Hello and Happy Chinese New Year to all my Chinese readers. I want to wish you all a very prosperous and joyful year of the horse! I have been enjoying my Chinese New Year and since it lasts for 15 days, I am looking forward to more merriment in the days ahead.
One of the most important meals for us Chinese is the reunion dinner on Chinese New Year Eve. That is the time when the whole extended family gets together and has a sumptuous meal. As it was not possible for me to visit my family in Malaysia, my husband and I had the reunion dinner ourselves. Just the two of us. Hey – that sounds like dinner every other night I hear you say. Yes, you are correct. However, I do make a special effort and we always have loads of fun cooking the meal together.
On the menu this year we had stir fried mixed vegetables, steamed fish and Nonya Chicken Curry. The recipe for Nonya Chicken Curry is what I am going to be sharing with you today. I have previously shared a recipe for Malaysian Chicken Curry, however, the taste of this Nonya Chicken Curry is different. It is definitely milder in the spice department and sweeter. The flavour of the curry is also heavily infused with the aromas and taste from all the different spices. You can definitely pick out the slight earthy sweetness from the Chinese cinnamon stick and the aniseed like flavour from the fennel seeds.
I departed slightly from tradition and instead of serving the meal with rice, served it with cooked and blended cauliflower for a meal with fewer carbohydrates. The cauliflower worked as a great vehicle to soak up all the gravy from the curry.
we get to the recipe, I thought it may be insightful if I elaborate a little on
what the term “Nonya” means and also it’s cooking style. Nonya cuisine
developed in families known as “Straits Chinese” who were Chinese settlers who
came and settled in Malaysia and Singapore and subsequently married the local
Malays. They are also commonly referred to as “Peranakan” or “Baba Chinese”.
|Fluffy cauliflower instead of rice|
The Straits Chinese were not to be confused with later Chinese immigrants who came to Malaysia and Singapore as labourers during the British colonial rule. The Straits Chinese were already established and wealthy by then and they also held British citizenship. The domestic life of the Straits Chinese was distinctly influenced by the local Malay culture and this influence extended to their cooking. The cooking style fused Chinese and Malay cooking styles, combining Chinese ingredients and flavourings with Malay ones. This became known as Nonya cuisine. Common ingredients in Nonya cooking are spices, ginger flower, screwpine leaves, toasted prawn paste (“belachan”), chillies and coconut cream.
I think I should also highlight that there is a difference between the Nonya cuisine from the North and South of Malaysia. The southern Nonya cooking style would be influenced by the Southern Malays and even Javanese cooking whereas the Northern Nonya cuisine carries heavy influence from Thai cooking and this is reflected in the fusion of spicy and sour flavours and using ingredients such as tamarind.
As you can see, Nonya cuisine is indeed very fascinating and the recipes, simply delicious. I hope to share more Nonya recipes with you. Admittedly some of the ingredients may be difficult to procure in Western countries however, I hope to be able to tweak and refine it to use ingredients that you can easily obtain without compromising on the authentic flavours.
Recipe for Nonya Chicken Curry
Prep Time: 20 minutes / Cooking Time 45 minutes / Serves 4
750gm Chicken (remove skin and cut into pieces)
400gm Potatoes (peeled and cut into wedges)
400ml (1 tin) Coconut Milk
1 Chinese Cinnamon Stick
2-3 Tbsp Chilli Paste (5 dried chillies boiled and blended)
200gm Shallots (peeled)
3 cloves Garlic (peeled)
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
1 ½ tsp Coriander Seeds
½ tsp Cumin Seeds
½ tsp Fennel Seeds
4-5 Tbsp Cooking Oil
1 Tbsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
Coriander for garnishing
Coriander for garnishing
1. In a dry pan, gently toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds over medium-low heat. Be careful not to burn the spices. This is to bring out the aroma of the spices before cooking. Once toasted, use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to ground up the spices. Set aside.
2. Place the shallots and garlic in a blender and blend together until fine. Remove from blender and set aside.
3. Next, start cooking the curry. Heat oil in a wok or deep pot over a medium-low flame. Add in the cloves and Chinese cinnamon stick and sauté to get the aromas out. Add in the blended shallots and garlic, chilli paste, turmeric powder and grounded coriander, cumin and fennel seeds. Stir fry the paste well for about 10 minutes or until the oil starts to separate.
4. Add chicken and potatoes and continue to stir fry with the paste for a further 5 minutes. Add in 100ml of water and leave to simmer on medium-low heat. After 5 minutes, slowly pour in the coconut milk and stir through evenly. Season with salt and sugar and simmer for a further 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked. The gravy of the curry should be thickened by now. Remove from heat and serve.