The first time I truly sampled Nyonya food is when my family used to live in Kluang, Johore in Malaysia. My father was in the army, so we travelled a lot and that I think has contributed to my very diverse palate. Our neighbours were ‘peranakans’ (see link below) and Auntie Lek used to cook the most divine dishes. Her jam tarts in particular were to die for. Pity I was young then or I would have asked her for the recipe.
I can feel my arteries hardening after this meal but you gotta have some nice rich food once in a while or life ain’t worth living, I reckon. However to compensate, we had fried bean sprouts and Chinese chives (aka taugeh and kucai in malay) as our veg today to accompany the dish. Below is how I made the chicken.
FYI: Nyonya or Peranakan food is a fusion between Chinese and Malay food. You can find out more about the Peranakans at this site and Malaysian Food, incorporating an article on Nyonya Food, here.
1 chicken (around 2 kg)
1 tin coconut milk
1 cm fresh or 1 tsp powdered turmeric (I used fresh as I have it growing in the garden)
5 cm fresh ginger*
8 large shallots (not spring onions) or 2 large red onions*
6 cloves garlic*
3 stalks lemon grass*
10 fresh red chillies* (de-seeded if you can’t take hot food)
2 thick slices galangal* (lengkuas in Malay)
3 tbsp oil
1 pandan leaf (can be found fresh or frozen at Asian grocery stores) – cut into four
Salt to taste…..start at 1 tsp and add more if needed
Cut chicken into pieces. Pound turmeric to make a paste or mix turmeric powder with a few tbsp of water to make a paste. Rub all over the chicken pieces and set aside. Hint: Wear gloves when working with the turmeric as it will stain your fingers and hands. Not a nice sight!
Grind * ingredients with sufficient water until fine. Heat a large pot and gently fry the * ingredients for 10 mins or more. You need to evaporate the water and let the spice form into a blob (I don’t know how else to describe it). Add chicken and fry for 5 mins, stirring frequently so the chicken is coated with the spices.
Add coconut milk, pandan leaf and salt. Stir constantly until the coconut milk comes to the boil, then simmered uncovered, until the chicken is tender and the gravy has thickened.
Note: Initially the colour will be yellowish (because of the turmeric) but as you render the gravy, the colour will turn to a rich golden brown.