Dinner

By Emma Haberman | March 20, 2012

Photo: Emma Haberman

Chicken Kapitan is a popular Malaysian curry developed by the Peranakan, the descendants of early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia. The Kapitans were the chiefs of various ethnic communities in present-day Indonesia and Malaysia; Kapitan China, for example, was the title for the representative who linked the Malay rulers to the country’s Chinese enclave. True to its name, Chicken Kapitan mingles Chinese and Malaysian cooking tradition, resulting in a unique sweet and spicy flavor.

Kapitan is a thick, spicy curry whose base is a chili pepper paste – much spicier than traditional Chinese dishes. Traditional Kapitan uses lemongrass and coconut milk to balance the intense spiciness and deepen the flavor. Other key ingredients include “belacan”, a shrimp paste that enhances the curry’s flavor, dried chilies, and a turmeric powder marinade. The curry is usually served with crispy shallots, which add texture as well as cutting a bit of the spice.

I’m kind of a chicken when it comes to spicy foods, so the curry below is a modified, but delicious, version of Kapitan. Coconut and chili are the dominant flavors, while lemon juice adds a balancing acidity. I added chickpeas for extra texture and neutralization, and used caramelized rather than crispy shallots for sweetness. For heat freaks who have more (how do you say cojones in Malay?) tolerance, a few teaspoons of Cayenne pepper sends the dish into a whole new fiery realm. Substituting the chicken for sweet potato or eggplant would make this a Lent-friendly vegetarian dish.

Photo: Emma Haberman

Adapted from Food & Wine

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Malaysian-Style Chicken and Chickpea Curry Recipe

Servings: 4
Calories: 450 per serving
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 55 mins

Ingredients

  • 7 fresh Holland chili peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, tender inner white part only, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 small shallots, coarsely chopped, plus 3 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 whole skinless chicken legs, split into legs and thighs
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and salted
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

1. In a food processor, combine the chilies, lemongrass, garlic, coarsely chopped shallots and water and blend into a fine paste.

2. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown over moderately high heat, turning until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.
Reduce the heat and add the chili paste. Stir constantly until the paste begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes.

3. Stir in the coconut milk and return the chicken to the skillet, adding the chickpeas. Cover partially and simmer over moderate heat until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the thinly sliced shallots and fry until crispy, or until cooked through to your liking. Transfer the shallots to a paper towel to drain.

5. Transfer the chicken to plates. Add the lemon juice to the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken over rice topped with sauce and sprinkled with shallots.

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