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Sri Lankan Devilled Chicken

18/02/2014 12:08 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

Sweet, sour, devilishly hot but full of complex flavours. I ate quite a few of these in Sri Lanka and this one just about measures up. It took me quite a few goes to get it right because it's all about the balance.

Try to find my choice of chilli and chilli and garlic sauce in your nearest Chinese supermarket or sub in your own favourite but make sure you the dish taste as you go as you don't want to under or over-spice it. Pre-frying the chicken gives the dish a fantastic texture. Get the timing right so your onion retains a bit of bite whilst being palatably soft and don't add the tomato too soon as it shouldn't be mushy.

Judge the sauce so there's enough to hold everything together without being sloppy.

Feeds 2

2 skinless chicken breasts (350-400g combined weight)

Marinade

1 teaspoon hot red chilli powder

1 teaspoon hot sweet smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep frying the chicken pieces

2 plump cloves of garlic

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger

½ large red chilli (or to taste)

1 onion, peeled

2 tablespoons groundnut or other flavourless oil for stir-frying

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2 teaspoons malt vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons chilli and garlic sauce (I used Yeo's)

1 tablespoon hot chilli sauce (I used Sriracha)

2-3 teaspoons pickled jalapenos

1 large tomato cut into 6 segments

Salt

A lime, segmented for squeezing

Long grain white rice for serving

Prep

1. Marinade the chicken three hours before you want to cook (or even the night before).

2. Lay the skinless breasts on a board. Using a sharp knife, cut them into equal size chunks - (about 2 cm across) then tip them into a bowl. Wash your hands before handling the spices.

3. Sprinkle the marinade spices over the chicken. Add the lime juice. Stir to coat well. Cover the bowl and leave it to chill. Obviously the longer the time, the stronger the chilli taste.

4. Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking so it fries evenly.

5. Fetch and prep all your other ingredients before you start to cook.

6. Ginger and garlic: grate the ginger finely into a bowl. Crush in the garlic. Mix them together.

7. Sit the onion on a vegetable cutting board. Cut it in two from root to tip. Strip the skin away. Sit the halves cut side down. Cut each in two. Slice into thick-ish rings.

8. Wash and de-seed the red chili (or leave the seeds if you want searing heat). Dice it.

9. Cut the tomato and lime into segments. Wash the rice in a sieve.

10. Assemble your sauces. Put the water on to boil for the rice and add when appropriate.

Cook

11. Fry the chicken pieces. Pour the sunflower or vegetable oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Check it's no more than a third full as it will rise when you add the food. Heat the oil. You'll know it's ready to fry when a crumb of bread crisps to golden over a count of 1-10. Once you're at that heat, keep it steady, reducing or increasing slightly as you're cooking. Put a plate near the hob. Cover it with a piece of kitchen towel.

12. Using tongs, add a few pieces of meat at a time. Fry them steadily for a few minutes (3-4) until cooked through. Test one with a sharp knife to check it's white but juicy inside. Move to the plate to drain. Fry the rest in batches. Lightly salt the meat.

13. To bring it all together: put a wok or large frying pan on the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of groundnut oil. When hot, add the garlic and ginger. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon so it doesn't burn, cooking for a minute or so or until it starts to release its aroma.

14. Add the chilli. Keep stirring. Add the onion. Shift and stir everything round the pan. You want the onion to cook but not to disintegrate. Add the sauces, vinegar and sugar. Keep stirring. As it comes together into a red sauce add the chicken pieces, the jalapenos and the tomato. Stir for a minute and when the meat is hot and coated, the tomato just softening, taste for balance. It should taste sweet, sour, hot, not to acidic. Add extra sugar or vinegar/lime if the balance is out. Add a bit more chilli sauce if you think it needs more heat. Remove from the heat. Let it rest for a minute. Sprinkle with diced green chilli.

Plate

14. Drain your cooked rice. Pile it into 2 bowls. Spoon the chicken on top. Add a bit of lime.

Stir-fry option. If deep frying the chicken isn't a method you're happy with, stir-fry it. Marinate as above. Heat 3 tablespoons of ground nut oil in your wok. Stir-fry the chunks, turning regularly and check that they're cooked through. Remove. Proceed as above then re-introduce the chicken after the onion is cooked. The finished result won't have the layers of contrast but it's still good!

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