How to make: Ayam Kapitan…Kapitan Chicken

How it looks in the book...
How it looks in the book…

Our lime tree is currently being extremely generous with her offerings.

Not only does it smell amazing, but they are great in a vodka….

Given that we’re not a big sweets household though, I’m a little stuck with ideas to use them that don’t involve sugar, pastry and cream…and one can only imbibe so many vodka, lime and sodas. Apparently.

Tonight I’m adding some to my Kapitan Chicken…or Ayam Kapitan to give it it’s Malaysian name.

This recipe comes from Adam Liaw’s Two Asian Kitchens and is one of my favourites. Despite it’s yumminess, it actually fits into my healthy tummy regime- especially if you use skinless chicken thighs and substitute cauliflower rice for normal rice.

There’s a long list of ingredients, but trust me, making your base spice paste from scratch is absolutely worth it.

Some notes on the ingredients:

Candlenuts: These can be tough to source, but most Asian grocers will stock them. They have the look and texture of a macadamia nut, but taste a little like a brazil nut. If you can’t get them, use macadamias.

Tumeric: The fresh stuff is a root, sort of like ginger, but orange- once you take the skin off. These days good green grocers stock it, but so do most Asian grocers. It stains, so when you’re working with it, it’s a good idea to wear gloves. This stuff is sooooooooo good for you.

Galangal: Another root, sort of like ginger, it’s quite woody and almost citrusy in flavour. Again, available from some supermarkets and most Asian grocers.

Kaffir Lime Leaves: These are usually sold in bunches of more than you need. You can substitute lime rind if you have to. I usually freeze what I don’t need so there are always some in the freezer.

Lemongrass: You’re only using the white part, but this can be pretty woody, so before you attempt to cut it, smash it a bit with the back of your knife to soften the fibres.

Belacan/Belachan: is truly foul smelling stuff…when I say foul, I mean, really foul.

In fact it’s the sort of smell that seriously you wouldn’t know if it were off or not. Worse than smelly cheese, this doesn’t have the aroma of unwashed wet socks, but rather the stink of decaying shrimp.

And that’s what it’s made from- fermented shrimp with a little salt. It’s then sun-dried and cut into blocks- although some stockists will sell it in a wet form that is also pretty manky.

Thankfully there are now some brands that are sold not only pre-roasted, but pre-cut into individually sealed portion controlled sizes. Trust me, that is a breath of fresh air for the fridge.

So why would we cook with something that smells as gross as this? Simply because it adds that indefinable but absolutely necessary pungency to Malaysian cooking. (It’s also used widely in Thai, Laotian, Indonesian, Singapore and other South East Asian cuisines).

It’s the belacan that gives sambal its potency, and the taste that takes you back to that Hawkers Market in Penang.

Anyways, here is the recipe…

Frying off the spices
Frying off the spices

For the paste:

8 red birds eye chillis, split & de-seeded

3 eschallots

5 cloves of garlic

2.5cm each ginger, galangal, and turmeric (peeled & sliced).

5 candlenuts

2 stalks lemongrass (the white part)

1 tsp belacan

Smash this all with your mortar and pestle, or whack it into a food processor and whizz until it is a smooth paste. Personally I reckon you get a better result by whacking the spices- it melds all those wonderfully fragrant juices together…but hey, the whizzer is quick and easy.

You’ll also need:

1 whole chicken jointed (or 1.5kgs chicken pieces)- I prefer free range chooks that have clucked and scratched their way through their (short) lives. *

1 tbsp oil

5 eschalots (sliced)

270ml can coconut cream

juice of ½ lime

2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded, to serve.

Before the sauce is reduced
Before the sauce is reduced

Putting it all together:

Heat the oil in a large frypan and fry the paste over medium heat until it is brown and fragrant. This will take about 5 minutes, but trust me, you’ll know.

Add the eschalots and chicken pieces and coat in the paste before frying for another couple of minutes.

Add the coconut cream, 100ml water, and cover the pan with a lid. Bring it up to a boil before reducing to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Uncover and simmer for another 5-10minutes- or until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to a dunkable gravy.

Stir in the lime juice and scatter with kaffir lime to serve.

*Last night I couldn’t be faffed jointing a whole chicken (and our supermarket doesn’t sell free range pieces other than drumsticks), so we used skin-less thighs. If you are doing this, I would recommend taking the chicken out after the initial cooking period so that you have the time to develop the sauce in the way it needs to be developed. Then simply toss the chicken pieces back in for the final 10 mins or so.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

6 thoughts

  1. Okay, so it looks yummy and I’m sure I’d like it but the stress of finding ingredients (not to mention dealing with smelly ones) is why I buy sauces pre-made / in bottles or sachets!!! 😉

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