Thursday, June 06, 2013

kalio ayam (padang chicken curry)

Last week I had three pound cakes on my kitchen counter. Hubs and second son love cake, a well documented fact on this blog, and I love baking. Still, a chocolate pound cake stacked on a coffee pound cake, atop a rum pound cake, may be a bit much. Even then, I'm toying with the idea of a  mocha glazed walnut poundcake or perhaps, one riddled with nutty nibs and scented with the sweet, almost syrupy fragrance of almonds. Hi, My name is Denise... and I'm a bakeaholic.

No, no more cake, at least not for another few posts. But, I have to tell you, that chocolate pound cake was an absolute dreamboat. A deep tan coloured cake of indescribable chocolatey dampness. I won't unleash the adjectives as yet, but I solemnly swear to share the recipe with you soon. It would be a sin to keep something so good, all to myself.

For today's post, I'll show you how to make the second most loved curry (click here to find out which curry is a fiery numero uno in our house) in my home, Kalio Ayam. It's Indonesian, Padang to be exact and it's as authentic as you can expect an Indonesian curry to be, when taught by an Indonesian born sister-in-law, who was in turn taught by her born and bred Indonesian mother. Unlike many of my favourite dishes, this one is relatively mild, but no less delicious though modestly spiced.

I love this curry ladled over rice and mixed with sambal belacan before being despatched to the depths of my ever hungry belly, but, my mum in law always gently reminds me that belacan has no place in Padang cooking, when she sees saucers of sambal belacan beside the communal bowl of kalio on my dining table. What can I say? I'm Singaporean and I'm Kristang to the marrow in my bones. Give. Me. My. Sambal. Belacan. Of course you can forego the pungently feisty relish and serve it over rice and with a plethora of other delicious sides like prawn crackers, acar and the long and winding list of Padang vegetable or belado (chilli) dishes.

The reason I love this fabulously fragrant curry is that it's devoid of powdered spices. The spice base consists entirely of fresh spices which yields a curry that trips the light fantastic, across your tongue, delighting every tastebud in its wake. No matter how much I partake, and even if my plate of rice is sodden with gravy, I never suffer the discomforts of indigestion later. Sadly this is something all too common when I overindulge in curries which rely heavily on powdered spices.

If you like Thai green curry, you will love this fragrant and light curry. The herbs are a must and give the dish its signature aroma and flavour so do your best to include them all and avoid substitutions if you want a taste of Padang cuisine, as close to the real thing as possible, without having to splurge on an air ticket. Be sure to drown your rice in the gravy, and don't worry, the sambal belacan will be our little secret. What my mum in law doesn't know, won't hurt her ;)

kalio ayam (padang chicken curry)

prep 30 mins        cook 40 mins         serves 4 - 5

spice paste

6 fresh red chillies (seeded)
6 shallots, peeled
5 cloves garlic
3 cm (slightly over 1 in) length fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
2 cm length fresh turmeric (kunyit) peeled and sliced
4 candlenuts (buah keras), toasted and bashed

2 stalks lemongrass (serai), trimmed, root end bashed
3 cm length galangal (lengkuas) peeled and bashed until split
1 chicken, thoroughly cleaned, cut into 12 pieces, washed and drained
6 leprous lime leaves (makrut lime/limau perut leaves)
1 large turmeric leaf (daun kunyit), rib discarded, leaf torn into large shreds
3 large fresh Indonesian bay leaves (daun salam)
150 ml (3/4 cup) thick coconut milk
100 ml - 150 ml  (1/2 - 3/4 cup) water, depending on the desired gravy consistency
2 small slices tamarind (asam keping/asam gelugor)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/3 tsp sugar (optional)

Combine spice paste ingredients and pound or process (with a small amount of water if necessary) to a smooth paste. Set aside.

Heat about 5 tablespoons vegetable oil and when hot, fry the lemongrass and galangal for about half a minute. Add the spice paste and cook stirring over moderate heat until very fragrant and oil separates from mixture.

Add well drained chicken pieces, lime, turmeric and bay leaves and turn up the heat. Cook, turning and stirring to prevent sticking and scorching, until chicken pieces are coated with spices and lightly browned.

Pour in half the coconut milk and stir until evaporated. Pour in remaining coconut milk and stir again until evaporated. Pour in water, add tamarind slices and stir. Bring to a boil then lower heat, cover partially and simmer until chicken pieces are cooked through and tender. Season to taste with salt and sugar and give curry a good final stir.

Turn off heat and dish out. Serve with white rice.


