This is a guest post from one of my former students, Sudhan Balakrishnan, who was keen to cook me a traditional Malay curry before he left NZ. Sudhan is no slouch in the kitchen and was even on NZ Masterchef a few years ago – although he didn’t progress far in the competition, it has a blessing in disguise as he’s had the chance to be in my class and is still a keen cook. I’m far from an expert on Malay food and this uses a lot of different ingredients, but what it produces is a very rich and aromatic curry that is full of flavour (and punch!). There are lots of unfamiliar ingredients here, so I’ve tried to add in as many external links as possible! Open to feedback from people who are far more versed in Malay cooking than I am 🙂
1/2 kilo of chicken boneless thighs (cut into bite-sized cubes)
10 shallots, finely sliced
1 can of coconut milk
4 lemongrass stalks
5cms ginger, pealed
4 cloves of garlic, pealed
2cms galangal root, pealed
2 cm turmeric root, pealed
10 dried red chillies (or less – 10 was actually too much for me, and I like my food hot! I’ve added a link where you can buy it by the metric tonne, if you like it more)
4 Pandam leaves, tied into loose knots
1 tsp palm sugar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp ground turmeric (finally, a spice I know and have on hand!)
1/2 cup of vegetable oil for frying
Salt (to taste)
Start by taking your lemongrass, chillies, galangal, ginger, and turmeric root and boiling for 5 minutes in 2 cups of water.
While your aromatics are becoming, well, aromatic, finely slice your shallots.
After 5 mins of boiling, add your aromatics to a blender with 2-3 tablespoons of the boiling water.
Blend into a fine paste. If your mix is staying rough, add in a couple more tablespoons of water. Apparently my blender wasn’t up to Malay standards, and so it wasn’t as fine as it should be. Traditionally this paste would be made by hand grinding – we weren’t prepared to do that. Also, be careful with this mix – it’s not easy to get the stains out of your new white bench top :/
Time to cook your chicken. Mix your chopped chicken thighs with your caster sugar and ground turmeric.
Cook your chicken in your oil over a moderate heat – you only want to par cook your chicken at this point, so don’t rush things. We left the chicken to gently fry for about 8 mins. Once par cooked, set aside to add back to the dish later.
In the same oil, add in your shallots and gently sauté for 5 mins.
Open a window and turn on your extractor fan, then place your mix into the onions and oil and gently fry, combining the spices and onions together. Too fast and you’ll burn your spice mix – throw it away and start again. Too slow and it takes too long and damnit, you’ll want to eat by now.
Add in your pandang leaves at this point – keep them in loose knots so they release their flavour, but also easy to pick out, as they’re not edible.
Cover and allow the flavours to develop over a low heat for about 15 mins. The whole dish will sweat off and the different flavours will intermingle and become extremely complex and more aromatic.
After 15 mins, this is how it looks. Add in your palm sugar and allow it to melt through – I was worried palm sugar was hugely unsustainable, but I believe that’s palm oil – palm oil is evil, but palm sugar can be grown sustainably.
Last touch, a can of coconut milk – mix to combine – this softens the pungent nature of the dish and gives it a silky texture.
Once the coconut milk has been added to the blend, it creates a rich, creamy base.
Add back your chicken and complete cooking for 8 more minutes over a moderate heat – don’t overcook the chicken or it’ll go rubbery – don’t undercook it or you’ll die (well, maybe not die, but there’s a chance of getting very sick)
Serve up with plain white rice and a tomato and cucumber salad, dressed with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Enjoy!
And here’s the final product as modelled by Sudhan – thanks!