A thick spicy chicken curry dish, broadly influenced in its spicing, Curry Kapitan conjures up some of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of old Malacca and recalls the traditional role of the 'Kapitan China' as the functionary who stood between the Malay Rulers and the Chinese communities.  The other aspect of this recipe is the fastidious selection and use of so many spices. One inquiry I saw asked if there was a published recipe with 27 spices!. It shows how committed the Nyonya ladies were to preparing the most exquisite dishes. It would be hard to imagine the time it took to develop and perfect these recipes and then keep it all a secret.


Ingredients :
  • 1.5kg (~3/4 lb)Chicken, cut into chunks
  • 750ml (~3 cups)Coconut milk
  • 125ml (~1/2 cup) Tamarind water (from tamarind pulp soaked in warm water, strained). I have access to both sweet and sour Tamarind and chose to use the sour Tamarind. I think that to use the sweet kind ( the less common) would work as well with a very smooth end to the dish. The sour gives a delightful cut finish  with a clear palate to finish).
  • 1/2 Fresh coconut, grated
  • 5 tbsp Vegetable oil
  • 1 piece Cinnamon bark, 2.5cm
  • Salt
Spice ingredients
  • 2 tbsp Coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • 2 tsp Cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 piece Star anise, whole
  • 2 pieces Cardamom pods
  • 10 pieces Dried chillies, seeded and soaked in warm water, softened, squeezed
  • 4 cloves Garlic, sliced
  • 10 stalks Shallots, sliced
  • 1 piece Fresh turmeric, 2 - 3 cm, chopped
  • 1 piece Fresh ginger, 2 - 3 cm, chopped
  • 1 piece Dried shrimp paste, 1 - 2 cm slice
  • - Fried onion flakes
  • - Fresh chillies, cut thinly
Method :
  1. The spice paste is prepared by pounding the hard dry spices first followed by the wetter spices and finally the powders. This breaks it all down in the most convenient way and brings and melds the aromas and flavours.
  2. The kerisik is the dry roasted coconut meat. This is done simply dry roasting the coconut in a wok over medium low heat until browned It ideally ends up as the colour and consistency of brown sugar.
  3. To heated oil in awok add the ground spice mix. Stir fry carefully just until the aromas emerge. A little water to prevent burning is a good way to go.
  4. Add in the chicken meat and stir vigorously for  2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the coconut milk, tamarind water and cinnamon  and  simmer  until the chicken is cooked.
  6. Add in the 'kerisik' and season to taste. cook to reduce the liquid and produce a thickened gravy.
  7. Serve in a  bowl.
Note: It really is best to use true cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum) rather than substitutes . The flavour is cleaner and the texture un-noticeable with the true cinnamon. The substitute product can leave the diner feeling quite heavy after the meal and there's most definitely a dry pithy aspect to the dish, not unpleasant but discernible.