This dish is one of my fond memories of four years spent in Saipan. Local celebrations always included chicken kelaguen, red rice, empanadas, pancit, and other delicious island foods.
Traditional kelaguen starts with a whole chicken, cut in half or in pieces, that has been grilled till cooked but still juicy. Then you combine the remaining ingredients and stir with the chicken and let it stand and cool for an hour or so. To enjoy, put some into a tortilla and wrap it up and eat it. The sweet fresh coconut balances the heat of the peppers and the tartness of the limes.
Fresh coconut is key, so don’t buy sweetened flake or frozen coconut, which has added sugar.To open the coconut, drill some holes in the end where the three indentations are located—a 1/4-inch drill bit works well—and turn the nut over to drain the liquid. You can also use a hammer and a large nail, but Michael enjoyed getting out the drill for this. Then wrap the nut in a towel and pound it a few times with a hammer until it breaks into several large pieces. Pry the meat out of the shell with a small knife.
I have to agree with Santos at The Scent of Green Bananas: grilling the chicken over charcoal renders the best flavor for this dish, but it still tastes great if you use a gas grill or if you broil or bake in the oven.
[Updated March 26, 2010.]
CHICKEN KELAGUEN (KELAGUEN MANNOK)
Adapted from the Saipan Community School Cookbook, 1986.
cleaver or meat grinder
juicer or reamer
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, or 3 pounds (~1.3 kilos) boneless, skinless chicken breast
juice of 4 limes (or more to taste)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 coconut, grated
sea salt, to taste
3 or 4 Thai hot peppers, finely chopped (or other small red hot peppers)
1. Grill chicken pieces for 10 minutes on one side and then turn and grill 5 more minutes. Remove from grill and allow to cool a few minutes so that you don’t burn yourself. Remove skin and bones and finely chop or grind the meat.
2. In the large bowl, stir together chicken, juice, coconut, salt, onions, and peppers. Let stand 1 hour. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature wrapped in tortillas.
Broil: Use your oven broiler to cook the meat following the same directions as for grilling.
Bake: Preheat oven to 350° F and bake in foil-lined 9×13 pan for about 30 minutes. Don’t over cook; you want the meat to retain it’s juices.
Other peppers: I like to add finely chopped green and red bell pepper for additional color.