To call this "Malaysian" curry is probably a bit misleading, seeing that a million different variations exist in the multi-racial country each with its own ethnic take, no version more or less Malaysian than the other.
If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say my recipe here is a sort of cross-breed between a traditional Malay interpretation (with the lemongrass and galangal) and a mamak (Indian-Muslim) variety using ground chillies. But then again what do I know- lots of Malay recipes I've found online use fresh, dried or powdered chillies as a key ingredient too, whilst some mamak recipes omit them altogether choosing instead to emphasise lemongrass. Malaysian-Chinese/ Kapitan/ Nyonya versions meanwhile seem totally identical both in the ingredients and methods to the versions above, save for the addition of belacan (dried shrimp paste) in some adaptations.
Still others list fresh tomatoes, all manners of additional seeds/spices, yoghurt and even pandan (screwpine) leaves as essential, whilst quite a few advocate the technique of stirring in an extra dollop of thick coconut cream right at the end to make it authentically rich.
The conclusion I've come to is so long as your curry contains the holy trinity of onions, garlic and ginger combined with a good curry powder, coconut milk and chunky potatoes somewhere in the mix, you can pretty much add, decrease, remove or substitute any of the ingredients below and still have the right to call your curry Malaysian, albeit one with a bit of an identity crisis.
Ah well. Who cares about the specifics anyway? What is Malaysia after all if not a big fat mind-boggling melting pot of cultures and flavours? Perhaps, just like in real life, there should not exist a desire to differentiate- we are after all one and the same at the end of the day, none superior to the other and each merely unique in our own ways.
Hmm perhaps "Malaysian" Chicken Curry is the most accurate name after all :)
Malaysian Chicken Curry with Potatoes (Kari Ayam)
* like all curries, the flavour improves if made one or several days in advance, or even months if you freeze it
Grind to a paste:
20 dried chillies, soaked and deseeded (leave some seeds if you prefer more heat)
6 shallots (or 1 medium red onion)
4 cloves garlic
1" turmeric root or 1 tsp turmeric powder
Fry over medium heat in a bit of oil until fragrant:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Prepared spice paste
2 tbsp meat curry powder (Baba's is a reliable brand)
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2" lengths and smashed
3 sprigs curry leaves
Some cloves, star anise, cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick (known in Malay as rempah empat beradik or "The Four Siblings")
Stir in and let cook for 10 mins:
1 kg chicken pieces
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 pieces asam gelugor/keping (tamarind peel-substitute with 2 tsp tamarind juice if desired)
Bit of water
Add, cover and simmer until meat is cooked, potatoes are tender and sauce is thickened:
Salt to taste
1 tbsp sugar (palm or dark brown sugar if available)
2 1/2 cups coconut milk
*If desired, stir in a bit of thick coconut cream right at the last minute to increase richness
Leave curry to cool down about 20 mins before serving (I find it tastes much better not piping hot). Perfect with rice, roti jala, roti canai or pretty much any roti you can think of.