curry paste

Ayam Masak Lemak Putih

A common perception of Malay food is that it is an invariably spicy affair; for the most part it’s absolutely true – we do love our chilies and we certainly aren’t shy about using them in eye-watering quantities.

Nevertheless, Malay food is a diverse cuisine and there are, in fact, a number of delectable dishes for those of us looking for something a little less “pedas” (hot). Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a classic Malaysian curry, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih (Coconut Milk White Cooked Chicken) is, in fact, perhaps one of our mildest offerings, and is a great option for introducing your non-Malaysian friends to our incredible flavours. Of course, mild in no way means meek, and this wonderful dish is every bit as alluring as beef rendang and kari kapitan.

Brimming with nuance, on the face of it Ayam Masak Lemak Putih resembles a traditional Indian korma. Both mild and comforting, despite their inherent similarities what really sets these dishes apart is their flavour. Unlike its more famous doppelgänger, instead of cream or yogurt, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih is braised in a fragrant brew of coconut milk and classic South East Asian aromatics such as galangal, lemongrass and lime.

Another distinction between the two is the consistency of the sauce.

Unlike a korma, which is typically thick, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih‘s rich and moreish sauce is both looser and lighter; making it perfect for either drowning your rice in it, or as I love to do, moping up it with good white bread or, better still, some flaky roti canai.

Admittedly, despite its name my version of Ayam Masak Lemak Putih tends to err on the side of gray as apposed to actually being white; please don’t get hung up on the colour, or its name – especially when it’s something that tastes as good as this! The “white” is a product of using a copious amount of lemak (coconut milk) in the sauce, but outside Malaysia this can be an extravagance too far, and frankly it’s unnecessary. Of course if you do happen to have a glut of coconut milk available, by all means increse the quantity for a truly authentic look.

Note: Like most Malaysian curries, this dish will benefit from a rest before serving. As there is little or no chili in the sauce, a couple of hours resting time should suffice, though overnight is, of course, always ideal.

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Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)

Arguably the most famous curry in the world, Green Curry is, for many of us, the poster-child of Thai cuisine. Disarmingly unintimidating, delicious and rewarding to make, it is hardly surprising that Green Curry has the equivocal honour of being as synonymous with Thailand as Spaghetti Bolognese is to Italy.

Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)In spite of the fact that it is a true Thai classic, Green Curry is actually remarkably easy to make at home. The first thing to consider is your curry paste and the eternal debate between homemade or store-bought. Whilst there are a wide range of fantastic ready-made pastes available, many recipes and chefs wax-lyrical about the absolute necessity of making your own, insisting, “that’s how its done in Asia”. Poppycock!

Now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t make your own, I’m just saying you mustn’t get too hung up on doing so. The truth is that the only Asians making their own curry pastes are those who’s job it is to do so.

Okay, so whilst I do concede that a homemade curry paste is almost always nicer than store-bought, they invariably require a long list of ingredients that are difficult to source and often impossible to substitute. As part of this recipe I have included a homemade curry paste and the final dish is all the more rewarding for it, but if you can’t be bothered making it or you don’t have the ingredients, don’t despair – there is no shame in using a store-bought paste instead (as I often do). Thankfully, as with most curries, the success of the dish actually relies more on technique than ingredients; so rather focus on how you make the curry and less on the provenance of your paste. The chances are your curry will still turn out great!

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