Ayam Lada Hitam (Malaysian Pepper Chicken)

For better or worse, sometimes you can smell your dinner a mile away, as is certainly the case with Ayam Lada Hitam (Malaysian Pepper Chicken)!

Fragrant, fiery, and flavoured to the extreme, Asian pepper dishes are often divisive; with most of us either loving or loathing it. Deployed sparingly as a form of seasoning, the use of pepper in Western cooking is actually quite limited – perhaps a relic of the days when the spice was highly valued, and its use judicious. At its abundant source, however, pepper can be added with abandon and is often used to add heat to a dish, instead of just being a seasoning to enhance flavour. Unlike the heat produced from chilies, pepper’s burn is slower, deeper, and more aromatic – adding a pervasive undertone to a dish that chili does not. Personally I’m an avid fan, but I have to admit that when it comes to pepper, you can easily have too much of a good thing. Like most things in life and cooking, balance is key and in this recipe that is somewhere in-between the toasted spiced oil and the heat of the pepper.

Adapted from an early recipe from my Aunt, the acclaimed food writer Rohani Jelani, Ayam Lada Hitam is old-school Malaysian cooking at its best. Packed with flavour and simple to make, this dish doesn’t require any specialist Asian ingredients – making it a great option for those of us with limited access to such.

Ayam Lada Hitam remains a home-cooking classic, albeit one that is rarely mentioned in the culinary lexicon of modern Malaysia. It’s a shame really, as this spicy dish is worthy of its place at the table, and easily holds its own against stalwarts such as beef rendang and curry kapitan. Best served alongside a mild vegetable dish like sayur lodeh, or something sweet like kari nenas (Pineapple Curry), Ayam Lada Hitam makes a great addition to any Malaysian meal.

A word of warning though: come makan-time, just be prepared for a knock at the door, as your whole neighbourhood will have smelt what’s cooking for dinner!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Ayam Lada Hitam (Malaysian Pepper Chicken)

Serves: 4 to 6


  • 4 chicken breasts, on-the-bone with skin
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 – 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 4 cm fresh ginger, grated
  • 5 – 6 large garlic cloves, crushed


  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • 1 red chili, sliced


  1. Cut your chicken breasts into 3 pieces each, then season with salt and ground white pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
  2. Dry-roast the cumin, fennel and black peppercorns (add between 1 and 2 tsp according to taste) till fragrant. Leave to cool down before grinding to a powder in a pestle and mortar.
  3. Place a large wok over a medium heat, and then add the oil
  4. Place the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook for a couple of minutes till slightly golden. Remove the chicken and then add the grated ginger and crushed garlic to the oil.
  5. Fry the garlic and ginger for a minute and then return the chicken pieces to the wok – stir-fry for about 8 minutes.
  6. Add the ground spices and continue to cook for another 10 minutes on a medium heat. Stir the meat often, making sure to turn the pieces in the spiced oil.
  7. Add the warm water and bring up to a boil.
  8. Cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes
  9. Remove the lid and continue frying until most of the water evaporates, the meat cooks through, and the spiced oil coats the chicken – this should take another 10 minutes.
  10. Garnish with sliced spring onion and red chilies

Serve with: some plain rice and a mild vegetable dish like sayur lodeh, or something sweet like kari nenas (Pineapple Curry). Works especially well with any coconut based dishes

 To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here


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