Traditionally, chicken is used for this dish, but Chris Yeo, chef-owner of the Straits Cafe, and I experimented with Cornish game hens and came up with this winning combination.
Cut hens in half, lengthwise. Pierce birds all over with a fork; set aside in a large deep bowl.
The rempah: Fold the lime leaves in half, then tear off the central vein. Cut the leaves into very fine shreds; set aside.
Combine the candlenuts, lemon grass, shallots, garlic, chiles and turmeric in a blender or food processor; process into a smooth paste. If needed, add a tablespoon or so of water to facilitate the blending.
Pour the spice paste into a large bowl. Before opening, shake the can of coconut milk well. Then stir the coconut milk into the spice paste along with the sugar, salt and lime leaf shreds; mix thoroughly. (Makes about 3 1/2 cups).
Pour 1 1/2 cups of the rempah over the birds; marinate at least 30 minutes. Reserve remaining marinade. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Remove hens from marinade and scrape off excess marinade.
Place hens skin-side up on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let birds remain in oven for 5 minutes longer. Remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, set a wok over medium heat. Add the oil and the reserved rempah. Gently fry the paste, stirring frequently, until it emulsifies with the oil. Continue frying until fragrant and the mixture takes on a rich orange color and a porridge-like consistency, about 8 minutes.
The rempah is ready when the oil seeps from mixture and has an orange hue. (Spoon off and discard excess oil.) Keep sauce warm. Grill birds over glowing red coals until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Pour the sauce over the hens and serve with a squeeze of fresh lime.
Tips--Joyce says that the 1/3 cup vegetable oil is *necessary* to get the right result so don't skimp. To make the rempah, add the hardest ingredients to the food processor or blender first and then the rest in order of softness. A smooth paste is what you should end up with.
She also mentions that just prior to frying the rempah, you can fry up some fresh chili paste to give the dish some zing. I'd us sambal oelek for this or the Vietnamese tuong ot toi. No candlenuts? Use macadamias instead.
Joyce Jue writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, 6/24/92.