This is an Indonesian inspired dish which I like very much because as odd as it might sound for a curry, it is fresh tasting. It is filled with the aromas and taste of 3 types of fresh tuberous roots, lemongrass and 2 kinds of leaves.  There is also a hint of sour from tamarind (a sour fruit). This curry is so fragrant, there is no need for a single dried spice. Well, apart from black pepper.

Some people like a curry with lots of  loose sauce. Others like a curry with a sauce that is similar to a thick gravy. Then, there are others who prefer a curry to be cooked much longer so that there is just enough sauce to only coat the chicken pieces. There are actually terminologies for these varying stages of ‘sauce consistency’. Any which way, it will be tasty. So after the chicken is cooked to tender, choose either to serve as is or cook it further to the consistency that you like. There isn’t a right or wrong way.

At a recent dinner party, I chose to cook my chicken curry further so that the sauce was thicker. Why? Take a look at all the dishes on the plate. I already had a dish with plenty of loose sauce – Bean Sprouts & Tofu In A Citrusy, Light, Thin Coconut Sauce.  To provide a contrast, I cooked the curry sauce further to a thicker consistency. Visually on a plate, it looked better for it too. So keep that tip in mind when you decide to cook this curry.

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Clockwise from 11 ‘o’ clock: Bean Sprouts & Tofu In A Citrusy, Light, Thin Coconut Sauce, Dry Beef Sambal, Easy Pineapple Salad, Salted Duck Egg, Sambal Chilli, Tuna Potato Patties, Chicken Curry Made With Fresh Herbs.

Indonesian Inspired Chicken Curry Made With Fresh Herbs

Prep: 30 minutes 
Cook: ~45 minutes or longer depending on how you like the consistency of your curry i.e. loose, thick, … details under ‘Method’ 
Inactive:
Level: Moderately easy. Just pay attention that the ground ingredients are cooked far enough. Follow my instructions and you’ll do fine.
Serves: ~ 4 – 6 as part of a rice-based meal
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Taste best the day it is made

Ingredients

1 cup=250ml=8.45 US fl oz

2.86lb (1.3kg) weight of cleaned chicken
1/3 cup oil
Aromatics for grinding
5.64oz (160g) small purple onions
0.63oz (18g)(~4 cloves) garlic
1.41oz (40g) fresh ginger
1.12oz (32g) fresh galangal
0.83oz (18g) fresh tumeric
125g fresh chillies*
Other aromatics
2 lemongrass
5 kaffir lime leaves**
1 large tumeric leaf** OR 6 fresh bay leaves
2 slices of dried tamarind OR 2 teaspoons tamarind paste*** OR 2-3 Tablespoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
Liquids to add
25.36 US fl oz (750ml) coconut milk*
1/2 cup water

*
Choose a mix of spicy (smaller sized ones) and not too spicy (usually the longer & fatter sized ones but there is no guarantee they won’t be spicy!) chillies to decide on the level of ‘heat’ you want in the curry. Refer to image below.
** Nowadays, kaffir lime leaves can be found in the vegetable chiller sections of quite a few supermarkets. Tumeric leaves can be difficult to obtain but try the chiller or freezer sections in Asian grocery stores. Refer to image below. Fresh bay leaves are a very good substitute.
*** Refer to image below. Tamarind is a sour fruit. The paste comes partially processed with pulp and seeds. They can be sold in flat rectangular slabs wrapped in plastic or in small tubs. Look for them along the Asian Food aisle.
* I use those that are kept in the chiller sections. My second choice would be to use canned coconut milk. UHT versions (those packed in paperboard cartons that sits unrefrigerated) are my last choice. If using the latter, because viscosity differs across brands, and some can be very thick (like double cream because of the addition of carrageenan/seaweed), dilute with enough water to get a viscosity like milk to the equivalent of the 25.36 US fl oz (750ml).

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Method

Prep the ingredients
1. If using tamarind paste, into a bowl, add the tamarind paste and top with 3 – 4 Tablespoons of water. If using dried tamarind slices, rinse and dry. Set aside.
2. Cut the cleaned chicken into ~2″X3″ (5cmX8cm) sizes. Keep in mind that these measurements are suggestions. You should cut the chicken into sizes that will help them cook through at the same time. Cuts of chicken that have bones in them, will take slightly longer to cook compared to chicken breasts. So I cut the breast into larges pieces as compared to the chicken thigh or drumstick. Drain and set aside.
3. Grind all the ingredients listed under “Aromatics For Grinding” until the paste is smooth. Set aside. Use the 1/2 cup water listed in ingredients list to rinse out the food processor and save that liquid for use later.
4. Remove the outer 2 -3 leaves of the lemongrass, those are usual too fibrous. Trim off a sliver of the base and discard. You only need about 5″-6″ (13cm-15cm) of lemongrass, so trim off the excess top end. Using the side of your cutting block, a rolling pin or the base of heavy pot/saucepan, smash the lemongrass to release its flavour.  I don’t recommend using the side of a knife. It’s dangerous. Set aside.
5. Return to the bowl of tamarind water and paste. With your fingers, break up the tamarind paste and rub the pulp off the seeds. Do this well to get all the flavour out. Strain and set aside the tamarind water.

