Nonya chicken curry


Baba Nonyas are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who intermarried with Malays over the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Also called Peranakans, some of this group live in Indonesia, although they are mostly associated with the city of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. They have a rich and singular culture, including their own language. Fusing Chinese and Malaysian ingredients and techniques, Nonya cuisine is typified by complex flavourings, as seen in this elegant curry. Serve with steamed rice.

4 chicken leg quarters (chicken marylands)
80ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
1 star anise
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 desiree potatoes, or other all-purpose potatoes (about 600g), washed and quartered
625ml (2 ½ cups) chicken stock, approximately
250ml (1 cup) coconut milk
2 tablespoons shaved palm sugar
Chilli sambal, to serve (available from Asian food stores)

Spice paste
1 tablespoon belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste
10 dried red chillies
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
4 candlenuts, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
15 Asian shallots (about 200g), coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh turmeric (or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric)
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, trimmed and chopped

For the paste, wrap the belacan in foil then place in a small, heavy based frying pan over medium-low heat and toast for about 2 minutes on each side or until fragrant.

Meanwhile soak the chillies in boiling water to cover for 30 minutes then drain well. Combine the coriander, fennel and cumin seeds in a small, heavy-based frying pan over medium-low heat and dry-roast, shaking the pan often, for 4 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Remove to an electric spice grinder or a mortar and grind, or pound with a pestle, until a coarse powder forms. Combine the ground spices in a food processor with the belacan and remaining ingredients and process until a smooth paste forms.

Using a large, sharp knife cut the chicken quarters in half between the joint. Trim any excess skin and fat. Heat the oil in a large wok or saucepan over medium then add the spice paste and whole spices and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the chicken pieces and potatoes and stir to coat well. Add the stock; it should barely cover the mixture so add a little extra, or some water, as necessary. Bring the mixture to a simmer then cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat for 40 minutes or until the chicken and potatoes are tender. 

Add the coconut milk and the sugar and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for another 10 minutes or until sugar has dissolved. Serve with steamed rice and chilli sambal.

East: Culinary Adventures in Southeast Asia
By Leanne Kitchen, Antony Suvalko