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Nyonya Chicken Curry In Singapore

Singapore has always been a meeting place of cultures. Founded by the British and located strategically midway on the shipping lanes from India to China, it's population is predominantly Chinese, Malay and Indian. As you wander through the immaculately clean streets of the city, you find elaborately carved Hindu temples minutes away from Chinese street markets and colonial era British hotels.

Singapore is a food lover's delight, for you can find every variety of cuisine. In a single city block you can sample Chinese dumplings, Indian curries and  Malaysian satays. The variety of street food is incredible and one of the great delights of visiting Singapore is strolling through the hawker centres, sampling an incredible variety of dishes or wandering along the waterfront savouring the different aromas wafting from the restaurants lining it, while trying to decide where to eat.

Singapore does not just serve dishes from other countries but has evolved its own cuisine, popularly known as Nyonya or Peranakan food, which is a unique fusion of Chinese and Malay cooking styles. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese settlers in Malaysia, who intermarried with the local people and created a unique hybrid culture and cuisine. Nyonya food is deliciously spicy, rich with coconut milk, tamarind and nuts and fragrant with the use of lemongrass, galangal and fresh coriander.

Nyonya style chicken curry with its subtle nuances of flavour was one of my very favourite dishes to eat in Singapore. Served with some steaming hot rice, it was a great way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.

It is not difficult to make at home and here I have modified the recipe to incorporate readily available ingredients and make it easier to prepare. It tastes every bit as good as the original version we ate in Singapore! Oven roasting the spiced marinated chicken helps intensify the flavours. If you wish it to be hotter, just increase the amount of cayenne pepper.

For a change of pace, you can substitute lamb, paneer or tofu for the chicken and follow the basic recipe below. Serve with a bowl of Nasi Goreng for a hearty, satisfying meal!

Nyonya Chicken Curry

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8), cut into quarters

4 tbsp oil, divided

Salt to taste

1 tsp Nyonya curry powder, divided; tamarind paste, sugar

1/2 tsp each: turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, divided

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped

6-7 blanched macadamia nuts or almonds

1 cup canned coconut milk

2 each, whole: cardamom, cloves

1 each: cinnamon stick (1 inch piece), star anise, bay leaf

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces and smashed lightly, optional

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In large bowl, combine chicken, 2 tbsp oil, salt, 1/2 tsp curry powder and 1/4 tsp each of turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Mix well, spread chicken and all its marinade on tray. Bake for 15 min. or until it is cooked through and lightly golden. Reserve chicken and all its juices.

Meanwhile, warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep non stick skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and macadamia nuts or almonds. Saute for 5 min. or until softened and lightly browned. Remove from oil (reserve skillet for later use in recipe) and transfer to a blender or food processor, along with coconut milk, tamarind paste, sugar, salt, remaining curry powder, turmeric, cayenne and paprika. Blend to a smooth paste.

Warm leftover oil in skillet and add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf, sizzle them for 30 sec. Add sauteed onion paste from blender, lemongrass (if using) and the chicken with all its juices.

Mix well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 15 min. The sauce should be very thick and clinging to the chicken at the end of cooking. If it is not thick enough, cook for a few min. longer.

Fold in the chopped coriander and serve.

Serves four