recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

The changing of the gado

I hate almost everything about gado gado. The mismatched textures of sodden potatoes and boiled eggs, and the random selection of raw and cooked vegetables. Bean shoots, I struggle with at the best of times. But overcooked bean shoots would have to be my least favourite thing to eat.

Then there is peanut sauce, which is often just peanut butter thinned out with water and sweet soy sauce. It’s so dominant and rich and usually slathered over everything on the plate. Don’t get me wrong: I have had some good gado gado. But mostly not.

This recipe is based on gado gado in premise, but it is mercifully far from it in reality. I’ve added some chicken and worked with a combination of vegetables that I feel gives it a more balanced texture.

There are no real rules other than common sense when it comes to texture. With this, it was a process of elimination. I made it first with boiled eggs and potatoes, but I found there was too much going on. I was looking for something to support the subtle flavour of the chicken and kept cutting back on ingredients until that came through.

Knowing when to stop is the key to a good salad. Too many textures and flavours become confused. A great example of a perfect salad is tomato, mozzarella and basil, dressed with only olive oil. Please don’t put balsamic vinegar anywhere near this.

Simplicity is sometimes the hardest thing in a kitchen. There is so much temptation to add things, but the best food happens when flavours have nowhere to hide. Restraint is a great way to find the core of a dish. This comes with confidence and experience, which is another way of saying trial and error.

The chicken and fish sauce can be omitted from this recipe. I call for poached or steamed chicken, but leftover roast chicken is fine as well. Often if I am roasting a chicken, I will roast two. It’s no more work and I like to have a bit of spare roast chicken around for sandwiches or, in rare cases, gado gado-inspired salads.

Final note: peanut sauce should be added in small amounts while dressing the salad. Taste as you go to make sure it does not become overpowering or sodden or too much like gado gado.

Vegetable salad with peanut sauce

Serves 4

– 2 handfuls green beans 

– 2 handfuls spinach 

– 1 handful bean shoots

– 100g firm tofu, cut into matchsticks

– ½ Lebanese cucumber, cut into thumb-sized pieces

– 2 chicken legs, poached or steamed

– 2 fresh chillies, seeded and cut into strips

– 2 tbsp fried shallots 

– a few sprigs purslane (optional)

Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to the boil. 

Plunge the beans into the water until they are cooked but still retain some crunch. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon or skimmer and plunge them into a bowl of ice water until cool. Drain and set aside.

Next, blanch the spinach leaves in the boiling water for a few seconds, then cool in ice water. Squeeze the water out of the leaves and set the spinach aside.

Dunk the bean shoots in boiling water for a few seconds only, drain and set aside.

Shred the chicken meat into strips.

Arrange the beans, spinach, bean shoots, tofu, cucumber and chicken on a serving dish and top with purslane, chilli shreds and fried shallots. Serve the peanut sauce (recipe below) alongside.

Peanut sauce

– 75g peanuts

– 2 tbsp vegetable oil

– 2 shallots, minced

– 1 clove garlic, minced

– 2 tsp sriracha sauce or sambal oelek

– 1½ tsp sugar

– 1 tbsp fish sauce

– ½ tbsp kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy)

– 200ml coconut milk

Toast the peanuts in the oven until they are golden. When they cool, use a mortar and pestle to pound them to a coarse powder. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the shallots and garlic until golden-brown.

Add the rest of the ingredients, including the pounded peanuts, and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. 

Wine pairing:

2014 Patrick Sullivan Breakfast Wine, Yarra Valley ($40)  – Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 21, 2015 as "The changing of the gado". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.