This time, last year, we were sitting in Toh Soon Coffeeshop and sipping a good kopi-o (black coffee in local lingo) with a kaya-butter charcoal toast and the best eggs we’ve ever had. Also, this time last year, our to-do list was one which would have been the envy of any local foodie.
If it isn’t too obvious, we have Penang withdrawal symptoms. And as I’m typing this, I’ve just drooled over the beautiful pictures of a friend who has just returned from lovely Penang.
Our only salvation- make some Penang food!
On one of our trips, we tried to take up a cooking class by the very famous Pearly Kee but we weren’t successful. So, we did the next best thing and bought her cookbook, which was just released in 2013. In it, she mentions that this dish, Curry Kapitan, was one which is unique to Penang. Dutch and Portuguese traders used to called the Chinese chiefs in Penang ‘Kapitan’ (captain?) and so, this local curry was named ‘Kapitan Curry’. It is a Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) dish but incorporates the use of traditional Malay herbs such as lemongrass and galangal. It is an easy dish to prepare and an easier dish to eat.Though the curry paste looks potent, it is completely subdued by the creamy coconut cream and milk and the added lime gives a little tangy taste that compliments the otherwise very rich coconut-based curry. There’s not a lot of gravy in this dish which makes it perfect as a dipping ‘sauce’ for a good crusty loaf that sucks up all gravy.
There are so many varieties of curries in South and South-east Asia that it’s impossible to pick a favourite. Generally, Indian curries use a lot of ground dry spices and many South-East Asian curries (Malaysian, Indonesian, Burmese and Thai) use fresh herbs. Also, all curries are perfect comfort food; there’s something about the fusion of spices/herbs and meat slow-cooked over a low-flame that is soul gratifying.My favourites are Beef Rendang and the South Indian Fish Curry. Curry Kapitan may quickly become a favourite.
When I’m chopping and pounding fresh herbs for South-East Asian curries, I’m always in wonderment when the waft of the lemongrass and galangal hits me. Lemongrass has such a beautiful, fresh citrus smell that the chore of chopping and pounding becomes an almost ethereal experience for me. I’m constantly awed by how amazing Mother Nature is and being in the kitchen allows me to appreciate her astounding creations. I’ll never forget the first time I slit open a vanilla pod and when I tasted uni. So to express my fascination with the local ingredients which were used in this curry, I took a few snaps. Enjoy! (You can click on the photos for a better view)
And don’t forget to make the curry. You’ll not regret it.
Pearly Kee's Curry Kapitan
Credit: Pearly’s Penang: A Nonya Inheritance, Pearly Kee, Clarity Publishing
- 30g lemongrass (serai) , finely sliced
- 45g fresh red chillies, coarsely chopped
- 15g fresh turmeric (kunyit), coarsely chopped
- 35g galangal (lengkuas), coarsely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water, drained, coarsely chopped
- 3 candle nuts (buah keras), coarsely chopped
- 90ml coconut cream
- 300 ml water
- 4-6 tbsp cooking oil
- 600g chicken
- 70g onions, coarsely diced
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1. Grind the curry paste ingredients. Add in water, about a third of the height of the paste.
2. In a bowl, mix 20 ml of coconut cream with 300 ml of water to make a light coconut milk. Set aside the remaining coconut cream.
3. In a wok, heat the vegetable oil and fry the curry paste. Add more oil if the paste does not bubble. First, big bubbles will start to appear as the moisture evaporates. Keep stirring to prevent the paste from burning and sticking.
4. When the bubbles become smaller, add chicken pieces. Reduce to medium low heat and stir to coat the chicken with curry paste. Keep stirring constantly to avoid burning the chicken.
5. As the chicken pieces turn white and firm, add the light coconut.Turn heat up to medium high and bring to boil for about 5 minutes.
6. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer chicken until it’s tender.
7. Once the gravy is reduced by half, add in onions,salt,sugar,lime juice and remaining 70ml of coconut cream.
8. Check for seasoning and serve with plain rice or a crusty country loaf.
Note: Do not cover the pot while gravy is simmering and reducing. Also, if you’re leaving the curry in the pot for a while, do not cover it as the heat will cause the coconut cream to spoil.