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed:  Trim and dice chicken tenders into bite-sized, 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  Thinly-slice white and light green parts of green onions and mince the bird chiles.  Mince cilantro — prep and set aside some additional minced cilantro, for garnish, as well.

IMG_5602 IMG_5602 IMG_5602 IMG_5602~Step 2.  Place 1 can of the pineapple slices in a food processor fitted with steel blade and purée (there will be about 1 1/2 cups). Dice second can of pineapple into bite-sized pieces (there will be about 2 cups).  Roast cashews on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12 minutes, stopping to stir about every 5 minutes, or, "dry-fry" in a skillet or wok:

6a0120a8551282970b019103c69803970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e2616f970c*Note:  In Asian cuisines, the method of quickly-cooking an ingredient, be it nuts, seeds, meat or even seafood, without adding oil or fat to the wok or skillet is referred to as "dry frying".  I mention this so if you come across a recipe that instructs to "dry-fry cashews", you will understand the process.

IMG_5641~ Step 4.  Start the rice to steaming just prior to cooking the chicken mixture.  By the time the rice is done, the chicken will be done too. 

Using the cup/measure from the steamer, place the rice in steamer. Using the same cup/measure add 4 cups cold water and give it a quick stir. Turn steamer on. When rice steamer shuts off (which takes about 15-18 minutes depending upon how much rice being steamed), open the lid and rake through ice with a fork to separate the grains.  While the rice is steaming, cook the chicken mixture.

IMG_5633 IMG_5633 IMG_5633~ Step 3.  Heat sesame oil in a large 14” skillet.  Stir in the white pepper and add the chicken, scallions and bird chiles.  Increase heat to sauté until chicken is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook or brown.

IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5658 IMG_5658~Step 4.  Stir in the pineapple purée, coconut milk, Maggi seasoning, fish sauce and sugar. Adjust heat to simmer gently and continue to cook until mixture is foamy around the edges, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and stovetop.

IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5674~Step 5.  Stir in the diced pineapple, cashews, raisins and cilantro.  In large scoopfuls, add and fold all the steamed rice into the chicken mixture in pan.  Allow to sit in pan, 10-15 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Rice will absorb excess liquid and mixture will thicken.  Transfer to a 4-quart casserole* or two 2-quart casseroles* sprayed with no stick cooking spray.

Note:  I recommend using clear glass casserole(s) in order to clearly monitor browning process.

IMG_5683 IMG_5683 IMG_5683Step 6.  Spray 1-2 pieces foil with cooking spray. Place foil, prayed side down, over casseroles and seal foil tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 more minutes, or until lightly-browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Work this main-dish casserole into your family's meal rotation:

IMG_5701Or make & share with friends at your next get-together:

IMG_5704Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 4-quarts; 16 cups; 16-20 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, food processor, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, skillet or wok; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon 4-quart casserole dish, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, preferably clear glass; electric rice steamer; fork; aluminum foil

IMG_5282Cook's Note:  In Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as street food.  This doesn't mean they're inferior,  it means they're different from what we purchase in America. In my Thai-American version of another Thai classic, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.  To learn more, click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

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