Saipan is the largest island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands but it is only 12 miles by 6 miles. However, the island has an amazing history which has resulted in an interesting mix of foods. My husband, John and I, stayed at the beautiful Hyatt Hotel where Chef Zenn, Chef de Cuisine, explained that, “On the north, south, east and west of the island the food is slightly different because it depends on which group - Chomarro, Carolinan, Spanish, German, Japanese, or American – influenced the cooks.” Saipan Chicken Kelaguen is a simple dish that reflects the complex history of the Mariana Islands. Where this dish that uses lemon to marinate or “cook” the fish, chicken or meat originated is hard to tell but similar dishes are found in the Philippines, Malaysia and South American. It is considered to have originated in Southeast Asia and most likely spread by sailors and traders throughout the Pacific and then to the Americas. Each area has put its own special spin on it.
In Saipan and the rest of the Marianas it is considered their signature dish and is quite versatile as it can be served cold or at room temperature. It can be a meal or an appetizer. The recipe is great because shrimp, fish and beef can be substituted, even leftovers from a turkey dinner can become a kelaguen dish. Locals also make it with spam which is quite popular in Asia. Chef Zenn, Chef de Cuisine, taught us how to make kelaguen which is usually served with Chamorro Sweet Coconut Flat bread.
Saipan Chicken Kelaguen
200 grams chicken thighs, grilled, chopped (can use leftovers)
20 grams fresh coconut, grated
3 medium local lemons, juiced
10 grams pickled red ginger, shredded
10 grams scallions, chopped fine
3 red chilies, chopped or ground
Salt to taste and marinate
Marinate chicken with salt then grill on an open fire until done (bake, broil or boil works well, too). Prepare other ingredients while cooking chicken and set aside. Once chicken is cooked cool down and then chop with a knife or mince in a robo coupe. Place in a mixing bowl then add lemon juice, chili, and half of the ginger, coconut and scallions, toss well, and be sure not to mash the chicken. Adjust seasoning according to taste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and place in a clean serving bowl, garnish with the rest of the ginger, coconut and scallions. Serve with coconut flat bread.
Chamorro Sweet Coconut Flat Bread
First, combine in a large stainless steel mixing bowl:
¼ cup White Sugar
1 lb. Bread Flour 1 tsp.
Baking Powder (double-acting)
In a separate bowl mix the following ingredients and allow to sit for five minutes:
½ Tbs. Instant Active Dry Yeast 1 cup
2 Tbs. Coconut Milk
Pinch salt (kosher)
Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients pour in the coconut yeast liquid. Gently knead the dough, about five minutes, until it forms slightly firm dough. Allow the dough to rest for thirty minutes at room temperature then divide the dough into eight equal portions. Form into round patties and dust with flour to prevent sticking. Place the dough in a flat bottom container and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for the second time for one hour. Prepare a heavy bottom skillet such as a cast iron pan over a medium low heat until thoroughly heated. Roll out the dough flat until ¼ inch thick. Prick with a fork one inch spacing between. Place the flat bread dough on the grill, two minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Brush with clarified butter or coconut oil. Test to see if it hollow by tapping it with a spatula indicating it is done.
Chef Zenn who usually works the Hyatt’s Teppanyaki restaurant has a wonderful witty banter while cooking. When I asked why he chose to be a chef he explained, “It is only place where I can play with knives and fire and not get into trouble.”
One of the ethnic groups of food I know the least about is Japanese cuisine. There is a world of flavors beyond miso soup, tempura, sushi and sashimi. The Saipan Hyatt has a very popular Japanese restaurant, The Miyako. During lunch, Chef Joseph introduced me to some new Japanese dishes. I was surprised to learn than curry dishes are very popular. The curry chicken tastes just like the curry dishes in India which made sense when I learned that curry was introduced into Japan by the British in the late 1800s. Chef Joseph said one of his favorite dishes is Nikku-Jyaga. Mine, too. It is a beef stew with a lighter more delicate flavor as it has a touch of fresh ginger and glass noodles.
On Sunday folks flock to the Hyatt’s brunch which is one of the biggest in the Marianas. It is the first time I saw a whole roasted pig on a buffet and such a wide selection of fresh seafood with a chocolate fountain and dessert table to match. Especially decadent was the Boca Negra. My raving resulted in an invitation to meet Chef Desman, the Pastry Chef, to learn how to make it.
Boca Negra – Black Mouth 4 pound cake loaf
750 grams dark chocolate
450 grams unsalted butter
50 milliliters amaretto liqueur
660 grams sugar
30 grams flour
Melt chocolate and butter. Dissolve half of sugar with amaretto and mix into the chocolate mixture. Set aside. Beat egg with remaining sugar until fluffy. Fold in flour and mix with chocolate mixture. Mix well. Pour into a pound cake loaf pan. Bake with bain-marie or place cake pan in roasting pan then carefully pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about one inch from the top of the cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes at which time the top will` have a thin, dry crust. Remove from oven and take from water pan and remove from cake pan. Saipan is the perfect destination: a sandy beach, the ocean, a free-form pool surrounded by a tropical garden, amazing historical sites, and a plethora of culinary delights.