Kari Ayam (Malaysian Chicken Curry)

Some curries are made for dunking and Kari Ayam is most definitely one of these!

All about the rich kuah (gravy), Kari Ayam is a perennial favourite of mine. Simple, tasty and delicious, this classic Malaysian is a staple of many a family feast, simple breakfast, or for me, picnics. Wonderful served at room temperature, this dish was a feature of most of our family picnics – I have vivid memories of tucking into tubs of if with chunks of soft white bread whilst sitting on the boulders at our local waterfalls. It was always a messy affair, but nothing a quick rinse under the falls couldn’t cure!

Not to be confused with the famed Nyonya classic Kari Kapitan, Kari Ayam leans more towards Malay/Indian flavours as it omits the belacan, 5-spice powder, and lime juice. Another distinct difference is the inclusion of potatoes – something I was reminded of when rebuked by the queen of Nyonya cuisine, Pearly Kee, for suggesting otherwise!

Whilst delicious eaten on the day of cooking, like all curries this dish will be improved immeasurably given time to rest before being served. Overnight is ideal, but even a couple of hours will do wonders. If left in the fridge, reheat gently before serving with fresh white bread, roti jala, roti canai or rice.

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

Kari Ayam (Malaysian Chicken Curry)

Serves: 4

Time: 45mins


  • 800g chicken thighs and legs, preferably with bone and skin (or boned thighs)
  • 4 TBSP cooking oil
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 small star anise
  • 4cm cinnamon stick
  • 4 markut (Thai) lime leaves
  • 1 large potato, peeled and medium chopped
  • 1.5 cup warm water
  • 70ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Dash of ground white pepper

Spice Paste:

  • 2-4 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
  • 1 lemongrass, outer skins removed
  • ½ white onion
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1-2 tsp chilli powder, preferably Kashmir
  • 1 TBSP ground cumin
  • 1 TBSP ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric


  1. Spice Paste: Deseed the soaked chillies, then roughly chop along with the lemongrass, onions, and garlic. Place in a food processor with some oil or water, and blend till very smooth. Decant to a bowl and stir in the ground spices. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  2. In a pot or wok heat the oil on a medium flame, then add the cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the spice paste. Sauté until it darkens and the oil separates – stir constantly to prevent the paste from burning.
  3. Add the chicken and stir to coat in the paste. Cook until the flesh turns white.
  4. Pour in the water. Add the lime leaves and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a lively simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the oil rises to the top.
  5. Gently stir in the coconut milk. Season with salt and white pepper, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the oil resurfaces.  
  6. Take off the heat and leave to rest for at least a couple of hours, but ideally overnight.
  7. Reheat gently before serving with fresh white bread, roti jala, roti canai or rice.

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