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.

Chicken and Pineapple Curry

I honestly can’t remember what made me think of cooking this initially. Perhaps in my subconscious I was trying to incorporate some pineapple in my diet. An experienced nurse advised me pineapple and arnica could help me with my recently sprained ankle. Regardless, it turned out well as the curry was delicious! Best eaten with boiled rice as it’s the perfect bland vehicle for that curry sauce. Gareth loved it – he took seconds and packed more for his lunch the next day.

It’s really simple to make, although involves just a little bit of prep prior to cooking. My recipe came from here, but as usual I made a few modifications to suit my tastes.

It serves 3 if you’re having it on its own with rice, but would stretch to 4 if you’re having a couple of other dishes too.

To make it fancier, you could top it with some cashew nuts. My wise mother suggested prawns instead of chicken which sounds amazing, and I think other types of seafood like squid would fare well too. I think thin slices of pork would also be delicious. Then again, you could make this a completely vegetarian/vegan meal by substituting the chicken with just veg (peppers, cabbage, baby sweetcorn, green beans) and/or tofu, and use salt or soy sauce instead of fish sauce. You could bulk it out with some potatoes as well.

Wow I’ve just realised how versatile this curry is! Have fun making this.

Chicken and Pineapple Curry

Serves 3-4

Curry paste
3 stalks lemongrass
1 banana shallot, or 4 regular shallots
4 cloves garlic
2 inch ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves

500g chicken thigh fillets
400g canned pineapple or fresh pineapple
1 red pepper
3 red chillies
1 cup coconut milk
2 big bunches of Thai sweet basil
Fish sauce to taste
1/2 lime, juiced
Vegetable oil

  1. Prepare the curry paste. Cut off the upper thin stalks of the lemon grass and keep them for the curry later. Coarsely chop the fat bases of the lemon grass, shallot, garlic and ginger. Place in food processor with the cumin, coriander and turmeric and blend until smooth.
  2. Cut the pineapple into bite-sized chunks. Slice the red pepper. Finely slice the chillies.
  3. Cut the chicken thighs into large chunks.
  4. Heat a wok over medium high heat with 1 tbsp oil. Fry the curry paste with the cinnamon and cloves for 5 minutes until fragrant. Remove from heat.
  5. Still using the uncleaned wok, add 2 tbsp oil and sear the chicken on all sides.
  6. Add in the cooked curry paste, remaining lemon grass stalks, red pepper and chillies. If using fresh pineapple, add it now too. Stir for another 5 minutes.
  7. Add the coconut milk and canned pineapple if using. Add a little water if the curry looks too thick. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
  8. When done, stir in the Thai basil at the very end.
  9. Season with fish sauce and lime juice.