I adore Malaysian food, especially their curries which combine all the characteristics of Indian curries along with Chinese and Malaysian flavours, so you can imagine just how flavour packed they are. This particular curry is a Nyonya adaptation of an Indian curry and it’s one of my all time favourites. The principle of all Chicken Kapitan recipes are similar in that a wet spice paste is made and slowly fried off before chicken is added and then coconut milk. What varies is the spices used in the paste and how wet or dry the end curry is. I’ve developed the recipe below over a long period of time and for me it really captures all the great flavours of Malaysia. I recommend using chicken thighs over breast meat and I prefer using chicken on the bone which gives the curry more flavour than boneless pieces. Make more of this curry than you think you will eat as people always go for seconds and it also freezes well.
Ingredients – Serves 4-6
1.5 kg chicken pieces – I like to use a mixture of thighs, drumsticks and wingettes
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 teaspoons fish sauce
Neutral tasting vegetable oil or coconut oil
1 cup coconut milk
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 best quality chicken stock cube
6 lime leaves, crushed lightly to release aroma
For the Paste:
10 small shallots, roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
3 long fresh red chillies – deseeded and roughly chopped
10 long dried red chillies soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, drained and roughly chopped
6 candlenuts – available in Asian grocers but you can replace with macadamia nuts if you can’t find any
1 tablespoon Balachan (dried shrimp paste)
1 tablespoon tumeric
1 stalk lemon grass – tender bottom third only, finely sliced
Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and add the turmeric and fish sauce. Mix well to coast the chicken and leave to marinate for 20 minutes. To make the spice paste add all the ingredients to a blender (you can also use a food processor but a blender will give better results) along with a splash of water and blend until a fine paste is formed. This can take a little bit of time so let the blender go for as long as necessary.
Add a generous amount of oil, at least ¼ of a cup to a heavy bottomed pan. When the oil is hot add the spice paste and fry over medium low heat until cooked through and the oil is starting to separate from the paste. If you feel that there is not enough oil, add some more. Take your time doing this step as it makes a big difference to the end flavour of your curry. Keep an eye on your heat and lower it as necessary to ensure the paste doesn’t burn. I like to cook the paste for between 20-30 minutes.
When the paste has been cooked increase the heat and add the chicken toss and stir the chicken until it is well coated in the paste and cook until it just starts to change colour. The add the water, coconut milk, brown sugar, stock cube and lime leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook over a gently heat, partially covered for a good hour and 15-20 minutes. If you have used boneless chicken pieces you probably only need to cook for 1 hour.
Check the chicken regularly and if the sauce is reducing too fast lower the heat more and put the lid on fully. At the end of the cooking time check the chicken – it should be fork tender and the sauce nicely thickened. If your sauce is too runny increase the heat and let it cook uncovered at a rapid simmer until reduced to your liking, however it is good to have a fair bit of sauce to mop up with rice or roti so don’t over reduce. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or sugar if required.