Ayam Masak Merah: A celebratory red chicken dish

KUALA LUMPUR, March 29 — Malay cuisine is known to be very flavourful, thanks to the addition of fresh spices and herbs. And Ayam Masak Merah, a dish I always look forward to during Malay functions, especially Hari Raya, is no exception.

Literally meaning “red-cooked chicken”, it is not to be confused with the red-cooked chicken popular in Chinese cuisine. This is a dish of chicken braised in a reddish gravy.

Don’t let its fiery red appearance scare you; the colour is actually from the abundance of tomatoes used! It is not a measure of spiciness for this dish, and is a result of the tomato puree, tomato ketchup and chunks of fresh tomatoes used here.

With all the tomato action going on, it might even sound like a Western dish. The addition of chillies to give it the spiciness we Asians love eliminates this thought though.

In order to seal in the juices and flavours of the chicken effectively, it is first fried or baked before being gently simmered in the flavour-rich gravy.

Along with some turmeric powder, soy sauce, shallots, chillies, ginger and a host of other spices, the spicy tomato gravy and the chicken is allowed to slowly cook over low heat.

During this process, the tough connective tissues in the meat breaks down into collagen, before the moisture and heat in the covered pot coaxes it further into gelatine. The meat then tends to become dry and absorb the gelatine back as a source of moisture, resulting in the most tender and flavourful chicken pieces one can ever find.

The gelatine and fats from the chicken also makes its way into the gravy, further adding layers of meaty goodness for that additional “oomph.” The result? A dish so tantaliaing, your taste buds would be begging for more.

While this dish goes well with some steamed rice or bread, something tasting this good would be better paired off with a more celebratory dish, something like tomato rice. With their reddish tinge and mild, sour flavours, the combination of these two is something fit for a king.

Ayam Masak Merah

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: Approximately 40 minutes

Serves: 4

1kg chicken, cut into large pieces

Bombay onions, thinly sliced

1 can peeled tomatoes

Turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon palm sugar (gula melaka)

Salt, adjust according to taste

500ml water

For the paste:

1 inch ginger, skin removed

3 dried chilies, soaked in water for 10 minutes

3 red chilies

10 shallots, skin removed

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. For the paste, blend ginger, dried chilies, red chilies, garlic and shallots until you achieve a fine paste. Using a small wok, heat up oil and saute paste over low heat for 5 minutes or until fragrant.

2. Preheat oven to 180 C°.

3. Dust turmeric powder and brush oil over chicken. Lay chicken (skin side up) pieces onto a clean tray and put it in the oven for 20 minutes. Set aside after.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large wok. Add onions and saute over high heat.

5. Add paste and canned tomatoes. Saute for further 5 minutes.

6. Add chicken including juice extracted from baking the chicken, dark soy sauce, salt and palm sugar. Coat chicken thoroughly with sauce. Mix ingredients well and cook for further 20 minutes.

7. Dish onto a clean bowl. Serve immediately with rice.

For more recipes, go to www.chopstickdiner.com.

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