Rich chicken curry

Rich chicken curry

Gulai (korma) ayam (North Sumatra)

South East Asian Food

What I here call ‘gulai (korma)’ to distinguish them, are much more opulent than the ‘wet’ Padang-style gulai. They are the richest of all the Indonesian curries. Their origin lies in the powerful trading states, such as Aceh in north Sumatra, which in the past were involved in the great spice trade route between China and the Mediterranean and came under strong Arab/Indian influence. The characteristic of these gulai is that they include lots of the dry ‘trade’ spices, such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.


Quantity Ingredient
1 chicken
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 shallots, sliced
3 cloves
2cm piece cinnamon bark
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cups thin coconut milk
1 small stalk lemongrass, bruised
1/2 cup fresh coconut, grated
or 1/2 cup steamed desiccated coconut, roasted in a dry pan until golden brown then ground finely
1 cup thick coconut milk
tamarind water or lime juice, to taste
salt, to taste

Paste spices

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
10 peppercorns
7 chillies, chopped
2.5cm piece fresh turmeric, chopped
or 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, smashed and chopped
3 candlenuts, roasted and roughly smashed
or raw almonds or macadamia nuts
2 garlic cloves
8 shallots, sliced


  1. Cut the chicken into curry pieces. Prepare the spice paste: in an electric grinder, grind the coriander, cumin, fennel and peppercorns finely. Also in a food processor attachment or in a mortar mash the remaining paste ingredients to a paste and then add the dried ground spices and mix in. Add a little water if they are too dry.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the shallots with the cloves and cinnamon bark until the shallots are soft. Add the spice paste and fry until fragrant. Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry, coating them thoroughly with the spices. Add the tomato and cook until soft. Add the thin coconut milk and lemongrass and stir well until blended.
  3. Add the ground coconut to the chicken. Simmer until the chicken is tender. Add the thick coconut milk and the tamarind water and bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and simmer until the oil ‘comes out’ or floats on top. Adjust the seasoning, stir, and serve.
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