Wednesday 24 March 2010

Malaysian Chicken Curry with Potatoes (Kari Ayam)

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)
*serves 4-6
* 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:
6 dried chillies, soaked and deseeded
1 red onion or 6 shallots
4 cloves garlic
1" ginger
Optional: 1" galangal, 1" turmeric root or 1 tsp turmeric powder, a few candlenuts

Fry over medium-high heat in oil until the oil separates (by this, I mean until the paste thickens and visible trace amounts of oil seep from the sides and "separates" from the bulk):
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Prepared spice paste
2 tbsp meat curry powder (Baba's is a reliable brand)
A sprig of curry leaves
Some cloves, star anise, cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick (known in Malay as rempah empat beradik or "The Four Siblings")
Optional: A stick of smashed lemongrass, some cut tomatoes

Stir in and let cook for 10 mins:
1 kg chicken pieces
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Optional: 2 pieces asam gelugor/keping (tamarind peel-substitute with 2 tsp tamarind juice if desired)

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 sit for a few hours or overnight 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.


  1. Curry look Yummy!! Thanks for the recipe ^^

  2. Sam, nothing is as calming and salivary-gland inducing than your blog. I love to read your blog just to de-stress...:)

    mei sin

  3. You're welcome Fern, and haha thank you Mei Sin glad to be of stress relief help!:)

  4. that looks so lovely, samantha:) is baba curry powder readily available in asia grocers?

  5. Hi Jade,

    Thank you!:) I think Baba's is easily found but I can't be certain, I usually bring my stock from Malaysia :) This time round I actually used Aachi curry powder from India which worked very well- I'd say just use any brand you trust?

    Happy cooking!


  6. Hi Sam,

    Stumbled upon your blog and love it! We share a bit of the same culinary journey. I moved to Australia to pursue Uni and learned to cook whilst living there because eating out was too costly!

    Just thought I'd share a fun fact to the above commentary - Coconut Milk, Lemongrass and Galangal are in fact Nyonya influences and not authentically Malay - however, Malay cuisines have adopted those ingredients. And using ground chillies/chilli powder is an authentically Indian way of making curry, sans coconut milk :)

    Keep up the brilliant work you're doing and wish you all the best in your culinary endeavours! xoxo

  7. I lived in Malaysia for 6 wonderful years. Your curry is similar to the Pappa Rich chicken curry. My wife and I live in Brazil now. it's almost impossible to buy Malaysian products here. We somehow get by. We grow pandan, turmeric and galangal in our garden. Also lemon grass. Thank you for sharing your marvellous recipe.