WHAT is curry? Many people have spent years trying to find a suitable definition for it but at this point, the general consensus is that it refers to a slew of “stews that is of Indian origin”.
Luckily, the definition of curry isn’t something that we spend time pondering. Most Malaysians have grown up with this dish. And while no two homes make it the same way, when we say “curry”, we’re referring to a stew that has been cooked with a variety of spices, aromatics, chilli, vegetables, meats and coconut milk.
However, despite the fact that we actually do like our curry, many younger Malaysians don’t actually know how to make it or have taken the time to learn how to make it. Perhaps they’re a little intimidated and are not sure where to begin.
Malaysian curry recipes vary so widely that they can appear a little daunting. Which one do you use? The one by a famous Malaysian chef? Or from that popular homemaker? It’s even harder to decide between which type of Malaysian curry to make. There’s Malay, Nyonya, Indian and more.
The good news is that the recipe isn’t so important. The beauty of curry is that you can make personal adjustments to it and still call it curry. However, there are some handy rules you can follow to ensure that your curry turns out perfect.
When it comes to making curry, don’t skimp on the spices — in fact, the more the merrier. Use all the different ones you have lying in the pantry. Everything from cardamom to cloves is game when it comes to curry.
Next, make sure you dry fry them. Dried spices tend to lose flavour over time but if you put them in a hot pan without oil for about five to 10 minutes and stir them so they don’t burn, their flavours will reactivate.
Besides using dried spices, you also need a base of blended spices to make your dish — essentially curry powder. Some people attempt to make their own, but it can take generations to perfect. Luckily, we can easily go to a market or the grocery store to find a variety of premixed spices. However, feel free to add in extra spices you enjoy.
Some people add an extra 10 per cent of coriander powder or five per cent of cardamom powder. It’s up to you to decide which flavour you’d want to shine through. But, like your dried spices, you’ll need to dry fry them as well.
You’ll also need a base of aromatics to give your curry a more complex flavour. You can use anything you like, but the magical trifecta for curry is usually onion, garlic and shallots. Some homes even add in lengkuas (galangal) and lemongrass. You can choose to dice them, but blending them gives your curry more body. What’s even more important is that you sautee your blended aromatics for at least 10 minutes before adding in all your other spices and meat so that the flavours can develop before you start the stewing process.
BALANCE IS KING
Another thing many don’t consider is how thick they want their curry to be. If you want thicker curry, there are some natural ingredients you can use. For example, you can blend candlenuts into your aromatics or even use cashew nuts. Just don’t use too much.
For a 2-litre curry you’ll only need about five candle nuts or a handful of cashews. Otherwise, just add in potatoes as the starch from the vegetable will leak into the curry and give you a slightly thicker end result.
Finally, the balance of flavours is extremely important in a curry. You need it to be spicy, tangy, and salty with a touch of sweetness. This is where your favourite ingredients come into play. You can use tomatoes, yogurt and tamarind for tanginess, chicken stock and salt for saltiness, a variety of chillies for spice and just the smallest amount of palm sugar and coconut milk for sweetness. It’s up to you!
Here’s a recipe you can try. It’s a simple one that doesn’t take more than an hour to cook. This recipe is inspired by the Malay curry and uses more coconut milk than other types. However, feel free to use less and make any necessary adjustments. Happy trying!
4 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp of coriander powder
3 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
¼ tsp fennel
5 large red chillies, deseeded
5 dried chillies, soaked in warm water
5 candle nuts
1½ onions, diced
5 shallots, diced
5 garlic, diced
3 lemongrass stalks, diced
2 large tomatoes, halved
4 potatoes, halved
4 chicken wings
4 chicken drumsticks
1 litre chicken stock
500ml fresh coconut milk
Palm sugar and salt to taste
Vegetable oil, as needed
1.Mix curry powder and coriander powder with water until it forms a paste. Set aside.
2.In a heavy bottomed pot, place cinnamon, star anise, cloves and fennel. Turn to medium heat. Stir constantly for 10 minutes or until spices begin to release their aroma. Set aside.
3.In a blender, blend onions, garlic, shallots, candlenuts, lemongrass, soaked dried chilli, deseeded chilli and curry powder mixture. Add water or vegetable oil and blend.
4.In a heavy bottomed pan add vegetable oil and sautee the blended mixture for 10 minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Put in the spices and chicken and continue to sautee until the chicken is cooked through.
5.Pour in chicken stock and coconut milk, tomatoes and potatoes and simmer (never boil) until the oil starts to rise to the top. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
6.Season with salt and palm sugar.