Cockfighting is an ancient Balinese tradition that thrives today in spite of a disapproving government. Most locals will tell you that the agreement with the authorities is more one of tacit compliance; carry on, but don’t make a noise about it. The bloody pastime is most widespread in Bali – the only Hindu island in the vast Indonesian archipelago – where it is performed in every village temple as a religious ceremony. These days, the sport is more often about money, with large sums won and lost in thousands of cockfights in Bali every year. Fights are quick and frenzied – mainly because of the large blades strapped to the cock’s already menacing feet – and often both competitors suffer the same fate. In this case, the last chicken standing is the winner. The losing cock belongs to the owner of its conqueror, who takes it home and cooks it in a traditional method. The adrenalin is said to enhance the flavour, making ‘Losing Chicken’ something of a delicacy.
Chips! correspondent and chef Andrew Kai visited a cockfight on a recent trip to Bali and returned with his own recipe for Losing Chicken, a phone full of photos and a 20 minute recording with a veteran of the cockfighting scene. Recorded in broken English in the back of a taxi bound for Denpasar airport, the transcript is best presented verbatim:
My name is Wayan Gede from Sayan. I’m 50 years old and now drive a taxi. I’ve had fifteen cocks for fighting but now I’m finished, because I never win (laughing). I’ve been fighting with cocks for 15 years. I lose because my brain is not completely thinking with chicken. Cocks not strong enough. Not the right cock. I buy my chicken in East Bali or Denpasar, usually a Balinese chicken. In the culture, if there is a ceremony in the temple there is always cockfighting. It is tradition. Not in the temple but outside. It is legal only for ceremonies. If I wear the traditional costume then the police won’t stop me. There is illegal cockfighting. A lot of gambling. Police do not normally stop, only in the bigger centres. They grow special chicken for cockfighting. They prepare the food for them with special vitamins and everything to make them strong. When they fight they use a knife strapped to their leg, so they must be strong. When the cock dies we can eat them. The owner of the winning cock has the right to the loser cock. I make chicken Betutu (smoked chicken). Many people like fighting cocks to eat. The winner brings the cock home. Then boils it. Then puts sauce all over it (marinade). Then boil again for 2/3 hours. Then we put vegetables like young jackfruit in the pot. Then leave for one day. Then in the morning you cook on fire. The taste is very, very nice. Delicious. Special taste. Warrior chicken. The broth to make soup is good too. In the tournament they sell many warrior chickens to eat too. They kill the cock on the side and prepare. Only men allowed in tournament. The cock lives a nice life. They eat corn and have a nice cage. If the cock has a nice son, say for example the winning cock has 10 hens but only one cock, that cock is special.
“Losing Chicken” by Andrew Kai
This is my rendition of the famous traditional ceremonial dish Ayam Betutu (smoked chicken). Instead of boiling it in water before the final grill, we are gonna poach it in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, water and spices until it’s just about done. The beauty of this is we can reduce the liquid at the end and use it as a sauce to dress the chicken and complement the rice. Note: if you can’t get a cock that’s been used in a fight and lost, any other free range happy chicken is good enough. Relax, that’s a joke.
1 Happy Chicken
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup white or rice vinegar
1 T chopped garlic
2 bay leaves
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 chopped shallots or 1 red onion
2 t shrimp paste (roasted)
Fingertip of galangal, ginger and fresh turmeric
3 red chillies, chopped
1 bruised lemongrass stalk
1 t palm sugar
1 t crushed peppercorns
2 t crushed coriander seed
2 t peanut oil
a splash of water and a pinch of salt
The first step is simple. Put all the ingredients for the brine into a big pot. Add the happy chicken and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer (nice rolling bubbles) for half an hour. Once that’s done, remove the chicken and, if you like, keep reducing the brine until it’s a saucy consistency.
The next step is the marinade. Chuck all the marinade ingredients into a blender and blitz until nice and creamy.
Rub the marinade all over the poached chicken. Use your hands. Pop it in a tray, cover with cling film and leave overnight in your fridge.
The following day you have two choices: either roast in a conventional oven or use your braai if you’re up for it. Once wrapped in foil the chicken is ready to roast or smoke. Set your oven to 150 degrees and roast for 4 hours. For the braai, you want a nice low consistent heat. Hold your hand over the coals and if you can count to 10 without burning, then you’re good to go. Pop the wrapped chicken over the coals and leave for 3-4 hours, regularly loading the braai with low burning charcoal or wood throughout. It’s labour intensive but definitely worth it. When time’s up, steam up some rice, heat up the sauce and chop up the chicken. Serve with some fresh chilli and quartered limes or lemons. That’s Losing Chicken for the win!
Andrew Kai is a cordon-bleu trained chef with a handful of food businesses in Cape Town. He spends a few months a year on the road eating his way to a deeper understanding of the world of food and the people who prepare it.
Matthew Freemantle is a writer who took the advice to make his bread and butter outside of writing very literally by opening a bagel shop in Cape Town.