Singapore Main Dish – Curry Chicken

Singapore Curry Chicken 001B edited re-sized

There are so many versions of  this ubiquitous dish. A Singaporean Chinese family’s version of Curry Chicken will have a thicker consistency and contain much more coconut santan as compared to a Singaporean Malay family’s Kari Ayam. A Singaporean Indian family will cook yet another version of this dish and their version is also dependent on whether they are Southern Indians or Northern Indians. Southern Indians thicken and add richness to their curry dish by using coconut santan whilst Northern Indians cook with ghee and use yoghurt and may be cream. Variations also arise from the use of different spices and herbs.

Here is a version adapted from Mrs Lee’s cookbook which tastes most like my domestic helper’s Chicken Curry when I was a young girl. A day at the beach meant sand, sea, sun, a large pot of Chicken Curry and another pot of Singapore Bee Hoon. Since then, I have adapted it yet again with the addition of some spices as my family’s taste has changed over time.

Tomoko San, this post is for you and your family. Such wonderful memories of those once a month afternoons when we will meet in your home in Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo, Japan to exchange conversations, ideas and to learn from each other! When you cook this dish for them, I hope that it will trigger many happy memories for your whole family of those years you had spent living in Singapore too.

I also realise that for some of my foreign readers, a little bit more explanation is required regarding the ingredients and good substitutes of ingredients. Read “Singapore Curry Ingredients De-mystified”.Click here to read that article.

In the photo above, the chicken pieces have been seasoned with 4 Tbsp of curry powder for meat. In addition to seasoning the chicken, you will need another 4 Tbsps of curry powder to make a paste with 4 Tbsp of water for this curry (see one of the photos below). This paste is NOT the rempah.

Hard boiled eggs may also be added to the Chicken Curry besides potatoes. At his primary school canteen, my son used to buy curry that had one small piece of chicken with a hard boiled egg. Tomoko San, I know how much Japanese love eggs so please add some to your curry.

Left-overs idea. My husband’s family is Nonya and his aunt ran their kitchen in an extended family. She would add hard boiled eggs to the left-0ver gravy from their beef curry. A welcomed breakfast with freshly toasted French loaf or prata. Click here for my post on “How to fry frozen prata”.

COOKING THE CHICKEN CURRY

LEFT TOP: cooked pieces of potatoes and smashed Lemon grass (serai). RIGHT TOP: blended rempah of fresh spices (shallots, garlic, ginger)

LEFT BOTTOM: curry powder mixed with water to form a curry paste. RIGHT BOTTOM. Sliced brown onion and broken cinnamon sticks (ground cinnamon is a substitute).

STEP 1. Heat 4 Tbsp of cooking oil a large non- stick pot. Brown sliced onions and cinnamon sticks over medium high heat. Add the rempah and stir fry for about  5 mins or more –  till the rempah no longer smells raw but fragrant and it separates from the oil. As you stir fry, adjust heat so that rempah doesn’t burn.

STEP 2.  Add 2 to 3 Tbsp cooking oil, curry paste and smashed serai. Continue to stir fry till you notice a fragrant aroma. Whilst trying to get to this aroma stage, if paste gets sticky, add one more Tbsp oil and continue to stir fry for 5 mins or so. Meanwhile, instead of adding more oil you may drizzle a Tbsp or 2 of water if you notice paste is dry and sticking to the pot. This prevents scorching. Lowering the heat will help too.

STEP 3. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and continue to fry till chicken is caramelised on the outside and oil separates.

STEP 4. Add water, cover and bring to boil. Lower fire and simmer for about 20 mins, till chicken is just tender. You will notice that a bit of reddish oil has floated to the top. If you did not use a non-stick pot or you had been liberal with the addition of oil when you were frying your rempah and the curry paste, more oil will be floating. You can skim off the oil if you prefer.

At this stage, if you are not serving the dish straight away, cool it and let it sit in the fridge before proceeding to the next step.

