Celebrate and keep the Hari Raya mood alive with these delicious curry recipes shared by Azlin Bloor, a Singaporean food blogger and former chef who is currently residing in the UK. She shares how these authentic curries remind her of good old memories from the past with her family, and how she still recreates them till this very day.
5 May 2021 / By SGN
Ayam Masak Merah
Ayam masak merah is right up there as one of my favourite curries ever; a must-eat dish when I’m visiting the family in Singapore.
It is a Malay curry, and traditionally, always made an appearance on special occasions. While not as iconic as beef rendang, it is still, for many, a must have curry at Eid or weddings.
Now, just in case, your Malay is rusty or non-existent:
- ayam = chicken
- masak = to cook, cooked
- merah = red
So literally, chicken cooked red. In other words, a red chicken curry.
So many of my childhood recipes go back to my granny and her kitchen in Holland Avenue, where we spent many of our growing up years.
I have vivid memories of her cooking this dish in massive pots for special occasions. I can still see her squirting that tomato ketchup into the pot and throwing in the peas at the last minute.
When I moved to the UK in the mid 90s, Ayam Masak Merah was one of the dishes that I certainly missed the most, it was always the first one I’d ask the family to cook when I went home.
These days, I cook it a few times a year, no occasion necssesary! And, if you are vegetarian, like all my 4 children, you’ll be pleased to know that this curry works perfectly with vegetarian protein pieces.
I hope you’ll come to love ayam masak merah as much as I do.
- 1 kg chicken portions (or use a whole chicken, cut up)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 60 ml vegetable oil for frying the chicken
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 lemongrass, bottom half
- 1 large onion
- 3 Tbsp concentrated tomato paste (sometimes called tomato purée in Asia)
- 3 Tbsp tomato ketchup
- 250 ml water
- 2 handfuls frozen or fresh peas (completely optional, I don’t add them)
- 1 cinnamon stick, medium
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves
Grind to a Paste
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 cm ginger
- 1 lemongrass, bottom half
- 1 tsp chilli paste (any generic one will do) OR 1 fresh red chilli
- Marinate the Chicken: Lightly Rub the chicken with the turmeric and 1 tsp of salt and set aside for about 15-20 minutes while you get everything else ready.
- Paste Ingredients: Chop the onion, slice the lemongrass into rings, and slice the ginger for easier chopping. Place everything into a chopper and chop to a fairly fine paste, adding a Tbsp of water if necessary. Set aside.
- The rest of the Prep Work: Bruise the lemongrass by pounding down on its base with the back of your knife. Slice the large onion into rings and set aside.
- Brown the Chicken: Heat the 60ml of oil on medium-high heat, in a large saucepan, with the tsp of sugar. Brown the chicken in batches. You only want to do this briefly, about a minute each side. We don’t want to cook the chicken, just give it some colour. Place the browned chicken on kitchen paper lined plates.
- Let’s cook the Ayam Masak Merah: We’ll use the same saucepan. Pour out most of the oil, leaving about 2 Tbsp of still in the saucepan. On medium heat, and fry the cinnamon, cloves and star anise for about 30 seconds, don’t let them burn.
- Add the ground paste and lemongrass and fry for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the aroma hits you. Scrape the base of the pan to incorporate all the sticky bits from the chicken earlier.
- Add the tomato purée and ketchup and stir well.
- Add the chicken, stirring to coat the meat with all that yummy tomato stuff. Add the water, stir and let it come to a boil.
- Lower the heat right down and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes, depending on size and part. Meat on the bone, drumsticks and legs are going to take longer than boneless breast meat.
- Five minutes before the end of cooking time, add the sliced onion rings, stir and leave to simmer. If the curry is too dry for you, add a little water, perhaps no more than 125ml (½ cup). You don’t want to dilute the flavours in the curry. And be sure to check the salt.
- When the chicken is cooked, add the peas (if you are using them), stir, check the seasoning and add more salt if you think it needs it. Turn the heat off.
Notes: Can be kept overnight, can also be frozen up to 3 months.
Beef Rendang or rendang daging, a legend in its own time, is a curry of Indonesian origin, tracing its roots back to the 15th century. However, it has long been considered a Malay dish in Singapore (and naturally, Malaysia).
This is a curry that demands adulation, with meltingly tender beef that’s been slow cooked in a rich, aromatic and highly spiced coconut gravy that will enslave you from the very first sniff!
Beef rendang is a must during Eid for me. Just the aroma from cooking it transports me back home. It reminds me of my mum, my granny and my two aunts at the stove in their various homes.
Is it easy to cook beef rendang? Yes, as long as you can get all the ingredients and you have a chopper. Galangal is probably the only elusive ingredient in the recipe, but it is pretty easily available here in the UK these days. Just go online.
This beef rendang recipe is my mother’s. I still have this memory of cooking it with her, cutting the dried chilies to be soaked and being told to add more garlic. As if it were yesterday.
And, if you are vegetarian, you’ll be pleased to know that it works fabulously with vegetarian protein, the way I make it for my kids. On top of that, I have two vegan versions, one on my flagship blog, LinsFood, the other, on my new blog, Singaporean and Malaysian Recipes.
Time to cook up an iconic recipe!
Knife, scissors, ladles and spoons, sieve/colander, bowl, saucepan or dutch oven
- 1 kg generous cuts of braising or stewing beef
- 400 ml coconut milk
- 250 ml water
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
- 2 large turmeric leaves OR 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tsp salt
Ingredients to ground
- Let’s prepare the ingredients: Cut the dried red chillies in 2-3 pieces, depending on their lengths, and soak them in a bowl of hot water for 20 minutes. In the meantime, get all the other ingredients ready.
- Roll your turmeric leaves up and either using a knife or a pair of scissors, cut them up into thin shreds. If using lime leaves, just tear the leaves up.
- Drain and rinse the chillies, and losing the seeds, if you like. Place them aside.
- Let’s chop up the ingredients into a paste: Start chopping your ingredients in the order that they are listed in the above list. Start with lemongrass, chop for 10 seconds, then galangal, chop for another 10 seconds, then ginger, then garlic, and so on. Everytime the chopped ingredients start to feel a bit dry, add a quarter of an onion for moisture. No need for water. Continue chopping/blending until you have a fairly fine mix.
- Let’s get cooking: Now get a large saucepan or a dutch oven and place everying in, start with the beef, then the ground ingredients, the coconut milk, the salt, the lemongrass and finally the thinly shredded turmeric leaves or your torn lime leaves.
- Put it on a low heat and let it come to a gentle simmer. Stir to mix everything up, and leave, uncovered, to cook for a minimum of 2 and a half hours to 3, until the beef is meltingly tender and you have a dry-ish curry.
- You shouldn’t really need to stir the rendang until the last 30 minutes or so, where you’ll have to do it a handful of times, as it starts to dry up and may start to catch on the base. Check seasoning and add more salt if you think it needs it.
- Serve as suggested above. The beef rendang will keep, covered, for a week in the fridge. It also freezes well, although the beef will be falling apart even more after freezing.
Azlin Bloor is a former chef, author, culinary instructor and food blogger. Coming from a very multi ethnic Singaporean family, she teaches and writes about a variety of different cuisines. For the last decade, she’s been blogging on LinsFood, and in January 2021, started up a second blog, Singaporean and Malaysian Recipes, which she calls a nostalgic culinary affair. Both blogs are a rich resource of not just recipes, but ingredients, the culinary garden and food history and culture. Azlin teaches live cooking classes online, and you can also find her courses on Udemy.