Malaysian Food

Lai Yao Kei 奶油鸡 (Malaysian Butter Chicken)

Butter Chicken, but not as most of us know it!

Now obviously I’m a tad biased, but when I fancy some Butter Chicken it typically isn’t the Indian variety I’m hankering after. More often than not, what I’m really craving is actually something altogether different.

Indeed, Lai Yao Kei (Malaysian Butter Chicken) is about a million miles away from what most of us imagine when we think of Butter Chicken. In fact, I’d go so far as arguing this wonderful Malaysian dish, is in a league of its own. Unlike the oft mangled classic that is Indian butter chicken, the Malaysian version is an altogether different beast.

Unlike the Indian alliteration, there are no overnight or penetrative marinates here. Instead, flavoured morsels of chicken are ready for the deep-fryer in less than an hour, and smothered in a super quick creamy aromatic sauce. Infused with the unmistakable aroma of fresh curry leaves, and spiked with the heat from fresh chilies, the sauce itself is actually very simple and comes together in minutes.

Though you’d think the butter would be the star of the show here, it is actually the evaporated milk that steals the limelight. Admittedly, evaporated milk is probably the last ingredient you’d expect to find in a savoury sauce, but trust me, it works a treat and will blow your mind!

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

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Sambal Goreng (Fried Chili Sambal)

An everyday sambal with a myriad of uses, sambal goreng is as common in Malaysia as ketchup is in the West. From nasi lemak to Hokkien mee, this essential sambal adorns and flavours many of our favourite meals, and is the ideal condiment to a wealth of dishes.

Simple to make, adaptable and easily replicated at home, this handy sambal can also be used as a marinate for any meat destined for the grill. It can also be used as a stir-fry sauce for just about anything – simply add a splash of water and you’ll be good to go.

With a shelf-life of a couple of weeks, this tangy classic is bound to become a pantry favourite!

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

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Ayam Goreng Berempah (Spicy Malaysian Fried Chicken)

 

For better or worse, I have recently found myself an avid fan of deep frying.

In the space of a Lockdown I have gone from fretting about the obvious detriments of cooking this way, to deep frying with rather worrying abandon! Battered sausages, onion rings, and of course, an attempt at D.I.Y. KFC – all have found their way into my sizzling cauldron…and onto my ever expanding hips. Of course, the best part about my newfound love of fried foods is that I can finally bring myself to make some of my favourite dishes at home – specifically, Ayam Goreng Berempah.

Often served alongside nasi lemak and drenched with sambal goreng, this spicy deep fried chicken dish is a crispy and irresistible delight. Marinated overnight in a heady blend of spices and fragrant curry leaves, the chicken is literally bursting with flavour. Unlike many other deep fried chicken recipes, ayam goreng berempah‘s marinate actually doubles up as the batter, meaning less mess!

The “secret” to getting the chicken’s crust crispy is the addition of cornflour into the mix. It’s important to get the ratio between the wet and dry ingredients correct – too wet and the batter/marinate may not remain adhered to the chicken when fried. Personally I like to give my marinated pieces a second dredging of cornflour, a couple of minutes before cooking – just in case! Remember to add a few fresh curry leaves to the sizzling oil beforehand to infuse it with extra aroma and flavour.

Simply irresistible!

Note: it is absolutely vital that the oil not be too hot, as it will burn the crispy coating long before the chicken pieces are cooked through. Ideally you want the temperature to be around 165 to 175°c. It is also important that the meat is at room temperature before cooking.

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

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Nasi Lemak (Malaysian Coconut Rice)

 

It perhaps goes without saying, but we Asians do love our rice. From fried to steamed, fermented to ground; we work everyday miracles from this most humble grain.

Naturally my native Malaysia is no exception; in fact, in addition to an array of odes to rice, we have even concocted rice dishes of every colour and hue, covering the spectrum from a mellow yellow all the way to an alarming blue. The variety and choice are, frankly, dizzying. Nevertheless, ask a Malaysian what their favourite rice dish is and the most likely answer would be – nasi lemak!

Most commonly associated with breakfast, nasi lemak is arguably the nation’s favourite way to start the day. Fragrant with heady aromatics such as pandan leaf, this coconut enriched rice is the perfect soothing foil to the spicy condiments which are traditionally served alongside it.

At its most basic, nasi lemak bungkus (take-away) comes portioned into small mounds of rice, which are then topped with either a prawn, egg, or ikan bilis (dried anchovy), sambal. Each portion is then expertly wrapped up in a banana leaf and magicked into a three-sided dome – making for the ultimate Malaysian breakfast on-the-go. Aside from its simplistic bungkus variety, nasi lemak can also be an altogether extravagant affair. Served up each morning to queues of customers, a good nasi lemak place comes with a multitude of side dishes, from the classic beef rendang to assam prawns, and almost everything else in-between!

Regardless of the side dishes available, nasi lemak is almost always served with half a boiled egg, sliced cucumber, crunchy peanuts and a generous dollop of sambal goreng.

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Nasi Lemak with the basics: sambal goreng, peanuts, boiled egg & sliced cucumber

Substitutes: Pandan is scarce outside Asia, and although it can be found in some major cities around the world, it is still not widely available to most of us. In the absence of fresh pandan, there are “essences” you can use instead – at a push these are actually fine, though fresh is always best. Unfortunately there is no substitute for pandan, so if you can’t source either, but still want to make nasi lemak, please do. Just omit the pandan altogether and use the galangal and lemongrass instead.

Note: In this post I’m focusing solely on the basic nasi lemak recipe, but if you would like to know more about what else to serve nasi lemak with, please follow the links to my recommendations at the end of the recipe.