STEP 5. Just 20 mins before I serve this dish, I will bring it to boil, lower the heat and add the coconut santan and some curry leaves. DO NOT BRING it to boil any more nor cover the pot as this stage. Doing so will cause the curry to curdle (Peranakans refer to this curdling as “pechah minyak”). We are looking for a curry that looks creamy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.3 kg) cut into pieces; or 1 kg of boneless chicken legs, cut into pieces.
  • 4 Tbsp of meat curry powder
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • One 3 ” piece of cinnamon stick, smashed lightly if large ( or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
  • 1 or 2 stalks of lemon grass (serai), each cut into 2 pieces and the white end lightly smashed
  • 200 ml coconut cream (one packet)
  • 450 ml water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 7 to 8 Tbsp cooking oil

Rempah (grind to fine paste)

  • 4 to 5 shallots, peeled and cut into a few pieces (or 1 large onion, peeled)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into smaller pieces
  • 4 slices ginger, peeled

Curry powder paste

  • 4 level Tbsp meat curry powder mixed with 4 Tbsp water

Optional

  • 1/4 cup of curry leaves

Method:

1. Season chicken pieces with 4 Tbsp of meat curry powder. Set aside and prepare Rempah and curry paste.

2. Heat 4 Tbsp of cooking oil a large non- stick pot. Brown sliced onions and cinnamon sticks over medium high heat. Add the rempah and stir fry for about  5 mins or more –  till the rempah no longer smells raw but fragrant and oil separates from rempah. As you stir fry, you may have to lower the heat so that rempah doesn’t burn.

3.   Add 2 to 3 Tbsp cooking oil, curry paste and smashed serai. Continue to stir fry till you notice a fragrant aroma. Whilst trying to get to this aroma stage, if paste gets sticky, add one more Tbsp oil and continue to stir fry for 5 mins or so. Meanwhile, instead of adding more oil you may drizzle a Tbsp or 2 of water if you notice paste is dry and sticking to the pot. This prevents scorching. Lowering the heat will help too.

4. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and continue to fry till chicken is caramelised on the outside and oil separates.

5. Add 450 ml water, cover pot and bring to boil. Lower fire and simmer for about 20 mins or till chicken is just tender. You will notice that a bit of reddish oil has floated to the top. If you did not use a non-stick pot or you had been liberal with the addition of oil when you were frying your rempah and the curry paste, a thicker layer of oil will be floating. You can skim off some of the oil.

At this stage, if you are not serving the dish straight away, cool it and let it sit in the fridge before proceeding to the next step.

6.  Just 20 mins before I serve this dish, I will bring it to boil, lower the heat and add the coconut santan and some curry leaves. DO NOT BRING it to boil any more nor cover the pot as this stage. Doing so will cause the curry to curdle (Peranakans refer to this curdling as “pechah minyak”). We are looking for a curry that looks creamy.

7. Serve chicken curry with rice or slices of French loaf or Roti Prata. A fresh green tossed Salad with a vinaigrette dressing is most suitable. Click here for How to try Frozen Prata.

 Other Serving Suggestions

Depending on the number of people and their dietary preference at mealtime, this dish may be accompanied with any one or more of the other meat, seafood and vegetable dishes which are listed below.

1. Beef Rendang (spicy). Click here

2. Dry Assam Seafood. Click here

3. Kai Lan and Sweet Potato Lemak (a little spicy). Click here.

4. Pork, Spinach and Egg Stir Fry. Click here.

6. Shanghai Cabbage with Oyster Sauce and Garlic. Click here.

Now how about dessert? A quick one would be a plate of freshly cut seasonal fruit. Make that more interesting with the addition of ice cream if you are serving mangoes or any types of berries. Here are some other dessert ideas.

1. Almond Jelly with Longans (click here)

2. Coconut Jelly with Can Lychees (click here)

3. Sago Pudding. Click here.

4. Orange Agar Agar. Click here

5. Ginger Poached Pears. Click here

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