Bacem is a Javanese deep-fried dish of chicken, tofu, or tempeh. The cooking method started as a means to preserve food. Chicken, tofu, and tempeh are first simmered in spice broth until fully cooked, tender, and the spices absorbed.
The cooked proteins last much longer compared to uncooked ones, and they can be stored in the fridge for future consumption.
On the day you plan to serve the dish, return the cooked chicken, tofu, and tempeh to room temperature. Deep fry in hot oil until golden brown and crispy on the outside, but still tender and juicy inside.
I serve bacem with some sambal terasi mixed with Indonesian sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) and a squeeze of lime.
We will need chicken, firm/extra-firm tofu, shallots, garlic, candlenuts, coriander, galangal, palm sugar, salt, daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves), coconut water, and water.
For the chicken, it is traditional to use one whole chicken cut up into 8-12 pieces. Or you can use all drumsticks or a mix of thighs and drumsticks.
Since some of the ingredients can be harder to procure, I’ll list their substitutes should you need them.
1. Prepare spice paste
Grind shallots, garlic, candlenuts, and galangal in a food processor into a smooth paste.
2. Mix spice broth
Transfer spice paste into a soup pot. Add coriander, palm sugar, salt, Indonesian bay leaves, coconut water, and water. Stir to mix.
3. Boil chicken and tofu
Add chicken and tofu into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, partially covered with a lid, until the sauce reduces, the chicken and tofu are tender.
4. Strain chicken and tofu
Strain chicken and tofu until dry to touch before frying.
1. Heat a pot of oil
Place two to three inches of oil in a pot for deep frying. Heat over medium heat until the oil is hot. If you have a thermometer, wait until the oil reaches 170 Celsius (340 Fahrenheit).
2. Fry chicken and tofu
Fry chicken and tofu for about 2-3 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown and crispy.
3. Drain excess oil
Place fried chicken and tofu over a wire rack to remove excess oil.
The beauty of bacem is how they are easy to make ahead. You can boil the chicken and tofu ahead of time, strain, and store in the fridge in an air-tight container until ready to serve.
On the day you wish to serve the dish, remove as much chicken and tofu as you need from the fridge and return them to room temperature. Prepare a pot of oil and deep fry them right before serving.