Friday, March 4, 2011

Malaysian Dry Curry Chicken - Rendang Ayam

Rendang Ayam or Malay-style dry curry chicken is a favorite for any celebration dinner in Malaysia. The mastery use of spice blend, coconut and the skill of the chefs required to ensure the chicken stays moist after long hour of cooking resulted in the most flavorful dish ever. The dish is often used as a measurement of the cook's skill. If the chicken turned out dry, it will spoil the entire dish.

Thankfully, a long time ago, one of my friend's mother shared her dry chicken curry recipe with me. No pre-mixes, just good old traditional way of making the favorite dry curry. Of course, living here in the States, substitution is called for as most of the ingredients are unavailable.

Malaysian Dry Curry Chicken - Rendang Ayam
3 lb chicken pieces, preferably bone-in
1 cup thick coconut milk
1/2 cup thin coconut milk
4 shallots, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup toasted grated coconut
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 Tbsp tamarind paste mix with 3 Tbsp water, strained
3 Tbsp palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2 pieces Kafir lime leaves, shredded, if available
1 piece turmeric leave, shredded, if available
salt and pepper to taste

Spice Blend
12 dried chillies, seeded and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
4 shallots
2 cloves garlic
1-inch fresh ginger
1-inch galangal or substitute with 1 tsp galangal powder
1-inch turmeric or substitute with 1 tsp turmeric powder
2 stalks of lemongrass, white part only or substitute with 3 Tbsp of frozen sliced lemongrass
1 tsp coriander powder
4 pieces of candlenuts, substitute with walnuts if unavailable

Spice Mix (To be placed in a pouch)
1 stick cinnamon
3 star anise
3 pods cardoman
5 whole cloves
10 whole peppercorn


Step 1: In a food processor, blend all the spice blend ingredients. Set aside.

Step 2: In a pan over medium heat, toast the grated coconut till brown. Set aside.

Step 3: Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Coat lightly with flour. In a pot, heat 1/2 cup of cooking oil over medium high heat. Fry chicken till skin is golden brown. Remove and set aside. It is important to pan fry the chicken to retain the moisture. The long cooking process of the curry will dry out the chicken if this process is omitted.

Step 4: In the same pot, saute the shallots and onions till aromatic over low heat. Add in the spice blend and continue to cook till the oil separates from the spice blend. You will notice the oil on the surface of the spice mix after cooking it on low heat for 20 minutes. It is important to be patience during this step as not to burn the spices. Stir occassionally.

Step 5: Meanwhile, prepare the spice mix. I used a piece of cheese cloth and tied both ends together to make into a pouch.

Step 6: Once, the spice is aromatic, add in chicken pieces, spice mix in a pouch and thin coconut milk. Turn heat up to medium low. Bring curry to a boil. As soon as it boils, add in the thick coconut milk, tamarind juice and palm sugar. Continue to cook over medium low heat for 30 minutes. Stir occassionally. When oil starts to separate from the curry, as seen above, add in the toasted coconut. Season with salt and turn off heat.

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