Auntie Ruby's Curry Chicken

Saturday, April 16, 2011



By now, I hope you have gotten used to me titling my dishes Auntie Ruby this and Auntie Ruby that. Apart from trying to honor my mum, one simple reason is that makes it easier for me to name the dish.

And this is especially true when it comes to the recipe for curry chicken. Is it Nonya, Malay, Indian, Singaporean or Malaysian curry chicken? And I have not mentioned all the sub-categories yet!

In fact, I have cooked this dish so many times 'from memory' that it seems to taste differently each time. When I cooked it one day for a home event, one of my friends called it "CCC": Canon Curry Chicken.

He may well be right.
The members of the one big happy curry family. Cheap and easily available at your local market.
The generic curry chicken is an ubiquitous (everywhere) dish, gracing buffet tables at home parties, office functions, church events and weddings. They even appear regularly at funerals. It is a crowd-pleaser. It some tastes like chicken stew (and indeed, curry is a stew), and others come swimming in watery santan topped by a layer of red oil.

I like curry chicken. And I should add that I respectfully eat any representation of this dish and appreciate the efforts of those who have cooked it. Wet or dry, firm or soft, spicy or otherwise. 

But a food blog is about presenting a certain style of making a dish, and so, it is my task now to explain how my Mum cooked it.

Some basic tips for a good curry

My idea of a good curry is:
  • The meat is cooked just right i.e. good texture and the sweetness of the meat is evident. This means you want a gentle simmer and avoid cooking for too long.
  • There is sufficient oil in the curry which adds to its smoothness. I do not want to drink spicy chicken soup.
  • There is the appropriate taste of aromatic spices and ingredients according to the type of curry being made. 
These are the key components in a curry:
  1. The Meat (protein) 
  2. The spices i.e. chilli, coriander powder, turmeric powder or paste etc
  3. The "fillers" or body of the curry: onions, lemon grass, garlic, oil
  4. Carbo - i.e. potatoes
The Meat
Start with a good tasting chicken. I normally get the fresh ones from the wet market and avoid the soft frozen variety from the supermarts.

The Spices
They need to be fresh. And to ensure this, you need to grind the seeds after they are freshly toasted. As for chilli paste, I will normally use the fresh chilli paste from the market (sometimes call "Chilli boh") and add some chilli padi or dried chilli to make the paste more spicy. Sometimes, I just blend the fresh red chillies and soaked dried chillies together.

The Fillers
And if you are staying in Singapore or anywhere in Southeast Asia, there is every reason to blend your own ingredients as they are widely available and cheap. If you are overseas, just improvise. Peeling 20 shallots is not difficult. You can also buy ready peeled ones. The smaller pointed variety of shallots are the sweetest.

Carbo
As for potatoes, get the yellow flesh ones please. They are tastier and have a nice crumbly texture.As you can imagine, if accompanied by a veg like cucumber, it is a complete meal.
Ubi Kentang getting a glamour shot
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Auntie Ruby's Curry Chicken Recipe

Ingredients:

1 chicken (1.6 - 2.0 kg, serves about 8-10)

Blend, blend, blend...
Blended paste:
20 shallots
10 garlic cloves
3 stalks of lemon grass
10 candle nuts (buah keras, for nutty taste and texture)
10 Fresh Chilis and 10 chili padis (or soaked dried chillis)
1 inch piece of turmeric ( yellow ginger )

Curry leaves
1 packet of coconut cream
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

6 pieces of yellow potatoes
1 small bowl of oil
A small bowl of water

All ready for the wok
Spices:
1 Cinammon Stick
3 Star Aniseed
3 Cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds

Method
  1. Toast the spices for 2 minutes in the dry wok and remove. 
  2. Grind the spices into powder
  3. Heat up half a bowl of oil in the wok. 
  4. Add blended paste. Fry till fragrant (about 15 minutes). 
  5. Add the spices, curry leaves, some salt and sugar.
  6. Add potatoes and fry for abotu 5 minutes.
  7. Mid-way.
  8. Add chicken pieces, coconut milk, a bowl of water and fry at low to medium flame for about 25 minutes or till it is cooked. Stir occasionally to prevent bottom overcooking or burning. Don't overcook your chicken i.e. the mid-wing should be firm an not falling off the bone. 
You can add salt according to taste along the way but be careful as the curry gets saltier as the water evaporates. The safe bet is a conservative amount right at the beginning and a final adjustment towards the end.  A red layer of oil should surface during the last phase. Use a shallow spoon to remove some of it.

The end result is a tasty curry sauce, dry, nicely textured, slightly oily and certainly not watery. The meat does not fall off the bone.

This dish can take different ethnic directions according to the spices you use (e.g. cumin and fenugreek for a more Indian taste), adding ingredients like tomatoes, ginger etc. I have a curry cookbook and it is amazing to read about the many types of curry chicken one can make.

This dish goes well with fried bee hoon, white rice, yellow rice (nasi kunyit), naan, prata and of course, white bread.
Finished in the wok. This is a huge lot I did for a party.

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8 comments

  1. It is really similar to what my mom used to make. I say used to because it has evolved to something else today. Is it because she's trying to make it healthier? I don't know. She just doesn't make it like I remember it in my teens now. Oily and a little soupy, as I loved to drink up the curry like it was a soup!

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  2. Have not tried making the dry version but will give your recipe a shot and hope it turns out at least half as yummy as how the one in your photos look. In the wet versions that I have concocted, I found that using yoghurt bought from the Indian stalls at Geylang Serai Market instead of coconut, gives rather good outcomes - adds creaminess and a slight sour tinge without the 'jelak' edge that coconut milk sometimes produces. By the way, thumbs up on the photography - just looking at photos makes one hungry! Especially like the artistic composition of the ingredients in the curry family.

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  3. Terry, my mother in law (Malaysian) usually makes a lot of curry paste and gives me a tub which is kept in the freezer. I thaw and use some each time, and it doesn't spoil at all! We always use Indonesian potatoes (yellow flesh, greyish brown skin) and brown the chopped pieces first. Are these the best kind of potatoes to use?
    Btw, her favoured style is the drier type and most of the time, it's so fragrant already that she has no need to add coconut milk/cream at all...healthier too. :)

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  4. Lilian: This recipe should be quite easy to replicate and worth giving a shot. Yoghurt is commonly used in Indian cooking and definitely good for curries though using it will certainly move u away from the nyonya direction. I will say curry chicken is one dish which can be varied easily according to what u prefer.

    Hem Joo: I have not tried using enough variety of potatoes to be able to comment. Yellow flesh ones from Msia r generally good. I have made this dish wo coconut milk before and I enjoyed it as well.

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  5. Wow. Nice =) Your curry chicken is making me hungry.

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  6. Hello,
    How many grams are in the packet of coconut cream?
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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