Let’s fire up the grill, it’s tunu time!
Kelaguen and Tatiyas
Kelaguen is a signature dish, or staple as some may say, that is ALWAYS at any gathering in Chamorro culture. I learned how to make it at an early age, and have since been sharing it with friends everywhere I go, because chances are, they’ve never tasted anything like it. In addition to sharing it, I also often experiment with it, adding other flavors in from other cultures who have similar dishes in a quest for the ultimate kelaguen.
It can be eaten as a snack or as a main course, and also goes great as an accompaniment to beer, and is especially good when you’re huddled around the grill with some friends or family.
The flavor can be described as a marinade consisting of lemon, salt, and hot peppers. Many different types of meats can be used to make kelaguen, including chicken, beef, fish, shrimp, octopus, and even Spam! I encourage you to try different things, but that said – just make sure you actually cook the chicken if you choose to do it. Pork? I haven’t tried it, but if I did, I’d cook it, so be sure to cook it as well!
Tatiyas (pronounced tah-ti-jahs) is a flatbread made in Chamorro culture, which actually originates from the Spanish word “tortilla”, and can be prepared different ways to achieve different flavors from traditional flour to coconut flavored. I will be revisiting this recipe over time, trying different things, but for now, you can consider this the simplest and most basic, although very tasty version.
What makes tatiyas special for me is that it’s cooked on a grill as I’ve been exposed to, and that first bite for me is always instant nostalgia, reminding me of many childhood memories. Growing up in my family, it was usually the women who made tatiyas, while the men made kelaguen and worked the grills. Oh how I miss the days where our family would spend an entire day (and sometimes night) preparing a feast to celebrate a special occasion.
Is it “Cooked?”
Kelaguen relies on the chemical “cooking” property of lemon juice, or denaturation. Please note that not all proteins should be prepared this way when making kelaguen. For instance, while deer and beef can be prepared raw and “cooked” with lemon juice, you will need to cook chicken, squid, or octopus prior to making kelaguen. Some say you can boil it, but personally, I’d recommend grilling as it adds flavor, color, and texture, like the crunch in the case of chicken skin.
More information about denaturing and the science behind marinades can be found on this Blog.
Consumer Advisory Notice
Remember: Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.
The food prepared in this blog is cooked to temperature and desired doneness (in the case of searing), so as with any food you may prepare at home or eat at an establishment, be sure to cook to temperature (not time), and maintain a clean area whenever preparing food to not only eat, but serve to guests.
When in doubt, you can refer to the USDA’s “Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart” for federally approved internal cooking temperatures.
Additionally, if you’d like to cook your steak to the desired “doneness”, you can refer to this resource, which includes pictures and temperatures from rare to well-done.
Ingredients and Directions
The ingredients and directions for each dish will be under it’s own sub-heading below. If you haven’t gotten your grill going yet (if using charcoal), now would be a good time to get it pre-heated.
While you can actually mix the ingredients by hand, I found using an electric mixer saved me a lot of time in preparation and cleanup. If you don’t want to fire up the grill just to make tatiyas, you can also toast them on the stove top in a large frying pan.
Optional: When I made my tatiyas for this blog, I made two batches. One using the ingredients and steps below, and another where I folded freshly sliced habanero peppers into the dough before cooking. This allowed me to not have to make two different bowls of kelaguen (in case some don’t like it hot).
The following ingredients will make enough for 8-10 people when rolled out into 1/8″ sheets, half of that if 1/4″. If you end up . having too much, wrap the excess (after cooking) in foil and freeze. You can toast to reheat and add butter, just like bread.
- 3 cups of flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine, not coarse)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
Use the electric mixer when you reach step 2. Optionally, you can do all of the following steps by hand, it will just take longer.
- Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- Add the vegetable oil and milk slowly while mixing to achieve a dough.
- Transfer the dough to a floured rolling surface and knead it until you have a single ball of dough.
- Divide into 3 equal pieces.
- Using a rolling pin, roll each piece out into 3 circular sheets about 1/8″-1/4″.
- If cooking on a grill, make sure your grill is adjusted so your grill grates and coals have the most space between them to avoid burning the tatiyas. Cook on both sides, looking for a nice toast on each, while the center is still soft. Optionally, you can cook until the tatiyas are crunchy, just don’t burn it!
The chicken kelaguen will take longer to make, compared to beef, or fish, and even the tatiyas – so be sure to plan ahead.
When I make kelaguen, I tend to make a lot, and that is due to having friends and family over. I also make a lot because I’d rather have more to send people home with than not enough and hungry people, so the recipe here should feed at least 8-10 people if serving as a side with the tatiyas.
Lemon, pH and Citric Acid for Kelaguen Safety Without Heat Control
While chicken kelaguen is safe as it is cooked with heat, and then lemon is added to reduce the pH, there is still a risk for foodborne illness especially if the pH reaches below 4.2. Please read this document, educate yourself and learn of the importance of pH in kelaguen making, especially if you are making enough for a party that will be sitting out on the table for an extended period of time.
Since you have to grill the chicken, the time taken to make the kelaguen can be considerably longer than the tatiyas, so you might want to start with the kelaguen before you make the tatiyas.
- 4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs seasoned with salt
- 4 lemons
- Optional: Lemon Powder (this will add more acidity if you want more, so use sparingly). The “Yours” brand of lemon powder is what I grew up with, and you can get some from Amazon if you can’t find it anywhere in your area (I have not been able to find this in Washington State). As another option, I’ve had success using True Lime, which can be found at Safeway, Fred Meyer, or Albertson’s, as well as on Amazon.
- 1-2 Tbsp sea salt (you most likely will not use it all, as you will be adding to taste)
- 1-2 Chili peppers of your choice
- 2 green onions, chopped
- Fresh grated coconut with the milk squeezed out of it (as much or as little as you like)
If this is your first time making kelaguen, it’s helpful when mixing to put a little into a smaller bowl before adding lemon/lime powder. Use this smaller bowl to get the taste you like, before working with the rest of the batch. Use it as a guide for flavor more than anything, as making kelaguen is one of those things where you’re going to have to rely on your taste. It also helps if you have someone else to taste it, just so you don’t make it too sour.
- Grill the chicken until at least 165°F/73.8°C
- Using a food processor (if you don’t have one, you can also dice the chicken to the right consistency), put the chicken in and pulse until you get the desired texture. You’re looking for small shreds/pieces. Transfer to a mixing bowl that is non-reactive, as we will be using lemon next.
- With your chicken all chopped and in the mixing bowl, squeeze all the lemons into the bowl with the chicken, using a strainer to catch the lemon seeds.
- Mix the chicken and lemon thoroughly and taste. If you need more lemon flavor and acidity, add lemon powder or lime powder (a little goes a long way), and mix again before tasting.
- Slowly add the salt, mix, and taste.
After you’ve achieved the taste you like, transfer to a serving bowl, top with grated coconut and green onions, and enjoy! Don’t forget the tatiyas!
If you give this a try and love it, please share! Don’t be afraid to experiment on your own. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried something outside of what I’ve done and you recommend it as well!
Ta fañocho (Chamorro for “Let’s Eat!”)