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chicken sambal

For someone who grew up in Malaysia, I’m actually pretty appalling at cooking Malaysian. There I said it. The truth is that I never had to cook while I was at home, and when I finally left home I always found Western techniques much more approachable. I don’t know why, but it just seems much easier to learn to make a beurre blanc than it is to make a curry paste.

So, I went back to my consult on all things comforting and homemade – my Grandma – and asked her for her easiest recipe. She came back to me with chicken sambal, and Mum very kindly wrote down my grandmother’s precise instructions and sent it through to me.

It’s a very easy recipe to start making your own curry pastes (a sambal is essentially an Asian condiment, but can also refer to a Malaysian style of dry curry). Whether it’s an introduction to making your own curry pastes or because you need a sambal for your nasi lemak, you’re sure to love this recipe. It doesn’t require any specialist ingredients like shrimp paste (which is in most traditional sambal); in fact you can buy everything you need at a supermarket.

I really hope you try it and that it becomes a staple on your family table. I love when recipes make it from one family to another, and to another – adapting and changing along the way. So here it is, from my family to yours.

Grandma’s Chicken Sambal

for the sambal paste
8 red finger length chillies, or more if you want it spicy
¼ tsp tumeric
1 cm ginger, approx 15g, skin removed
6 garlic cloves, approx 25g
3 onions, approx 250g, roughly sliced

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 kg chicken, skin removed (you can use breast or whole chicken, whichever you prefer)
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom third only – smashed with the back of a knife
3 kaffir lime leaves
¼ tsp chicken stock powder
¼ tsp sugar
salt, to taste
freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
coriander leaves and thinly sliced red chilli, to garnish

  1. Make the sambal by blending all the listed ingredients together to a paste – either in a mortar and pestle, or in a blender.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil and saute the onions until they are lightly browned around the edges.
  3. Add the blended sambal paste and cook until aromatic and the mixture has thickened slightly. Make sure to stir so that it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the chicken and lemongrass to the pan, and stir through so that the curry paste covers all the meat. Cover and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. If the mixture is catching on the bottom, add 2 tbsp water to thin it out.
  5. Uncover the pan, then add kaffir lime leaves, chicken stock powder, sugar and salt to taste. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the sambal has reduced to a thick curry paste.
  6. Add lime juice, making sure to taste for balance and check for seasoning. Serve topped with some coriander leaves and thinly sliced red chilli.