Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ayam Kleo (Nonya Chicken in Rich Spicy Gravy)

I bought some lemongrass, galangal, candlenuts and a bottle of tamarind sauce from the thai supermarket in Antwerp Chinatown last weekend, thinking of cooking up a storm with these few ingredients, with a nonya recipe that I have earmarked for a long time. I actually only needed 1 stalk of lemongrass and a thumb-sized piece of galangal, but I had to buy 200 gram of each bcos that was the minimum quantity that was sold. Oh gosh, lemongrass and galangal are definitely not your average spices in Europe! Guess how much they cost? 13 euro per kg! I nearly got a shock of my life when the 2 tiny packs of lemongrass and galangal (200g each) came up to 5.20 euro. That's daylight robbery, just like the tiny piece of ginger which set me back by 2.50 euro, these are certainly exotic spices with exotic prices!

After arriving home, I forgot where I kept my precious recipe and now what am I supposed to do with 200g of lemongrass and 200g of galangal? I am definitely not gonna throw 5 euro away just like that! I thought of my treasured cookbook, Mrs Leong Yee Soo's "Best of Singapore Cooking", so I systematically combed through it, leaving no pages unturned, and painstakingly noted down the recipes containing either of the 4 ingredients.

So here are the results of my tenuous search (C-candlenuts, L-lemongrass, G-galangal, T-tamarind)
Ayam Kleo - C, L, T
Ayam Sioh - T
Satay Babi (Pork Satay) - C, L
Prawns in Pineapple Gravy - G, T
Chicken Coconut Curry - C, G
Lemon Curry Chicken - C, L, T
Beef Rendang - G, L, T
Spicy Fried Chicken - G, L, T
Satay Ayam Pangang (Chicken Satay) - C, G, L

Not all the dishes are easy, some dishes are rather complicated and some require deep-frying which I absolutely hate. After much deliberation, I set my mind on cooking Ayam Kleo (Nonya Chicken in Rich Spicy Gravy), having never tasted this dish before and not knowing what to expect. But I have absolute faith in Mrs Leong Yee Soo's recipes which I have attempted quite a few in the past, and they all turned out pretty well (as long as you omit the msg and halve the amount of salt that she used). This Ayam Kleo is no exception. It tastes quite like the Tumeric Chicken which I have blogged in my blog, also from her "Best of Singapore Cooking" cookbook. 

So here is my first attempt in cooking Ayam Kleo. It tastes really good, not too spicy cos I reduced the number of chillies to suit the taste of my toddler boy. But if you like it spicy, you can just up the amount of dried chillies or fresh red chillies. What I especially like about this dish is that it has a nutty flavour of candlenuts coupled with the rich creamy taste of coconut milk, the fragrance of lemongrass and the sweet-sour taste of tamarind. It is really unlike any other curries which I have cooked before. Try it and you will know what I mean.

Here is my adapted Ayam Kleo recipe for 3 servings:

600g chicken, cut into 6 pieces
250ml canned coconut milk

Ingredients A
2 dried chillies
1 fresh red chilli
1/2 stalk lemongrass, sliced thinly
3 candlenuts (also known as buah keras)
1/2 thumb-sized piece of ginger or galangal
1/4 tsp of tumeric powder
2 cloves garlic
4 big shallots or 8 small shallots

Ingredients B
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp water

Ingredients C
1/2 tsp salt 
2 tbsp tamarind sauce (from bottle)
1 stalk lemongrass, lightly bashed with the back of a knife

1. Grind A to a fine paste.

2. Marinate the chicken in B and 2 tbsp of the ground paste for 30 min.

3. Set grill to hot. Grill the marinated chicken till brown on both sides (10 min for each side).

4. Mix the rest of the paste with the coconut milk and C, in a saucepan. Put in the chicken and mix well. Cook over a moderate heat for 15 min. Reduce heat and let chicken simmer until tender. Cook until the gravy is thick and oil comes up to the surface.

Now, 2 stalks of lemongrass down, and I still have 18 more to go. The next dish on the list will probably be one of the other dishes in Mrs Leong's cookbook, if I can still spare the time. Watch out this space as I churn out more CGLT (candlenut-galangal-lemongrass-tamarind) dishes for the rest of the month!


  1. I can imagine this tasting great!

  2. Ms B try to plant the lemongrass and galangal in pots... Both are easy to root once you put them in jars of some water. Preferable near window. I Know it's always gloomy in Belgium but do try out... One of my M'sina friend managed to grow Pandan in her garden :-D i haven't buy Mrs Leong's cookbooks but few other Singaporean cookbooks before. I'm used to Northern Nyonya cooking :-) Will try this Ayam Kleo. Thanks for sharing and yummy picts too.

  3. Hi Esef

    I have once tried planting ginger in a pot, but it didn't grow much. I am surprised pandan leaves grow in such weather, your friend really have green fingers!

    If you really like Mrs Leong's cookbook, it is very expensive if you order over Amazon or ebay, you have to buy in Singapore or perhaps Malaysia. It costs about SGD 35 when I bought in Kinokuniya Singapore. You must buy the right version though, it is very misleading bcos the publisher has split up the contents of the original book into 6 or 7 books (such as teatime delights, nonya specialties, festive cooking etc), so that they could rake in more profit, and each book costs about SGD30 separately. What you should do is to search for the original book called "Best of Singapore Cooking" (paperback, ISBN 9789812042606) and it contains all the recipes of the 6 new books.


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