If you are a fan of the comforting tastes of Thai green curry or Thai cuisine itself, then you are going to love this delicious Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi recipe. Ok folks, let’s break this down for you if this is the first time you’re hearing about this Malay dish:
Ayam = chicken
Masak = cooked
Lemak = creamy (almost always derived from the creaminess of coconut milk)
Cili Padi = birds eye chilli
Yup, so basically its Chicken Cooked in Coconut Gravy with Birds eye chilli.
Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi recipe is a very well-known dish in both Singapore and Malaysia. Its origin story aside, suffice it to say, this has to be the most evergreen dishes of all time! Malay and Thai’s cuisine has a lot of similarities, both cuisines involve a slew of ingredients like lemongrass, chillies, galangal, ginger and kaffir lime leaves.
This dish is mostly cooked to a certain level of spiciness but depending on your spice-o-meter, you can adjust the number or type of chillies used. If you habitually cook with hot chillies, great. You can also use fresh jalapenos, depending on what is available in your country. I like it moderately spicy.
You can use chicken meat for this recipe but it is best to use a combination of cuts, so I would usually use a whole chicken cut up into smaller pieces as the bones give the gravy a good depth of flavour. Some recipes would just add the chicken to the spices and you can do that, but I tend to prefer browning the chicken pieces for a bit before adding it to the spices. It adds more deliciousness to your dish!
There are 2 ways you can brown your chicken.
Option A: Shallow frying in a pan. This is how both my grandma and my mother used to do. I used to do the same too till about 1 year ago when I discovered a simpler way.
Option B: Air-frying! You just need to add 1 tbsp of oil with the chicken in the marinade and air fry it for 20 mins at 160 degrees C. We are talking about using less oil and causing less mess too. No wiping of stove-tops and no oil splattering. (Join my club!)
This dish uses turmeric which gives it that gold as sunshine hue. We all know how turmeric is famed for its purported anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so sprinkle away! As for the coconut milk, I would usually use some coconut cream, diluted with water for convenience.
Normally, this dish is served over rice. I would serve this with a side cucumber and carrot salad too. Basically, you just marinade some julienned or spiralize carrots and cucumbers in some salt + sugar + vinegar for 10 minutes. You get this quick “pickle” that goes very well with the rich coconut gravy. SO GOOD! Pardon my drool.
This dish actually tastes better the next day as the spices would really soak into the meat of the chicken. I would ALWAYS cook double the batch and eat this dish for the next 2-3 days. Yup, it is that good and you need to encore it for lunch, dinner and the next day too!
The beauty of this recipe is, it can be substituted with prawns or even fish. Oh, crabs are AWESOME too! If you are not able to find certain ingredients, feel free to omit them. I’ve listed some ingredients as optional so that if you really can’t find the particular ingredient, you do not have to pull your hair in anxiety. It is really OK. This dish would still be classically delicious. Pinky promise.
- 1 kg chicken portions
- 3 garlic, grated
- 2 cm ginger, grated
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup oil (If shallow frying)
- 1 tbsp oil (If using air fryer)
- 1 large red onion
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 10 green bird’s eye chillies (use less or omit if you can't handle the heat)
- 5 fresh red chillies
- 2 cm fresh turmeric OR ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
- 400 ml thick coconut milk/cream
- 300 ml of water
- 5 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, crushed lightly
- 1 cm galangal, sliced (optional)
- 3 tbsp oil
- Salt to taste
- 2 cucumbers (julienned or spiralized)
- 2 carrots (julienned or spiralized)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro/mint
- Coat the chicken pieces with the garlic, ginger, turmeric and salt. Fry or air fry as preferred.
- In a pot, place 3 tbsp of oil and saute the blended ingredients, galangal and crushed lemongrass for about 10 minutes OR till fragrant.
- Add the browned chicken pieces and the kaffir lime leaves, if using.
- Cover and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, water and salt and cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the chicken pieces are fully cooked.
- Combine all the ingredients.