Chicken Rendang – Whip It UP!

Rendang chicken

THIS aromatic chicken rendang is gently braised in a robust rempah comprising fresh lemongrass, turmeric and galanglal mingled in fresh coconut milk. Don’t skip the kerisik, it’s the flavour bomb that makes this scrumptious rendang fit for a celebratory festive meal. Selamat Hari Raya!

Total Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: 3/5

Cost: S$18.00

Serves: 6-8 persons

A: To Prepare Chicken

1.5kg free-range chicken (ayam kampung), chopped in large pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon turmeric powder

B: Dry Spices
1 cinnamon bark, crushed
6-7 cloves
3-4 star anises
6-7 cardamom pods

C: Spice Paste (Rempah)

8-10 shallots, peeled & roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Thumb size turmeric, peeled & roughly chopped
Thumb-size ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass (serai), white portion sliced
20-25 dried chillies, depending on how spicy you want it
2 tablespoons meat curry powder
100ml coconut milk

250ml water

250ml cooking or coconut oil*see technique

D: Aromatics

2-3 pieces tamarind apple slices or asam keping
3 stalks lemongrass (serai), white portion bruised
200ml coconut milk, 1st press
Boiling water

E: Toasted Coconut, Aromatic Leaves

100g grated coconut
2 kaffir lime leaves, spine removed & thinly sliced
1-2 turmeric (kunyit) leaves, spine removed & thinly sliced

F: Seasoning

1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon chicken powder, optional


1. Make kerisik: Heat up a frypan over medium heat. Put in coconut to toast until golden brown and fragrant.


While it is still hot, pound it in a pestle and mortar or grind it in a food processor.

blending coconut

Set aside 2 tablespoons to add to this rendang. Bottle remining kerisik in a jar for future use.  

2.Wash and pat dry chicken. Marinate with salt and turmeric powder. Set it aside.

3. Prepare spice paste:  blend all ingredients (except water and oil) in a food processor. Transfer paste to a bowl and set it aside. Pour water into food processor, give it a quick pulse. Set it aside.

Rendang chicken rempah

4. Heat up oil in a saucepan or wok. Add A spices; fry a few seconds until fragrant.

frying spices

5. Add in rempah under B ingredients. Cook over medium heat until it reaches pecah minyak stage – this is the stage where the oil separates from the paste indicating that that the rempah is sufficiently cooked.

6. Add in chicken, D ingredients followed by coconut milk and water from food processor. Stir until chicken is evenly coated with rempah.

7. Bring it to a quick boil, then reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, approximately 20-25 minutes. Pour in boiling water if sauce thickens too fast.

Rendang chicken

8. Add in kerisik.

Rendang chicken

 Next, toss in sliced leaves and stir it in. Simmer 5-6 minutes, then turn heat off. Adjust seasoning to taste.

9. Allow it to stand overnight or a few days in the fridge for full-bodied flavours to develop.

10. Serve rendang with steamed rice, coconut milk-flavoured rice or compressed rice cakes (ketupat).

SERVING TIP: This rendang is particularly good with lemang which is glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tubes over charcoal.

TECHNIQUE: A tasty rendang needs gentle and slow braising for full-bodied flavours to develop. Traditionally, a rendang is cooked until it is almost dried up as it keeps and travels well without turning bad fast.

*The 250ml of oil may seem excessive but a good curry or rendang needs sufficient oil to tumis (fry) the rempah until aromatic. This in turn flavours the meat while it cooks. Oil will float to the top when meat is cooked. At this juncture, you can opt to spoon some of it out. Alternatively, refrigerate the rendang. The oil will solidify, making it easier to scrape it off. Before deciding to remove every drop, consider this age-old curry cooking technique: the layer of oil serves an important purpose – it slows down any fermentation of the coconut milk that often happens in tropical climates. When coconut milk turns sour, you risk tipping out the entire pot of rendang. So, if you really must, scoop away some oil but leave a thin layer.

Photos: Nellie Bok, Evonne Lyn Lee

About Nellie Bok: This talented self-taught home-cook is often found in her playground churning out delicious curries, whipping up snacks, wrapping Chinese dumplings, baking bread and cakes, stuffing Chinese sausages and making all things delicious in Nell’s Kitchen. In addition, Nellie also conducts cooking classes at a renowned culinary studio in Penang.

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