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!
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
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!
- 6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
- 70 ml (2¼fl oz) oil
- 300 ml (10½fl oz) water
- 1½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp oil
- 200 g (7oz) onion, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 5 cm (2in) ginger, roughly chopped
- 1½ 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. 2. 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.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin from publisher Quadrille. Photography by Louise Hagger.