Chicken Curry With Acar
WHO doesn’t love a good chicken curry? A home-made rempah (spice paste) packs in aromatic flavours that reminds you of home or even mom’s cooking. Pair curry with a tangy, sweet and spicy pineapple acar (pickle), and you’ll go in for seconds. Or thirds. But really, nobody’s counting! Also, sip on chilled Okinawa Gin for some contrasting flavours!
A: Chicken curry
2 star anises
2 cinnamon sticks, small
4 sprigs curry leaves, stems removed
2kg chicken, skin on, cut into large pieces
250ml coconut cream (santan pekat)
50g tamarind paste, dissolved in 200 ml water
1½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
C: Spice Paste (rempah)
600g shallots, peeled & roughly chopped
Thumb-sized turmeric, peeled & roughly cut
25g ginger, peeled & roughly cut
40g garlic, peeled
10g ready-to-eat chilli condiment (sambal belacan- 1st photo)*
2 tablespoons chilli powder
3 tablespoons roasted ground coriander
1 tablespoon roasted ground cumin
½ tablespoon ground fennel
2 tablespoons curry powder, for meat
500ml water for cooking
D: Pineapple & Cucumber Acar:
2 medium cucumbers, seeded & diced
1 medium red onion, peeled & diced
1 medium red chilli, seeded & diced
270g pineapple, peeled, cored & cut into large cubes
1½ teaspoons shrimp paste (belacan)
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
A pinch of salt
1.Make acar while curry is cooking or up to 1 week ahead. In a small mixing bowl, combine sambal belacan, sugar, lemon juice and pinch of salt and mix well. The sambal belacan below is ready-to-eat from a jar; it is sold in major supermarkets and wet markets in Malaysia and Singapore.
Set sauce aside. Place pineapple in a bowl lined with paper towels to absorb excess juice. Do the same for diced cucumber. Transfer to a large mixing bowl together with pineapple, diced onion and chilli.
Pour in sauce. Using a large serving spoon, stir all ingredients to combine well. Store in a jar. Chill before serving, if desired.
2. To make rempah: Place all ingredients inside a blender with sufficient water to cover it. Pulse to a fairly fine paste, adding more water if necessary.
3. Heat oil over medium heat in a wok or saucepan. Cook star anise, cloves and cinnamon sticks for a few seconds.
4. Add spice paste, including seasoning and stir it in well.
5. Pour in 2-3 tablespoons oil, if spice paste gets too dry. Reduce heat to low and cook until it reaches pecah minyak stage (see Technique).
6. Add curry leaves 10 minutes later, stirring paste regularly to prevent it from catching onto bottom of saucepan.
7. Add chicken and potatoes. Stir until both ingredients are coated with spice paste.
8. Cook 2 minutes. Note: remove chicken skin for a less oily curry.
9. Pour in water. Simmer over low heat until chicken is tender and potatoes are cooked. Insert toothpick/satay stick or fork into potato. When it slides easily into centre of potato, it is cooked.
10. Stir occasionally to ensure chicken and potatoes do not catch onto bottom of saucepan. Pour in coconut cream. Cook another 5 minutes. A good curry ought to have a layer of oil covering the meat, according to homecooks in Malay and Peranakan cuisine. The oil helps to prevent the meat from turning basi, a term which refers to the onset of spoilage indicated by sourish sensations on the palate.
11. Lastly add in tamarind extract. If using tamarind pulp or asam jawa, mix 2 tablespoons with 200ml warm water and strain to get extract; discard seeds. Continue simmering until gravy turns slightly thick. Keep it overnight in the fridge to allow flavours to develop.
12. Serve curry with crusty French bread, rice or Indian roti and acar on the side. Alternatively, wrap chicken and acar in lettuce leaves for a carb-free meal.
TIP: The sharp tang of pineapple gives acar that all-important acidic kick. Store it in an airtight glass jar – compact acar to expel as much air as possible. Serve with spicy dishes like chicken curry, nasi lemak or nasi biryani (a popular rice-based dish with spices that originates from the kitchens of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent).
TECHNIQUE: Pecah minyak is a stage where the natural oil of coconut cream separates from solids of rempah indicating that is sufficiently cooked. Hence, curry will not turn basi or become stale easily. Also, rempah smells fragrant.
Photos: Joyce Boey