Nonya Chicken Curry Kapitan

Nonya Chicken Curry Kapitan is considered the king of Malaysian chicken curries, and on making and tasting it, we immediately understand why. The combination of spice paste ingredients (including ginger, onion, garlic, turmeric, lemongrass, chillies and shrimp paste) with those added during cooking (coconut milk, tamarind paste, dark brown sugar, makrut lime leaves and cinnamon) create a fantastically complex yet beautifully balanced flavour profile that is aromatic, intense and very tasty.

Once you’ve made this once, you’ll be making it again and again. This is a real keeper of a recipe!

Nonya Chicken Curry Kapitan from Sambal Shiok

Image by Louise Hagger

The recipe comes from Mandy Yin’s Sambal Shiok cookbook. You can read our full review of Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook here.

Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan
Print Pin
5 from 1 vote

Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan

This is probably the king of the chicken curries you will find in Malaysia. It is a step up from the much-loved chicken curry with potatoes made by all households up and down the country. Curry kapitan is a splendid dish that is a stock standard among the Peranakans. It includes a slightly longer list of ingredients including shrimp paste, tamarind and makrut lime leaves, which imbue it with an unmistakeable fragrance and depth of flavour.
The cooking process requires first browning the chicken by shallowfrying it to seal and lock in all of the lovely chicken essence. Good things come to those who wait, as they say – or to those who are willing to go that extra mile!
Servings 4 servings
Author Mandy Yin


  • 6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 70 ml (3½ fl oz) oil
  • 100 ml (10½ fl oz) water


  • tsp ground turmeric
  • tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp oil

Spice Paste

  • 200 g (7oz) onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 cm (2in) ginger, roughly chopped
  • tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
  • 120 g (4¼oz) red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 10 g (1 tsp) shrimp paste


  • 200 ml (scant 1 cup) coconut milk
  • 100 g (3½oz) canned chopped tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 4 makrut lime leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick


  • Mix the marinade ingredients thoroughly with the chicken. You can do this the night before and leave the meat in the fridge overnight to marinate. However, I usually just do it on the day of cooking and simply leave the marinating chicken for an hour in its bowl on the kitchen counter to give it time to reach room temperature. It means that your cooking time will be reduced later.
  • Blitz the spice paste ingredients into a fine purée.
  • In a medium-sized pot, warm up the oil. Fry the thighs in small batches (each batch should fit comfortably in one layer at the bottom of the pan) over a medium–high heat so they brown properly. They do not need to be cooked through as they will cook further in the gravy later. Put the browned thighs on a plate.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. Deglaze the pan with 100ml (scant ½ cup) of water, then add the spice paste and stir well to mix. Stir-fry until fragrant and the oil separates (which will take a maximum of 10 minutes).
  • Add the seasonings into the pan and stir thoroughly. Return the browned chicken to the pan including any excess oil left on the plate.
  • Bring to the boil then simmer over a low heat, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes as the sauce can stick, especially towards the end of cooking.

As with many curried dishes, this Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan is just as good reheated from the fridge or freezer as it is freshly cooked. Enjoy with white rice and some sambal or pickle on the side.

Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan

Made the recipe? Let us know how you enjoyed it in the comments!

Browse our full collection of curry recipes from around the world.


If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located within the post and in the footnote below.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin from publisher Quadrille. Photography by Louise Hagger. 

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
8 Comments to "Nonya Chicken Curry Kapitan"

  1. Jane Willis

    I read the book review yesterday and thought “But do I really NEED another Malaysian cookbook?”. I think this recipe might have convinced me that i do.

  2. Jane Willis

    Thanks for the recipe and book recommendation, I have bought it now and this was the first recipe I tried from it. Having had issues in the past with “Too hot to taste” Kapitan before, this was just perfect. There was heat there, but not so much it detracted from the beautiful fragrant flavours. Thanks for the inspiration


    It’s such a beautifully balanced dish with such intense and complex flavours, I am so glad you loved it too, and know you’ll enjoy the rest of the book too!

  3. Shmem

    Hi there,

    I don’t understand the 300ml of water at the beginning. Does that go in with the marinade? I tried that and the chicken won’t brown. I’m guessing I’ve done it wrong?


    Hi Shmem, I got in touch with Mandy (the author of this recipe and cookbook) and she’s very kindly cooked the recipe again to double check and confirms it’s 100 ml of water. I’ve corrected the recipe card in the post to reflect. The instructions were already correct in their note to add 100 ml of water in step 4. We hadn’t noticed when making it as we followed the instructions on adding 100 ml and hadn’t pre-measured out 300 ml to realise 200 ml of it never got used!

    Thanks so much for spotting this and letting us know so we could correct it.

  4. Kay

    Hi, just made this recipe and it’s delicious. But I was confused about the oil… in step 3, I assume you use the 70 ml of oil. Did anyone find this too much and when you went to deglaze it , there was still a lot of the oil and are you supposed to drain it off before pouring in the water? Not sure if anyone ran into that issue… thanks!


    Hi Kay

    We’ve made this several times, and these days we usually use a touch less than 70 ml of oil as we’ve found that the chicken still fries well in less oil. I’ve not changed the recipe as it’s a direct extract from the cookery book, in the author’s own words.

    That said, it’s not uncommon for curries like this to retain a fair amount of oil in them; we’ve often found curries in India and Malaysia to have a higher oil content than we are used to, so we often reduce the amount a little when cooking recipes that include a lot.

    Hope this helps!


Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating