Kari Kapitan (Captain’s Curry)

Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is the food of the Peranakan or Baba Nyonya people, a culture descended from Chinese people marrying Malay people, thus producing a unique cuisine most beloved in Malaysia. The culture is most prominent in Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Flavours are complex and reflect the work that goes into creating the dish. Ingredients often used include tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, candlenuts and belacan (fermented shrimp paste).

I made this for a pre-Christmas meal with friends but was in such a rush I didn’t get any good photos of it, but it was enjoyed by all. Then I also made roti jala, which are savoury net pancakes flavoured with coconut milk and turmeric. This was my second time cooking it in a month, so good was it the first time round but I left out the roti jala this time as they were hard work to make. The curry goes great with any plain carb such as boiled rice, any flatbread, chapati or roti paratha. You want plenty of carbs to soak up that addictive sauce!

I’ve used the recipe from a Singaporean website called The Meatmen. They feature lots of Nyonya recipes, and also generally Malaysian/Singaporean recipes. I’ve found their recipes to be reliable in terms of ratios and instructions. The flavours are always spot on. With my version of the curry, I liked it to have more sauce so used some water as well as coconut milk and less oil so used way less oil than the actual recipe.

Kari Kapitan

Serves 4 to 5

1kg chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
2 onions (halved and sliced)
200ml coconut milk
1 tbsp finely sliced kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar) or caster sugar
2 tbsp tamarind juice or paste
8 tbsp vegetable oil (4 tbsp for frying chicken, and 4 tbsp for frying spice paste)

Spice paste
350g shallots
10g garlic
20g ginger
20g galangal
10g fresh turmeric
10g candlenuts (use macadamia nuts or cashew nuts if not available)
200g red chillies
20g belacan, toasted in a pan
50g lemongrass

  1. Marinate the chicken with turmeric powder and salt for 4 hours. The longer you can leave it the better, but even an hour is good.
  2. Add all ingredients for the spice paste into a food processor and blend until fine.
  3. Heat a wok to medium high heat with 4 tbsp oil and fry the chicken on all sides until brown.
  4. Using the same uncleaned wok, add a further 4 tbsp oil and fry the spice paste until fragrant. This will take about 10 minutes, and the paste will get slightly darker in colour. Keep stirring the paste so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
  5. Add the sliced onions and stir until translucent. Add the chicken and stir for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and tamarind juice/paste and top with enough water to just cover the chicken.
  7. Simmer for 1 hour when the chicken will be tender. I didn’t have to use any extra salt, but taste and add more salt if you wish.

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