Guamanian Cuisine — Chicken Tinaktak: Ground Chicken in Coconut Milk with Vegetables

A favorite food of many Guamanians is tinaktak, a half stew, half stir fry where ground beef is browned then simmered in coconut milk with vegetables until everything is tender.  Neither of us had ever encountered the dish (or Guamanian food at all, really) until a fateful Spring weekend in 2010.  Chris was invited to help prepare the food for the annual Seattle University Marianas Club Fiesta, a celebration of local Marianas Islander culture.  The event featured traditional dancing and music, several speakers on various Marianas Islands matters, and of course a gigantic feast.

More Guamanian dishes on The World Cup of Food:

  • Red rice, rice flavored with brick-red achiote (with Guamanian cuisine overview)
  • Chicken Kelaguen, chicken marinated in citrus juice and spices

The Marianas Club cooks prepared red rice and chicken kelaguen in mind-boggling quantities, offering tastes all along the way.  The flavors were all familiar but in novel combinations, but the crowning achievement was the tinaktak.  Tender beef, silky coconut milk and crunchy green beans met to make something great.  A few years later when we created The World Cup of Food, we knew tinaktak would be on the menu eventually.

Ground beef is the most popular version, but Guamanian cooks do not hold rigidly to ground beef and enjoy occasional experimentation with the dish.  Recipes substituting ground pork are fairly common.  The Guamanian food blog The Scent of Green Bananas even has a ground turkey version, but by far the most common alternative is ground chicken tinaktak (recipe follows).  We borrowed bits and pieces from different sources, but we steadfastly held on to one detail: the Marianas Club put green beans and sliced radishes in its tinaktak, and so would we.

Chicken tinaktak

adapted from LadyFromGuam’s recipe on Food.com, The Scent of Green Bananas, and the Seattle University Marianas Club

SERVES 2 TO 4

  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 3/4 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1/4 pound fresh green beans, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 3 or 4 radishes, sliced very thinly
  • 2 green onions, sliced

To serve:

  • Long-grain rice, cooked
  • fina’dene (scroll to end of post of recipe) to taste

Tinaktak comes together quickly, much like a stir-fry, so just like when cooking a stir-fry we prepped all of our ingredients in advance:

tinaktakingredientsprepped

Next we heated a non-stick pan over medium-low heat.  Once hot we added some oil and the onions:

onionsinpan

…and sauteed, stirring frequently (in theory; in practice we ended up stirring a little too infrequently and browning our onions bit too much on one side) until brown, about eight minutes:

onionsbrowned
They’re a little dark, but no one will know once they’re swimming in delicious coconut milk.

Next we added the garlic and ginger and stirred until the new ingredients were fragrant (but not long enough for them to get crispy), about a minute-and-a-half or so:

garlicandgingeradded

At this point we were ready for the ground chicken:

chickeninpan

…which was stirred over the heat almost constantly, breaking up the chunks as much as we could with a wooden spoon:

breakingupchicken

…until the chicken was fully cooked and beginning to brown, about four minutes:

chickenfullycooked

Next went in the beans, which were sauteed with the chicken just long enough to not be raw anymore, maybe a minute or so:

greenbeansadded

The coconut milk was next:

coconutmilkadded

Our tinaktak was simmered slowly for about eight minutes, or until the sauce had thickened slightly and taken on a brown color from the chicken and onions:

coconutmilkthickened

Finally, our garnishes of sliced radishes and green onions were added and stirred into the tinaktak off the heat:

garnishedadded

Guamanian food is often accompanied by the table condiment fina’dene, a spicy mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, and chiles.  We put our fina’dene over our rice as a side dish, though it could also be used right on top of the tinaktak:

tinaktakwithfinedene

Just like when we made it to go with our chicken kelguen, the fina’dene added a perfect combination of spicy, salty, and sour to our rice.  Our tinaktak was rich and silky in texture with a surprising degree of meatiness considering its ground chicken base, probably bolstered by the browned onions.  The green beans were tender but still just a little crunchy and the garlic and ginger flavors gave the dish a little bit of a Southeast Asian feel.  The dish was not at all greasy, a common issue with the ground beef version.

Guamanian cuisine has put its best foot forward with tinaktak; will it be enough to topple its final qualifying round opponent Singapore?  We will know soon.

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