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

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Sambal Kacang Goreng (Malaysian Spicy Fried Green Beans) 

It never ceases to amaze me how our tastes can change over time and through circumstance. What was once maligned becomes much loved, and benevolence finds itself curing into something of an obsession. Though it is embarrassing to admit now, this was very much the case with this recipe.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t always been a fan of this wonderful Nyonya dish. It’s not that I’ve ever actually disliked Sambal Kacang Goreng (green bean sambal). It is, after all, a true Malaysian classic, and justifiably so. But growing up in Penang meant never having to settle for anything less than what you actually wanted to eat, and for me there was

only ever two sambal dishes worth ordering – Sambal Kangkong and the almighty Sambal Petai. Blinkered by such delights, I never really even considered many of the other amazing sambal goreng dishes out there…until, that was, I left Malaysia and her bounty of fresh ingredients.

Culinarily speaking, it was a calamitous time in my relationship with Malaysian food, a make or break moment that ultimately culminated in starting The Muddled Pantry. Indeed, the availability of fresh Asian ingredients has always been, and continues to be, the greatest challenge for many Asian expats the world over. And though access to fresh exotic ingredients has improved considerably, supply remains frustratingly erratic. Even if you do find a source of fresh produce, it is often short-lived . If there’s anything my 30’odd years as a Malaysian expat has taught me, is that you have to learn to make the most of what’s available. Admittedly I am blessed to call South Africa home, so I have no shortage of great local produce all year-round; and one thing we do certainly have a bounty of are green beans! Affordable and (more importantly) freely available, green beans were naturally on the top of my list of substitutes. It didn’t take me long to buy a bag of beans and give them the sambal treatment.

Oh what a foolish child I’d been. At first bite I knew I was tasting a delicious slice of humble-pie. I had to look no further, I had found a worthy contender. By the second mouthful, King Kangkong was off its perch. Come the third, I was completely sold! What a revelation. Heady, spicy, and evocative, the dish was everything I had hoped it to be. Cooked through just enough to retain an essential bite, the beans more than held their own against the spiciness of the robust sambal – something that is key to the dish.

Though it is a remarkably easy dish to make, and is ready in just 15 minutes, just be mindful not to add too much water. It is important to only add splashes of water around the sides of the hot wok. This gradually steams the beans in the sauce and will help retain their bite – if you add too much too quickly, you’ll dilute the sambal and risk boiling the beans instead.

Undoubtedly at peak crispness straight from the wok, this dish can also be served later at a tropical room temperature; or reheated even (just add another splash of water to loosen the sauce). Resting and reheating will result in a tougher bean, but equally it gives space for the flavours to evolve. Both options are as different as they are delicious; a matter of taste really. Not that I’m trying to sway you either way, but my personal favourite is to have it slightly warm, between two slices of fresh white bread.

For me at least, in South Africa, it’s become the best thing between sliced bread.

Note: Traditionally made with yard beans, and these being considerably harder than the variety many of us are accustomed to, using fine green beans would not be recommended; they lack the robustness of an older bean, and would succumb to the sauce.

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

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Chicken Congee (Moi) 滑雞粥

Let me be clear from the start; growing up I simply loathed moi.

Much like chicken noodle soup is the ultimate convalescence food for Americans, throughout Asia moi/jook/congee/budur is a dish that is inextricably associated with being sick. As a child, its characteristic blandness always seemed like an additional punishment to the misery of feeling unwell – especially when it was being forced upon you by an otherwise well-meaning grandmother. The moment you announced you were feeling under the weather, my grandmother (Amah) would invariably say, “You sick, ah? OK so you must eat moi ‘eh. Good for your throat one. Make you better, fast”. There was simply no arguing with Amah on this, you were on the moi diet until you were deemed healthy enough to eat something else. Admittedly, I was an overly dramatic child, but it felt like flavour purgatory!

Now, many years on and much to my surprise, in my most fevered moments I find myself craving a wholesome bowl of chicken moi. It is an irony of a maturing palette, and the fondness of memories, that gives you a renewed appreciation for some unpalatable dishes from the our past.

I’ve always thought the force-feeding of moi was a genius Asian parenting ploy to discourage kids from dragging out their convalescence. The moment I felt better I would immediately pronounce that I was cured and that it was safe for me to once again scoff down some deliciously oily char kway teow! The Moi Diet: Machiavellian parenting at its best or a grandmother’s love? Either way, Amah was right – it DID make me better, faster.

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

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE

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Beef Hor Fun 滑蛋牛肉河

Some times in life you’re just haunted by glorious ghosts of noodles-past and beef hor fun has haunted me more than most. These luscious noodles truly rate as one of my all time childhood favourites. That said, even in Noodle Nirvana of Penang a good beef hor fun is hard to come by, but when you do find a place that does it right you’ll be hooked!

There are two vital components to the success of this dish: super tender beef and silky soft noodles. After trawling the internet I discovered the secret to the tender beef, but I just couldn’t source fresh noodles in Cape Town. Undeterred and determined to feed my hor fun cravings, I tried for many years to replicate this dish with dried flat rice noodles but it was always well short of the mark. That’s until I chanced upon this particular brand of dried noodles at the Mun Fong Chinese Supermarket in Goodwood. Don’t ask me what they are called, my Mandarin is non-existent – all I know is that they’re the closet I’ve come to finding the texture of fresh rice noodles in their dried form. Buy them, buy a lot of them.

Anyway, armed with my eureka-noodles I once again attempted to make my version of Beef Hor Fun and I can safely say that I can put this particular ghost of noodles past to rest. Enjoy.

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

For more great noodle recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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