Ayam Kleo (Nyonyan Chicken Curry) was introduced to me while eating in one of my go-to Malaysian restaurants in Sydney, Australia. One lunchtime I got chatting to a Malaysian girl sat next to me about the. She was from Singapore and very excited that I loved Malaysian food so much. She said I should try a Nyonya curry from the restaurant as they were from Singapore too and it was a special type of food. I'd always ordered the Kari Ayam (Malaysian Chicken Curry) from the menu, but I assured her I'd give one of the Nyonya dishes a try next time.
Nyonyan Chicken Curry - a hybrid of Chinese & Malaysian Cuisines.
Nyonya, also known as Peranakan cuisine was born from the early Chinese migrants to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Over time the meshing of cooking techniques and flavours grew into what we call today Nonya or Nyonya cuisine. The resulting flavours are tangy, sweet, spicy and herbal. A huge variety of fragrant herbs, roots and spices go into a complex balance of sweetness, sourness, spice and salt. Nyonyan food has an intoxicating variety of sweet and savoury dishes. My favourite Laksa Noodle Soup originates from Nyonyan cuisine - everyone should eat laksa once in their life!
On my next visit to the restaurant, at the suggestion of my lunchtime friend, I ordered the Singapore Ayam Kleo Nyonyan chicken curry and was not disappointed. A rich, coconut based curry sauce which was a perfect balance of authentic Malaysian spice. As fragrant and floral as it was spicy - it's what makes South East Asian Curries some of my favourite curries to cook and eat.
A curry recipe to savour
It's restaurants like these that I love to hunt out. Sadly, due to the ongoing gentrification of Sydney, this restaurant, like so many of my favourite Malaysian & Singaporean joints closed down. I'm glad I got to enjoy it while I could, and I'm even happier that I found a great recipe to adapt into the one I use today.
Cooking this curry at home is really easy. Once you have the ingredients (some require a little tracking down - see links in the recipe) you can whip this dish up very easily. There's not a lot to it once the paste is mixed.
What are Candle Nuts?
Just a quick note about candle nuts. They're traditional in Malaysian cuisine - pounded into curry pastes to help as a sauce thickener. On their own raw, they're actually toxic and shouldn't be eaten like regular nuts. Once pounded into the paste and cooked, they are 100% safe. As a good alternative you can use macadamia nuts (which you CAN eat raw!)
How to make my Ayam Kleo (Nyonyan Chicken Curry)
- 2.2 lb (1kg) skinless & boneless chicken thighs (cut into large chunks)
- 1 onion (chopped)
- 1 lemongrass stalk (white part only, chopped)
- 6 candlenuts (or macadamia nuts)
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger (finely grated)
- 1 tbsp garlic (crushed)
- 2 tsp mild chilli powder
- 1 tsp ground turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp Belacan Malaysian shrimp paste (or Thai shrimp paste)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5oz/400ml)
- 2 tbsp peanut oil (or vegetable)
- In a pestle and mortar, a food processor or a stick blender, grind together the lemon grass, candle nuts, onion, garlic and ginger until very smooth. Stir in the chilli and turmeric powders, shrimp paste, salt and pepper. Take 2 tablespoons of the paste and stir into the chicken. Leave covered for 1/2 hour to marinade.
- Heat the oil in a wok until hot - add the chicken pieces and let them brown for 5 minutes. Add the remaining curry paste and the coconut milk along with about 1 1/2 cups of water. Let this come to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently, uncovered for 40 minutes to reduce the sauce until thick and creamy.
- Serve with plenty of fluffy Jasmine rice or some crunchy, flaky roti breads.
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