Around this time last year, on those days when wedding planning became just a little too overwhelming, Nathan and I would throw aside our spreadsheets and daydream about our honeymoon instead. Narrowing down our options to a shortlist of destinations turned out to be surprisingly easy since it just so happened that at the top of both of our respective “Places to Travel Next” lists were Spain and southeast Asia. Clearly, we are meant for each other, no? ^_^

Deciding between the two places, however, proved much more difficult.

We consulted friends every chance we got. One of the guys at our favorite sushi spot in the city argued adamantly that we simply must go to Spain, and in particular, Barcelona. A few years ago, he had planned a trip all around Spain starting at Barcelona. Two days after arriving, he tore up his original itinerary and spent the entire vacation in Barcelona. How can we argue with that? Spain, here we come!

Until, that is, we met a couple of family friends for brunch. In the great “Where should Nathan and Angi go for honeymoon” debate of 2009, they were solidly in the opposing camp. As they described the food they ate on their trips to southeast Asia, I had to stop myself from suggesting that we abandoned our eggs benedict and waffles to find some rendang…stat!

In the end, we resorted to pure logistics. With most of my family in Hong Kong, we foresee many trips to Asia in our future and it would be quite easy to take side trips to southeast Asia then. So with that… Vamonos a España!

Just because we haven’t made it to southeast Asia in person yet doesn’t mean we cannot make our apartment smell almost like a kitchen in Indonesia. After some quality time on the internet (mostly by Nathan, who also did pretty much all the cooking for this – lucky me!), we’re armed with a bunch of rendang recipes for inspiration. Rendang originated in Indonesia but has spread to Malaysia and Singapore. It uses many of the same ingredients as a normal curry but the end result is something much drier than a curry, so that the meat is coated in a thick, super flavorful spice crust.

The idea is to make a spice paste with coconut milk, simmer the whole thing until all the water evaporates from the sauce, and let the meat fry in the leftover oil. More often than not, rendang is made with beef. But once you see this photo over on Serious Eats, I hope you will agree that we made the right choice in opting for chicken this time around.

Adapted from this recipe from Serious Eats. Tamarind concentrate and kaffir lime leaves are available at Asian and Indian markets. We usually buy the Maeploy or Chaokoh brands of coconut milk (also at Asian markets), which separate into a cream layer on top and clear liquid below as long as you don’t shake it up. If your coconut milk is not separated, just ignore the part about adding the cream and the clear liquid separately.

3 lb whole chicken, or equivalent amounts of your favorite chicken pieces
1 cup dried coconut, shredded, grated, or flaked
2-inch piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
5 Thai chilies (less if you’re sensitive to spiciness)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 stalks of fresh lemongrass
3 shallots, peeled and halved
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 cinnamon sticks, each about 4 inches long
4 star anise
1 15-oz can of coconut milk
1.5 tsp turmeric
1 tsp tamarind concentrate (e.g. Tamicon)
3 kaffir lime leaves, slivered
palm sugar or regular sugar
fish sauce
handful of cilantro, chopped

If using a whole chicken, break it down and cut into 10-12 pieces. Pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet, toast the coconut for about 10 min until browned. If the coconut is not finely shredded, transfer to a food processor and pulse until you have small pieces. Set aside.

Remove the darker top parts of the lemongrass and discard. Slice the rest of the white/light green stalk into small pieces. Combine galangal/ginger, chilies, garlic, lemongrass, and shallots in food processor. Pulse until you have a thick, chunky paste, adding small amounts of water as necessary.

Heat oil in the same pan over medium high heat. Add cinnamon sticks and star anise, and stir for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Add all the curry paste and saute for another 2 min. Add in the coconut cream and saute for another 2 min. Add in the rest of the coconut milk, the lime leaves, most of the toasted coconut (save a bit for garnish), turmeric, and tamarind concentrate. Bring the mixture to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with sugar and fish sauce as needed. Simmer the sauce for 20 min, uncovered.

Add the chicken pieces to the pan and stir to coat. Simmer uncovered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally about every 20-30 min. You want most of the liquid to evaporate so that you’re left with the bubbling coconut oil and the chicken is basically frying in the oil. Taste again and see if you want to add a little more salt. Turn down the heat and let the chicken brown in the oil for another 15-20 min, stirring every 5 min or so.

Garnish with the reserved toasted coconut and some chopped cilantro. Serve with rice.

(Makes 6-8 servings)