  1. Hi Denise!
    Haven't eaten this in ages. We love curries in my household so I'll give it a go this weekend. Except for the Indonesian bay leaves & lengkuas I think I can get all the ingredients at our Asian supermarket. I'll ask around for an alternative to lengkuas. I know my hubby's not too fond of fan of watery curries like this but who cares. I love it so he'll have to be content with his beloved sambal belacan on the side. Cheers Denise! :)

    1. Hi Jean!

      Oh, I'm so glad you're familiar with this dish! I love it too, though I never had it before meeting my husband. It's so fragrant, that cooking it is like an aromatherapy session in the kitchen LOL The consistency of the gravy is entirely up to you. In fact, if you cook it over a very low flame once the chicken has gone it, you can actually forego the water and you'll end up with a thick coating gravy which would make this kinda like a quick and easy chicken rendang. Hope you manage to get a substitute for the lengkuas though I can't think what would be similar to lengkuas except for something even more exotic like lesser galangal (temu kunci or finger root). If you can find fresh pandan, or Asian or even sweet basil, they would make nice additions to the curry too, though of course they're not really like galangal. Haha! I can completely understand your husband's sambal belacan fixation ;) Cheers, my dear! Hope you have a fantastic weekend!

    2. Denise I spoke too soon. I sent my hubby to the Asian superstore after posting my reply above and he found it but it was named galangal. Luckily I gave him both names for it. Anyway hubby and I are off work today so I sent him shopping as I know he loves rummaging around at the Asian superstore and showing off to the cashiers his knowledge of Asian food *rolls eyes in air*. Got pandan leaves too that I bought again recently and froze them. Thanks for the tip about the sweet basil and for thickening the gravy a là rendang. Haha yes my husband can't live without his sambal belacan. Actually I have to say although he's French and I introduced him to sambals, my husband's grandmother is originally from the French Reunion Islands and curries are their staple food there so he's no stranger to them. Btw we tried your Easy Peasy Bryani last week and it was really easy peasy good!
      Have a nice weekend too Denise. Cheers!

  2. Hi Denise, Can I find fresh turmeric and turmeric leaves in the stores here? Maybe I can use the Indian turmeric powder in the place of fresh turmeric, but what about turmeric leaves? And can I use the dried version of Indian bay leaves instead of fresh Indonesian ones? Or where do I get fresh bay leaves?

    1. Hi Sangeeta. You can use turmeric powder, though the colour will be more beautiful with fresh turmeric which also has a more herbal aroma and flavour. Fresh turmeric is easily available in local supermarkets and wet markets.

      Turmeric leaves are only available from some vegetable sellers at wet markets but any Malay grocer in a wet market will have all the herbs required. The best places to seek them out are Geylang Serai Market or Tekka Market at Blk 665 Buffalo Rd in Little India.

      I don't recommend dried Indian bay as a substitute because the flavour and aroma are quite different. If you really can't find the herbs, I suggest omitting them and using 3 or 4 knotted pandan leaves and 1 or 2 extra lemongrass stalks. Hope this info helps. If you still have any difficulties, please let me know :)

    2. Thanks loads, Denise! I will be going to Tekka Market tomoroow, so I will get the turmeric leaves from there. And will omit the Indonesian bay leaves. Will try this, click some pics and show you!

  3. I love all curries from around the world. Dying to try this one very soon, thanks for sharing.

  4. I made this, yum! I even found galangal, for the first time in my life :-). I was missing a lot of ingredients, of course, as always. I used pandan essence and regular French bay leaf and lemon juice instead of lime leaves and some other spices, but I like the final product, even if it's not exactly what it was supposed to be. It's been a long time since I've had anything South East Asian, and I was looking for a simple recipe, and your post was just in time :-). Thanks, Denise, once again :-)

  5. We have powdered turmeric but I have no idea where I would get leaves from.

  6. I can "smell" your curry over here, Denise :-P Drooling lah..... !
    Love fresh daun kunyit (turmeric leaf) in curries and rendang; it definitely gives that extraordinary aroma/flavour to the dish. Turmeric powder is just not the same...

    Oh yes, give me sambal belacan at the side. kind of dish. YUM :-D

  7. I was reading your article and wondered if you had considered creating an ebook on this subject. Your writing would sell it fast. You have a lot of writing talent. Using the un-official subreddit for Pikdo- Share your posts, ask questions and get feedback on your account. Come join our great page.


Please leave a name with your comment. I may not be able to respond to every comment but every recipe related question will be answered.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...