Chicken and Straw Mushrooms in Coconut Milk

It’s a variation of the traditional guinataang make–a quickie version, that is. A panic-time version, even. There was too little time and a pack of boneless chicken thighs would thaw faster than a whole chicken. I had no tomatoes but I had both green and red bell pepper. The contents of a pack of boneless chicken thighs wouldn’t have been enough to feed five people so into the dish went a can of straw mushrooms. Despite all the limitations, this dish of chicken and straw mushrooms in coconut milk turned out fine.

The thing is, really, never to be afraid to experiment. I simply hate it when people insist that there is only a certain way to cook a dish. Or that a dish is all wrong unless it does not have all the traditional ingredients in the “proper” proportions. Phooey! It is you who will eat what you cook so never mind about other people’s prejudices and superstitions. Let them be with their myopia.

Finely mince the garlic. Thinly slice the onion. Core, remove the seeds, and dice the green and red bell peppers. Do the same with the chili pepper. If you’re using fresh or canned coconut milk, you can discard the mushroom water. However, if you’re using powdered coconut milk, disperse it in the mushroom water for maximum flavor.

Heat the vegetable cooking oil in a saute pan or wok. Add the chicken strips and stir fry until the edges start to brown. Most Filipinos always add the garlic and onion to the oil first but don’t do that with this dish. If you do, the onion will sweat and its moisture will prevent the chicken strips from browning nicely. Worse, the garlic and onion will be burnt before the chicken strips start to brown. So, forget what the oldies say that the garlic and onion should always go first. That’s not a cooking commandment that can’t be broken. There are no commandments in the kitchen.

Okay, so, when the chicken strips start to brown around the edges, add the minced garlic, sliced onion, and diced peppers. Season with patis and cook until the vegetables start to soften. Do not cook them to sogginess though. At this stage, the chicken strips are almost done. Pour in the coconut milk, add the straw mushrooms, and taste the sauce. Add more patis if necessary. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the coconut milk is slightly reduced and thickened about seven minutes.