There is a crisp air this morning that signals autumn is well underway (down under) and it’s time to switch from fresh, light, zingy salads to more robust, earthy and comforting dishes. For me a big flavoured chicken curry always does the trick. I decide on Nyonya-style as Christopher and I have been talking about our time in Malaysia and of course the food.
We eat the curry (little Eva included) with a bowl full of steaming basmati rice though in Malaysia it’s often served with bread or roti to mop up all the delicious gravy. A glass of Briar Ridge Gewurztraminer matches the dish perfectly bringing out the intense floral and lime flavours that help cut through the richness of the curry.
As with most curries, it tastes much better the next day so I recommend planning ahead. It gives time for all the flavours to mellow and come together. Re-heating not only improves the flavour but also makes the meat wonderfully tender.
for the spice mixture
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons chilli powder*
for the ground paste
8-10 shallots or around 250g
3 garlic cloves
3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
15g fresh turmeric root
15g shrimp paste, roasted**
100ml peanut oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces or use 8 thighs
8 new potatoes, peeled and halved
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
270ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
salt to taste
To make the spice mixture, dry roast each spice separately (except chilli powder) in a saucepan over moderate heat, until fragrant or just beginning to smoke. Roasting spices individually means you are less likely to burn one that takes less time to roast.
Leave to cool before finely blending in a coffee or spice grinder then mix in chilli powder. I usually triple the quantity above and store leftover spice mixture in an air-tight container until the next time I cook this curry.
Using a pestle and mortar, pound the shallots, garlic, dried chillies and turmeric to a fine paste. Best to do this in small quantities so it is more manageable, then add in roasted shrimp paste. Alternatively blitz small quantities of the ground paste in a food processor.
Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and throw in cinnamon stick, star anise and curry leaves. Stir until fragrant then add the ground paste and spice mixture. Reduce the heat and cook the paste for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t skimp on the oil as the mixture will burn and become bitter.
When the oil has separated from the paste, it is time to add the chicken, potatoes and lemongrass. Stir through before adding water. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through.
Add the coconut milk and simmer a further 20 minutes. Finally add the sugar and season with salt.
cooking time: 60 mins
*look for Kashmir chilli powder, as the intense red will give the curry a great colour
**wrap shrimp paste in foil and roast in oven at 180C/350F/Gas4 for 15 mins