Indian curry is often rich and earthy using warm spices such as cumin and cloves. Malay curry is lighter, often using kerisik or toasted grated coconut for that unique nutty flavour. Chinese curries tend to be more adventurous, not shying away from ingredients such as five spice powder, ginger and oyster sauce.
Malaysia – being a melting pot of all three cultures – is famous for a curry that is uniquely multicultural and multi-flavoured. If you have not tried Malaysian chicken curry before, it is hard to describe how it is different.
Imagine a classic chicken curry that has the heat of Indian curry, a light coconut milk gravy and multiple flavours that penetrate each level of your tastebuds. You can tell a Malaysian chicken curry by its slightly yellow tone and specks of gleaming red oil on top. The dish is often cooked with potatoes that soak up the flavours of the gravy.
How do you eat Malaysian chicken curry?
Oh, let us count the ways! There is no end to how you can eat Malaysian chicken curry. The classic way to eat your Malaysian chicken curry is with a plate of steamed white rice. But you can also eat Malaysian curry with coconut rice, roti or noodles.
The truth is, Malaysian chicken curry can go with anything. Some people serve it as a festive dish during the end of Ramadhan, eaten with ketupat (a traditional rice cake wrapped in coconut leaves).
Others are just as happy to eat leftovers the next morning, mopping up the gravy with a slice of white bread. (Chicken curry actually tastes better overnight, once the ingredients have soaked up all the flavours).
If you have leftover curry, you could also use them to make curry puffs – a traditional Malaysian tea-time pastry filled with curry.
How is Malaysian chicken curry traditionally made?
If you talk to Malaysian grandmothers, they will probably swear by a mortar and pestle as the essentials of making Malaysian chicken curry. The secret to making a good curry lies in the paste and to make this paste, you need to pound various ingredients into a smooth mixture. The main ingredients of the paste are shallots, garlic, coriander, chilli, turmeric and fennel.
These days however, you can get a ready-made curry powder pack from almost any Asian grocery online in Melbourne. Look for Baba’s Curry Powder or any other Malaysian curry powder. With these handy curry powder packs, it could take as little as 15 minutes to prepare your curry (and 45 minutes cooking time).
3 secrets to making authentic Malaysian chicken curry
How many times have you follow a chicken curry recipe (at the back of a packet) to the tee and yet it doesn’t quite turn out as awesome as you expect? Here are three tips to make sure your chicken curry rises to that level of awesomeness you expect.
1. Use the thighs and bones of the chicken
You can use breast meat to cook chicken curry but using more ‘oily’ parts like the thighs, drumsticks and wings will make your curry more flavourful. Make sure you use the meat with bones as this will give your curry a more intense flavour. When you use bones, you will be able to extract the real essence of the chicken into your curry.
2. Use shallots and other fresh spices
If you can, use shallots instead of onions as they provide a sweeter taste and more depth of flavour. It’s also a good idea to add some other fresh spices to your recipe for that extra kick. For example, you could toss in some curry leaves to enhance the fragrance of the curry. Or if you like the Nyonya style of cooking, adding some kaffir lime leaves could give your curry an interesting lemony twist.
3. Fry the paste until the oil ‘splits’
Perhaps one of the most important tricks in Malaysian curry is to fry the spices until the oil ‘splits’. That’s when it breaks away from the paste and floats up to the top. If you undercook curry spices, you will get a raw, bitter flavour. The goal is to get that optimum point when the flavours from the spices are released into the oil. You can tell when this point is reached when the aroma of the sauce is highly fragrant. At this moment, the spices reach peak intensity and is ready to flavour the meat. If you cook the paste any longer, it will burn.
Remember to use Malaysian curry powder
Fortunately, there are lots of curry powders available now to help you make Malaysian chicken curry as easily as possible. Make sure you go for a Malaysian curry powder as there are many types of curry powders around. For example, Japanese curry is quite sweet and tame, while an Indian curry can be super spicy and tends to have a very strong turmeric flavour.
In this recipe we use Baba’s meat curry powder. ‘Meat’ curry powder means the spice mix has been specially made to cook meats, so it tends to be roasted for longer. There are also curry powders for fish and curry which are more subtle and delicate in flavour.
Malaysian curry chicken recipe
Prep (15 minutes), cook (45 mins)
- 4 tablespoons Kankoo Canola Oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 6 tablespoons Baba’s Meat Curry Powder
- 800 g chicken, chopped into pieces
- 6 cups water
- 4 small potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
- 1 cup Aroy-D Coconut Milk
- salt to taste
- Add the oil to a big pot and heat it up until hot.
- Add the onions and stir-fry until aromatic.
- Add the curry powder and stir well. Once you smell the fragrant aroma of the spices hitting peak intensity, add in the chicken.
- Stir and combine well, for about 1 minute.
- Add the water into the pot and bring it to boil.
- Lower the heat and add the tomatoes and potatoes.
- Cover the pot and let simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until chicken becomes tender.
- Add the coconut milk and salt to taste and simmer for another 5 minutes. Dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.
Optional: Add curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves for more intense flavours. For another popular Malaysian curry dish, try Malaysian rendang chicken or beef made with Baba’s rendang mix.