Let’s fry
1. Set a deep frying pan or pot (preferably nonstick) on burner but do not turn on the heat. Add the 1/3 cup of oil into the cold pan. Add the ground aromatics and do not stir it in. Over the ground ingredients, add the 2 lemongrass. Remove the stems from 3 kaffir lime leaves, add that to the top of the pile. Why add ingredients into a cold pan and into cold oil and why not to stir anything in? To avoid major spitting and splattering. The ground ingredients are very liquid and once it hits hot old, it can get dangerous.
2. Turn on burner to medium-high heat, as soon as you see little bubbles break onto the surface of the oil, start stirring the ingredients.

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Bubbles starting to appear on surface of oil. This is the time to start stirring.

3. Do not stop stirring for the next 10 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, there will be lots of hissing going on and it will start to smell very aromatic.

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Only half way there at this stage. Keep stirring.

4. After ~10 minutes of frying, it should like the image below.  To assess if it has been cooked far enough, it would have to:
(1) smell very fragrant
(2) the hissing sound would have died down significantly
(3) the oil would have separated from the ingredients
(4) the ingredients would look as if it has curdled
(5) finally, do the taste test, it should not taste raw but taste faintly sweet (the onions)

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5. Time to add the chicken, tumeric leaf or bay leaves, pepper and salt. Remove the stem from the tumeric leaf and discard. Tie leaf into a knot. Add the chicken first, then the tumeric leaf or bay leaves, then pepper and salt. Stir to coat the chicken evenly with the ground ingredients. The outside of the chicken should be almost completely opaque from cooking.

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6. Add the coconut milk and the 1/2 cup water that was used earlier to rinse out the food processor. Also add in the tamarind water or dried tamarind slice. If using lime juice instead, you add that towards the end of cooking.

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7. The chicken should be almost covered with liquid, if not, top up with some water.

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8. Reduce heat to medium-low.
9. Now is the time to decide how thin or thick you like your curry sauce:
(1) Thin like the viscosity of milk with plenty of sauce? Cover the pot and lower heat to low and simmer away for ~ 45 – 60 minutes. The meat should be tender but should not fall apart. Refer to my feature image.
(2) In between a thick and thin consistency, like the viscosity of single cream but possibly a little thicker. Do not cover the pot, cook on low heat until oil splits from the sauce. The sauce should have reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 the volume by this time. It should take ~60 minutes. The meat should be tender but should not fall apart.

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(3) Thick sauce that just coats the chicken. It looks like a thick gravy. Do not cover the pot, cook on low-medium heat until sauce has cooked down. The sauce will have thickened considerably. It should take 60 – 90 minutes. Because of the longer cooking time, I suggest you cut the chicken into bigger pieces than what I had suggested. For image of chicken cooked to this stage, please scroll up to image of the rice platter.
10. Once the chicken is tender, it’s time to add the last 2 kaffir lime leaves. Remove them stems from it, toss in the leave and stir to mix and simmer away for just 1 minute so that you keep the fresh citrusy aroma and taste. Turn off the burner.
11. If you are using lime juice instead of tamarind, add 2 Tablespoons to start of with. Taste and add more if you like.
12. Adjust seasonings. If the curry lacks oomph for some reasoning, add some fish sauce (not soy sauce) but it really should not need any.
13. If you live in an area with high humidity, once the curry is cooked to your liking, do not cover the pot as it encourages spoilage.

To serve
1. Pick out all the leaves and lemongrass and discard.
2. Curry can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.
3. Serve with rice and a few other dishes. Perhaps, with some of the dishes I had served at my recent dinner party? Please scroll back up to the image of the rice platter. Recipe links can be found there.

Tips

Some drinks suggestions to serve with a spicy Indonesian-style rice-based meal:
(1) Golden Yellow Tumeric And Lime Soda. This is yum and is my top pick to go with a spicy meal.

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(2) PineappleAde
This drink is made from the peel and core of a pineapple. Serve hot or cold, it’s refreshing especially with spicy food.

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(2) Masala Chai
It might sound odd to serve a milk tea with a spicy meal but it’s the norm really. Milk does tame the fire in your mouth! Omit the spices in the tea if you choose to (it’s just cardamon and cloves) and have a regular milk tea asian style.

masala chai

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

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