You don't get more definitively Malaysian than this classic Nonya dish.


  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 star anise

  • 2 whole cloves

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 100ml coconut cream

  • 6–7 sprigs of curry leaves

  • 1.5kg chicken thigh fillets

  • 300g baby chat potatoes, peeled and halved

  • 2 bird’s-eye chillies, deseeded and halved lengthways

  • 400ml coconut milk

  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • Rempah (spice paste)

  • 15 long dried red chillies, deseeded, soaked in hot water, drained and chopped

  • 270g red eschalots, roughly chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced

  • 20g belachan, toasted

  • 25g fresh turmeric root, chopped


  • 1.

    Dry toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant and beginning to smoke. Tip into a mortar and pestle or an electric spice grinder and grind to a powder. Set aside.

  • 2.

    If you are using the traditional mortar and pestle method to make the rempah or spice paste, start by pounding a small amount of the prepared dried chillies, adding small handfuls at a time and pounding thoroughly into a fine paste.

  • 3.

    Next add in small quantities the eschalots, garlic, belachan and turmeric and pound in the same manner until it becomes a homogenous fine paste. If using a mini food processor, still exercise the same patience and pulverise by adding small amounts of the ingredients at a time to achieve a fine paste without adding water.

  • 4.

    Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based non-stick saucepan or wok, on a medium heat. Toast the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for about 20 seconds.

  • 5.

    Add the rempah or spice paste and sauté for about 6–10 minutes, or until the sauce becomes very fragrant and emitting very little steam.

  • 6.

    Add the toasted dry spices, coconut cream and curry leaves, and keep cooking until very fragrant. You will know when the mixture is ready when the oil begins to separate from the mixture.

  • 7.

    Add the chicken pieces and stir for 1 minute.

  • 8.

    Add the potatoes, chillies, coconut milk, salt and sugar.

  • 9.

    Cover and simmer until the chicken and potatoes are tender.

  • 10.

    Serve with roti and/or steamed jasmine rice.

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