Our mildly spiced, best Kapitan Malaysian chicken recipe is a creamy, Malaysian curry sure to please those new to the world of South East Asian curries.
Ayam Kapitan is the local name given to one of the many Malaysian chicken recipes available to enjoy throughout the country. Our best Kapitan Malaysian chicken recipe can go by many names. Kapitan chicken and kapitan curry and captain curry are three of those names. Whichever name you use, this nyonya chicken curry is a popular curry to introduce those new to curries. That’s because although it has some ingredients which contain some spicy heat, it is totally toned down via the use of coconut milk to deliver a creamy, almost sweet heat. And, yes there is a story behind the use of kapitan and captain but you will need to read on to discover that.
Ayam Kapitan is one of the most popular Nyonya (or Nonya) dishes throughout Malaysia. Nyonya cooking is a blend of mainly Chinese and Malay but there are influences from India, Indonesia, Thailand and even old colonial powers Portugal and England. A visit to Kuala Lumpur or Penang in Malaysia will well and truly expose the reader to the pleasures of Nyonya cooking.
As well, you will discover there is almost, what seems to be, no end to the variety of “chicken curries” available within Malaysia, both on the street, as well as at mainstream, restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and throughout the whole country. But, if that congers up visions of exorbitantly hot, chicken curries, think again. Most Malaysian curries are mild because of the use of ingredients like coconut milk and tamarind. It’s the use of these ingredients which defines Nyonya cooking. It truly is a pot-pourri of techniques and ingredients from different cultures.
A walk along the street around dinner time also brings out the street vendors, with their mobile kitchens. I always check out what is on offer and it never ceases to amaze me how many varieties of chicken curry alone there must be throughout Malaysia, all with local nuances and differences. So, with that in mind let’s describe Nyonya cooking in a little more detail, as well as a quick look at some of the more popular chicken curries available throughout Malaysia
The Importance of Nyonya Cooking in Malaysia
The fusion of cultures in Malaysia has led to the birth of a unique race. The Peranakan men are called Baba while the ladies are known as Nyonya. Nyonya ladies are known for their attire featuring beautiful embroidery, hand-made blouses and sarongs.
Nyonya cuisine is luxuriously flavored and is a marriage of Chinese cooking style with Malay ingredients and condiments. The Nyonya people take great pride and care in the preparation and cooking of their dishes. The cooking method utilizes a variety of spices, coconut milk, tamarind and belecan.
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Coconut milk is the liquid which comes from grated coconut meat. Coconut cream is thicker and coconut milk is the thinner variety. It provides a creamy and slight sweetness to mellow down some of the warmer herbs and spices used in Nyonya cooking.
Originating from India, tamarind is a souring agent found throughout South East Asia. It is a key ingredient in laksa and fish curries.
Belecan is a salty, strong-tasting, fermented shrimp paste which is found throughout South East Asia. It is not eaten separately and is an essential ingredient in curries and sauces throughout Malaysia.
Other ingredients you will typically find in a Nyonya kitchen include candlenut, cinnamon, cloves, coriander (cilantro), curry leaf, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, mint leaf, palm sugar, pandan leaf, laksa leaf, star anise, ginger and turmeric.
Looking for a glossary of SE Asian cooking ingredients, including pictures? You can find our South East Asian Guide to Ingredients right here. You can download our complete guide to help you identify and then be able to shop for these fabulous ingredients.
Nyonya cooking is also more often enjoyed at home in Malaysia, rather than a restaurant. It is true home-style cooking Malaysian style. Our best Kapitan Malaysian chicken recipe is one such Nyonya dish, refer below. Another, popular dish found throughout Malaysia are fried chicken wings (enche cabin). The spicing is all in the coating on these divinely fried chicken wings (drumettes).
There’s two great chicken ideas from Malaysia. The sheer number of chicken curry dishes alone in Malaysia is a little mind boggling. Read on to find out more about chicken curries in Malaysia or jump down to our best Kapitan Malaysian chicken recipe.
Chicken Curries in Malaysia
Most people associate curries with Indian food. And, although many of the spices did indeed originate from India, the vibrant trade throughout the region ensured that many cultures benefited from the trade and incorporated them into their own cuisines to further develop the breadth of curries throughout the region. Penang was one of the major trading hubs in the region, also resulting in strong migration of peoples from China, India and other nearby countries. This has led to a profusion of cooking styles available to the lucky tourists who visit places like Penang.
If you are into “chicken curries” here are just a few of the culinary delights awaiting you in Malaysia:
Curry Mee. Curry meets stir fry. Although its roots may have been Chinese, this is a uniquely Malaysian dish. Simply curried noodles with coconut milk, a host of herbs and spices, fried tofu and meat. Topped with shredded chicken and crunchy bean sprouts.
Chicken Tandoori. An Indian classic popular throughout Malaysia with its strong Indian community presence. The name is derived from the cylindrical, clay cooking pot used for breads like roti and naan and chicken cooked in the tandoor. Together with yogurt and naan bread, it is sheer heaven.
Laksa. A sort of curry meets soup. Deliciously creamy laksa with its curry based soupy sauce together with the shrimp, boiled eggs, bean shoots and noodles is perhaps, Malaysia’s greatest contribution to the world food scene.
Chicken vindaloo. Indian you say, well no. Portuguese actually. Yes indeed, it is the Portuguese we have to thank for perhaps one of the warmer chicken curries out there, chicken vindaloo. With a heritage of Portuguese, South African and Indian influences, chicken vindaloo found its way to Penang thanks to Portuguese traders.
And lastly, our recipe today, ayam kapitan is another style of chicken curry found throughout Malaysia.
Best Kapitan Malaysian Chicken Recipe
And yes, there is a story behind the name “chicken kapitan”. Details vary a little but upon being fed chicken, with great curry spices, the captain asked the chef the name of the dish and he replied, “Ayam (chicken), kapitan. The captain mistakenly took that for the name of the dish and the name has stuck ever since.
Beautifully spiced and then toned down with the addition of coconut milk. A key ingredient is the tamarind paste but you can substitute it with lime juice/brown sugar. Details below.
Serve your best kapitan Malaysian chicken recipe with steamed rice and papadams.
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- 2 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp salt, ground sea
- 4 chicken, quarters (maryland) separate the thigh from the drumstick
- 4 tbsp coconut oil or peanut oil
- 2 lemongrass stalks gently bashed to release flavors
- 4 kaffir lime leaves sliced lengthways
- 1 pint coconut milk thick
- 2 ozs tamarind paste
- Spice Mix
- 1 tbsp cumin, ground
- 2 tsp nutmeg, grated
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp chili powder optional (omit if you want mild)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 inch turmeric, fresh roughly chopped, optional
- 4 red chilies, long Asian style de-seeded, optional (omit if you want mild)
- 1 inch galangal roughly chopped
- 2 inch ginger
- 4 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
- 5 shallots or green onions
- 2 kaffir lime leaves thinly shredded
- In a non-metallic bowl, mix together the turmeric powder and salt. Add 4 tablespoons of water, add the chicken pieces. Mix together well and allow to marinate for 1 hour.
- Place all spice mix ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
- Over a moderate heat, place the oil in a wok or heavy based saucepan. Brown the chicken in batches and drain on kitchen paper. Reserve any remaining oil.
- Still over a moderate heat, add the spice mix to the wok and stir fry for one minute. Add the lemongrass stalks and kaffir lime leaves and stir fry a further 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, tamarind paste and chicken. Combine well and ensure the chicken is fully coated with the spice mixture. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 1 hour.
- Garnish with shredded kaffir lime leaves. Serve with steamed rice and papadums.