Chicken wrapped in pandan leaf

20 March 2018

Chicken wrapped in pandan leaf

Did you ever have that thing where you discovered something new - and then found that everybody else already knew about it? I had that recently with this recipe. I’ve been reading up on Thai food, amongst other food-related things, and came across the pandan leaf. Here, it’s used to wrap marinated chicken - it acts both as a parcel but also a flavouring, as some of the taste of the leaf gets passed to the food. I hadn’t come across it before, so I got some - readily available from an Asian supermarket in Chinatown (but also online, if you want to give it a go).

It was only at that point that I read that apparently just last year Nigella Lawson had suggested that pandan leaves would be the next big trend in the foodie community. So that’s me - blundering in the tail of celebrity-inspired trends completely oblivious to my late-arrival status. To be fair, her comments came as a result of noticing Americans were cooking with pandan essence as an ingredient. That’s not quite the same as getting to grips with the leaf itself. That’s what I say, anyway.

I won’t lie to you - it can be a little tricky getting the hang of wrapping the chicken in the leaves. I did what any sensible person would (at least one who didn’t have a Thai foodie friend to demonstrate) - I sought out a video on YouTube that demonstrated it. I had to discard a few sadly mangled leaves after failed attempts, but gradually the success rate crept up. I imagine if I did this every day for a month, why I’d be quite good at it.

These are a snack - a tasty starter, or just something to share with a group of friends. And they are delicious. I’m not certain how much the pandan actually contributes to the flavour though it definitely turns it into theatre. Breaking apart the deep-friend parcels to extract the chicken from within is what makes the experience. Street food at its finest.

The other slightly obscure ingredient is coriander roots. You can get these online, or if you have one of the potted coriander plants you can get from the supermarket, you can dig some of those up, wash the compost off the roots and use those.

Chicken wrapped in pandan leaf

This is classic Thai street food, and there are various versions available online. This one is very lightly adapted from the Food of the World cookbook.

Serves: 2-4

5 coriander roots, cleaned and roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into 25 cubes
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1.5 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon plain flour
25 pandan leaves
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
chilli sauce, to serve


Put the coriander roots, garlic, white pepper and some sea salt in a pestle and mortar and bash them into a paste. In a bowl, put the cubed chicken, oyster sauce, sesame oil, flour and the paste and mix them all together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and allow the chicken to marinate in the fridge for several hours.

Bend one of the pandan leaves, making a cup. Put a piece of the marinated chicken in the fold and wrap the leaf around to create a tie. It’s hard to describe this in words alone, so you might want to check out a video demonstrating the technique. It’s good to leave a long tail so you can lower them into the oil and then retrieve them. If you prefer to trim them, you can simply use a slotted spoon to retrieve them when they’re cooked. Repeat until you’ve used all the chicken. 

Heat the oil to a medium heat until a segment of leaf sizzles immediately when dropped into it. Lower some of the parcels into the oil and deep-fry for 7-10 minutes. Lift them out and drain. Cook them in batches, keeping the cooked ones warm, and then serve with a chilli dipping sauce. To eat, you simply unwrap and discard the parcels and dip the chicken.