Monday, March 16, 2015

Chicken Salad Islander Style

The Northern Mariana Islands is one of the US's five territories. It's close to Guam which is also part of the Mariana Island group that include a section of Micronesia. Unlike Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands have a Commonwealth status. Puerto Rico is the only other US territory that has this, and it means that they are self-governed under their own constitution. The nation is made up of 15 islands, only three of which are inhabited. Over 29% of the population is Filipino, making it the largest ethnic group. Chinese comes in second with a little over 22% of the 53,000 inhabitants. The natives of the islands are Chamorro, and they only make up 21%. Other groups include the Carolinians who came over in the 1800s, Micronesians, Japanese, and Palauans. Although they are technically part of the US, 86% of the Islanders speak a language other than English at home. The three official languages are English, Chamorro, and Carolinian, but according to the ethnicity statistics, I'm sure that Filipino and Chinese are well represented languages. Lately the population has been decreasing drastically. It went from 77,000 to 53,800 between 2007 and 2010. This is due to the poor economy and all the issues that have been brought up surrounding the recession.

The cuisine of the Northern Mariana Islands is very similar to that of Guam because of their close proximity and similar ethnic backgrounds. Filipino, Japanese, Spanish, and American cuisines all have had their influence on the Chamorro's cooking styles. Spam and hot sauce are two very common menu ingredients, but I decided to steer clear of these US imports (that might not actually be food at all) and lean towards more of an authentic island menu.

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Titiyas siha (the plural version of titiya) are almost identical to their Latin American cousin, the corn tortilla. The word “titiya” was the Chamorro version of “tortilla” if you can tell by the similar pronunciation.  Both are made from lime treated corn flour, or masa harina. Both are rolled out flat and then cooked over an open flame on a pan called a comal (in Latin America) or a kommat (in the Mariana Islands). Unlike tortillas, though, titiyas siha are commonly cut into triangles and served alongside dishes such as Kelaguen Mannok. Traditionally a banana leaf is used in the process of making the titiyas siha to help roll it out and transfer it to the kommat. You can also find coconut titiyas siha which are sweet and contain wheat flour. I didn't think that they would go too well with the chicken salad, so I stuck with the original corn version.

 
Titiyas
makes 7-8
1 cup masa harina
7 ounces warm water
¼ tsp salt

Mix the salt and water together. Slowly add in the masa until a soft dough has formed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 10 minutes. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Separate the dough into 7-8 balls. Press them flat between two sheets of plastic wrap (I used a large oatmeal container lid to make the perfect circular shape) or by using a tortilla press. Gently place one titiyas at a time onto the preheated pan. Cook for a minute or so and flip. Continue to flip every 45 seconds or so until both sides are golden. Serve warm.
 

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Kelaguen is a popular Chamorro dish that can be made out of chicken, spam, beef, or seafood. The latter two rely solely on the lime juice to cook them, but the chicken version is grilled for health reasons. I decided to go with the chicken since I am not partial to completely raw meat unless it is prepared correctly. (At this point I do not trust myself to do that with the meat from Kroger.) Kelaguen is simple to make, and it is great party food or an easy dinner for a Mariana Islands themed weeknight.
 
Kelaguen Mannok
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded/ flaked coconut (preferably fresh)
juice of 4 limes
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
6 green onions, sliced
4 birdseye chili peppers, finely chopped

Mix together the chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic powder in a large plastic bag or bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Preheat your grill or broiler. Cook the chicken for about 6 minutes per side, or until it registers on a thermometer to 165 degrees and there is no pink in the middle. Allow the chicken to cool slightly, and then finely chop it up. Add the onions, chicken, green onions, coconut, chilies, and lime juice to a bowl. Stir until everything is well mixed, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve with a titya and perhaps some red rice and fina'denne.

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Kelaguen mannok took chicken salad to the max with the island flavors of zesty lime and sweet coconut. The marinated chicken was delicious and tender, and the onions added little pops of flavor. Can you tell that I was a big fan? The titiyas siha were delicious as well. They turned out to be the best corn tortillas that I have ever made. (I guess practice makes perfect.) So much better than my ugly pupusas from El Salvador. I also thought my final presentation of the dish was really pretty. The way that I laid out the titiya triangles with the chicken salad in the center looks quite appealing, don't you think?
 

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