Spice up your weeknight dinner with this easy and delicious recipe for Ayam Masak Cili Padi, or chicken cooked in a turmeric coconut curry spiced with bird’s eye chillies.Jump to Recipe
Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi, or chicken cooked in a spicy coconut cream is a traditional Malay dish that seems hard to make, but is actually easy to make and full of flavour! This is one of my favourite home-cooked Malay dishes since I can whip this up in just 30 minutes. This is spicy too, so it’s a forever favourite in my books!
To break down the meaning of Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi:
- Ayam = Chicken
- Masak = Cook/Cooked
- Lemak = directly translating to “fatty richness”, this refers to the coconut milk used in the dish.
- Cili Padi = Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies
Unlike most Malay dishes, this one does not use dried chilli paste. This means there is no “splitting oil” process that you have to worry about! As much as I love dried chilli paste, I know it can intimidate any new cooks to Malay cooking. Give this one a whirl instead – it’s spicy, rich from the coconut milk, and flavourful from the turmeric.
Another unique feature of this Malay dish is that there is no oil needed, making this a slightly healthier dish.
What is Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi?
Ayam masak lemak cili padi is a traditional Malay dish that features chicken cooked in a spicy coconut milk curry made with cili padi (bird’s eye chili), which is known for its heat and intense flavour.
The dish is typically made by simmering chicken pieces, such as thighs or drumsticks, with a mixture of turmeric, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, garlic, shallots, and cili padi in a creamy coconut milk sauce until the chicken is tender and flavorful.
Ayam masak lemak cili padi is usually served with steamed rice and other traditional Malaysian side dishes, such as acar (pickled vegetables) or sambal belacan.
What Chicken to Use for Ayam Lemak Cili Padi?
I used bone-in, skin on chicken, which resulted in a more flavourful dish. Since bone-in chicken takes longer to cook, but it retains a lot more flavour while affording to leech some chicken flavour into the stew.
You can use boneless chicken as well, but do note to cut down on the cooking time. If you want to boost the flavour of the Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi, use chicken stock.
The ‘Lemak’ Gravy Thickness
The richness of the dish comes from coconut milk or cream.
There are a couple of versions of this – one is in a thick coconut cream, the other is the same, but in a lighter curry soup.
My recipe finds the middle ground, so feel free to adjust to your preference. I personally prefer the lighter version, so I would add more water. The versions that you would find in our local hawker shops are the lighter soupy versions as well.
Key Ingredients for Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi
The main base spice in this would be the turmeric, which also lends the yellow in this. If you have fresh turmeric, that would be best. Fresh turmeric would give it a slightly sharper spice.
I used turmeric powder since that is a lot more accessible to most people… including me! I may not always have fresh turmeric, but I always have a stash of turmeric powder in my pantry.
If you manage to get hold of some fresh turmeric, and want to prolong the shelf life, simply store in the freezer! Turmeric keep well in the freezer. To use, dethaw and prepare as usual. Turmeric stains – even more so than turmeric powder – so if that is something you might mind, put on gloves when handling it.
The ratio translation would be 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder equals 1 tablespoon of fresh turmeric.
Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies (Cili Padi/Cili Api)
Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies are the other cornerstone ingredient for Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi. It’s imparts a spicy kick quite unlike regular red Asian or Spur chillies, so they really are not interchangeable. If that is all you have however, you can use it. It will be a delicious dish still, but it will not have the same sharpness. If you’re a bit intimidated by the spice but would like to try this dish, then feel free to use the red chillies as well.
You would notice that I used a mixture of red and green bird’s eye chillies – this is optional. You can use all in one colour. I usually just use red chillies, but I like to add green if I have them. It gives the dish nice flecks of green. In terms of taste, green chillies tend to be slightly milder in taste.
Adjust to your spice tolerance! I used 10 bird’s eye chillies, and this is for intermediate spice lovers! For beginners – or to keep this palatable for more people, stick to three to five sticks for a tamer, less potent dish.
The Spice Blend (Rempah) for Ayam Lemak Cili Padi
As mentioned, the cornerstone ingredients are turmeric and bird’s eye chillies. Onion and garlic are standard alliums. I used a red onion, but you can use yellow onions or shallots.
Other ingredients that help the flavours along are ginger and lemongrass, but these are optional. In fact, sometimes I make this dish without these two ingredients! You can most definitely still get a good dish.
To prepare lemongrass, remove the hard outer layer, and the top half. You just want the white, softer inner core. Slice this inner core. Angle the knife to easily cut through the fibres. For more information, refer to my blog post on ‘How to Prepare Lemongrass for Cooking’.
If you like this Malay dish, check these out next:
- Ayam Masak Merah | Chicken in a spicy tomato stew
- Opor Ayam | Indonesian white chicken curry
- Sayur Lemak Lodeh | Malay vegetable curry
- Sambal Goreng | Tofu and tempeh spicy stirfry
Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi | Chicken in Spicy Turmeric CurryCourse: MainCuisine: MalayDifficulty: Easy
300 grams of Chicken
2 Cups Water/Chicken Stock
200 ml of Coconut Milk
1 tbsp of Salt to taste
1 tsp of Sugar
4-5 Kaffir Lime Leaves
- To Blend:
1 Whole Red Onion
3-4 cloves of Garlic
1 inch Ginger
1 inch fresh turmeric, or 1 tsp of turmeric powder
1 Lemongrass stalk, white inner core, sliced
10 Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies or Cili Padi
2-3 tbsps of Water for easier blending
- Roughly chop the ingredients for the base paste for easier blending. Add all the ingredients in the blender or a food processor and blend. If needed, add about 2-3 tablespoons of water for easier blending.
- Heat pan, and add in the blended paste. Stir in water or stock.
- Add in chicken next, and let the soup come to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Put a lid on and let the pan simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the chicken has cooked through. Add more water if the gravy has evaporated too much. it might have evaporated.
- Still on medium-low heat, gently stir in coconut milk, and season with salt and sugar to taste.
- Tear in kaffir lime leaves. Dish is done and ready to be served with rice.