Friday, 11 November 2011

Curry Chicken – No Explanation Needed

If you asked me, there’s one dish that deserves to be honored as a national dish, but never is. Curry Chicken.

Every ethnicity has its own variant, or often variants. It’s the darling of potluck parties and food caterers; and mainstay of  “economical rice” stalls and hotel coffee houses and everything in between. It graces the festive table at home, and once was a common repast for hungry attendees at all-night wakes. And, it’s been around like forever.

Curry chicken was always accompanied by fried bee hoon and fish balls at parties. They made a terrific trio. When I was young, I had a schoolmate whose grandmother hailed from Ipoh, Malaysia. This old lady made a to-die-for curry, and it was one of the first dishes she taught me. She made it literally from scratch – a commonplace in those days.

There was no recipe, no weighing scale. The spices would be mixed to an estimated ratio. She would pound the shallots, garlic, spices and everything, in a mortar and pestle; and fry the thick rich paste for more than an hour in a wok. The sounds and, most memorably, the smell, of her labors would fill the entire house. Under such tutelage, my Curry Chicken education was off to a good start!

For those lacking the confidence, or fortitude, for such backbreaking effort, there’s always the Indian stall at the wet market. Simply name your intention -- curry chicken, or beef rending, or curry vegetable – and the stallholder will put together, from a pre-ground array of spices, the perfect mix for you. Easy as that!

Personally, I prefer the long road; but to make it worth my while for the trouble of pounding the ‘rempah’ (pre-cooked curry paste), I usually make a huge quantity. That way, I could stockpile the rempah -- split into smaller containers and stored in the freezer – for future use. Here’s one of my favourite recipes for Curry Chicken.

A gift from a friend, this electric stone grinder
makes preparing spices much easier.
Curry Chicken
Chicken                       1, cleaned and cut into chunks
Ginger                         50 g, grated
Potato                         500 g, skinned and cubed
Water                          3 cups
Coconut                      500 g, grated
Oil                               1 cup
Lemon grass               5, bashed
Salt                              ¾ tbsp
Sugar                           1 tsp

Curry Rempah:
Coriander seeds          5 tbsp, fry in a dry pan until fragrant
Candlenut                   20 g
Dried chillies               100 g, soaked in warm water, drained
Fresh turmeric            70 g, bashed
Red chillies                 10
Shallots                       300 g
Curry powder             300 g
Chilli paste                  3 tbsp
Garlic                           100 g

1.             Grate ginger and squeeze juice to marinate the chicken for 30 minutes.
2.             Cut potato and soak in water to remove the starch. Dry and deep-fry the potato until the skin is slightly brown. Drain and set aside.
3.             Fry rempah (without the garlic) and bashed lemongrass with oil under medium heat for 20 minutes. Add a tsp of water if necessary to prevent the rempah from being burnt.
4.             Add garlic and continue to fry for another 5 minutes, or until oil oozes out from the rempah.
5.             Increase the heat to the maximum, add chicken and fry until the skin of the meat is lightly golden. Add potato and 2 cups of water; simmer for 20 minutes.
6.             Meanwhile, squeeze ¼ cup of coconut cream from the grated coconut. Set aside. Add 1 cup of water to the grated coconut and from it squeeze another cup of coconut milk. Set aside.
7.             Add 1 cup of coconut milk to the curry mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes. Ensure the mixture does not boil or the coconut milk will curdle.
8.             Add salt and sugar to taste.
9.             Just before serving, add the coconut cream and heat for 5 minutes.

I normally make curry paste in huge quantities and
store them in smaller containers in the freezer for future use.
Curry Rempah:
1.             Pound coriander seeds, candlenut, dried chillies, turmeric, and shallots, in sequence, finely. Ensure each ingredient is finely pounded before adding the next ingredient.
2.             Add curry powder and chilli paste and mix well. Set aside.
3.             Pound garlic until fine and set aside.
4.             If you are using an electric blender, add all fresh ingredients with a little bit of water and blend it thoroughly. Mix the curry powder and chilli paste well before cooking.