Ayam Masak Merah (Malay-style Red Cooked Chicken)

Ayam Masak Merah 02

The leaves have started to fall and the oak trees have turned copper. As Autumn extends into winter, I find myself craving for familiar comfort foods that I’d grown attached to over the years. Attachment is a craving of the mortal soul, according to Buddha, and one must seek to be rid of them. But confronted with unfamiliarity in a new country, I find myself turning to more familiar things- things that I’d taken for granted while I was back home. A simple yet nourishing bowl of fishball kway teow (flat rice noodles) soup was just a five-minute walk away and a plate of sumptuous nasi padang (‘Field Rice’,Rice with assortment of Indonesian sides) was only a 20 minute car ride away. I just ate, slurped and burped with nary a care about how it was made.

Ayam Masak Merah 07

So, these days, I’m keeping busy trying to recreate my favourite dishes from home. And as the days get shorter and cooler, there are only two things I’m really interested in- fiery hot chillies and curries! And Ayam Masak Merah fits the bill perfectly. Each time I’ve made this for dinner (four times in three weeks!)  I’ve slept like a baby.

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This Malay/Indonesian dish is served at every Nasi Padang stall and all, if not most, Malay households would have their own family recipe for this. It’s an easy dish that is delicious and very satisfying. First, the chicken pieces are marinated and then fried till partially cooked. Then, a thick jam-like sauce that is sweet, tangy and spicy coats each chicken piece. A perfect symphony of flavours will dance on your tongue and even long after each bite, you’ll remember how moreish and finger-licking good each mouthful was. Need I say more for you to try my version of Ayam Masak Merah?

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Ayam Masak Merah 01

Ayam Masak Merah (Malay-style Red Cooked Chicken)

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Print


  • ~500g chicken thighs/drumsticks
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 chilli and turmeric powders
  • juice from 1/4 lime
  • oil for frying


  • 4-5 tbsp peanut oil/ cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 pandan leaves, knotted
  • 3 kaffir lime leaf halves
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised
  • 1 star anise
  • 2cm cinnamon piece
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 (slightly spicy) or 3 (spicy) heaped tbsp chilli paste*
  • 1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp tamarind water**
  • 2 tbsp coconut sugar/brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, roughly chopped
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • coriander leaves
  • cut green chilli



1. In a non-reactive bowl, marinate chicken pieces with salt, chilli,turmeric and lime. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

2. Heat enough oil in a medium-large pot for deep drying chicken pieces. Fry chicken pieces till golden brown and almost cooked. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

3. In another large saucepan/ wok, over medium heat, warm the  peanut oil.

4. Saute onions in hot oil with a pinch of salt till they start to brown at the edges. Add chopped garlic and ginger. Keep stirring with a ladle to prevent over browning.

5. Add pandan leaves, keffir lime leaves, lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and keep stirring mixture with ladle until onions are golden brown.

6. Add chilli and tomato pastes, soy and fish sauces, coconut sugar, tamarind water and cook till oil separates from the mixture. (see photo above)

7. Add fried chicken pieces, water and chopped tomato. Cook uncovered till chicken is fully cooked and the sauce thickens.

8. Taste the sauce. It should be slightly sour, sweet and spicy. If it’s too sour, add a little more sugar. Add salt if needed.

9. Add in the cherry tomatoes and serve with coriander leaves and cut green chilli. Goes best with plain rice.

Recipe Notes

** To make tamarind water, dissolve about a golf-sized portion of dried tamarind in about twice as much warm water. Use your fingers to dissolve the tamarind pulp in the water and strain with sieve. Discard the seeds. You could also use tamarind paste and dissolve in twice as much warm water.

* Soak a large handful of deseeded dried chillies in boiling hot water for about 30 minutes or till they plump up and double in volume. Drain the chillies. Using a good blender, blend the chillies with a little oil until a smooth paste forms. This raw chilli paste can be kept refrigerated in a sealed container for about a week. You can use this chilli paste for other dishes too. I’ll be posting more recipes using this chilli paste in the next few weeks.

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I’m bringing this yummy dish to the Fiesta Friday #64, hosted by Angie and co-hosted by Ginger and Loretta

12 Comments Add yours

  1. LOVE your photos! This is so pretty and looks delicious.

    – BreAnna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vasun says:

      Thank you BreAnna for your very kind words 🙂


  2. Shyka Latiff says:

    Looks delicious. .
    Can’t wait to give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vasun says:

      Please do try it 🙂 if you’re on instagram, could you help me tag #cupcakesncurries on your pic of your ayam masak merah . Thanks! Would love to know how yours turned out 🙂


  3. Michelle says:

    Oh, how I wish I was having this for dinner. Looks so delicious!


    1. Vasun says:

      You could easily make this in Kentucky, yes? If you’ve found your ingredients for your thai duck curry, then the ingredients for this would be easy to get. Try it! Adjust the spice level by reducing the amount of chilli paste.


      1. Michelle says:

        Yes, we could. And I will!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Loretta says:

    Welcome to Fiesta Friday. When reading through your post, you mentioned that you were getting into the cooler season, so I had to check out your “About me” section to find out where you were. Singapore eh? That’s wonderful! A have a cousin living there and she really loves it. Thanks for bringing this very appetizing dish to the Fiesta, I hope you’ve had a chance to visit and mingle with other guests. Love all the ingredients you’ve used in the dish. We are now switching to lighter fare since our weather on the East Coast of the USA is slowly heating up. Thanks again, I hope we bump into each other soon 🙂


    1. Vasun says:

      Hi Loretta! Thanks for the warm welcome:) I’m originally from tropical Singapore but am now in Auckland, New Zealand for the year so it’s Autumn now. Hope to see you around Fiesta Fridays! Cheers


  5. milkandbun says:

    OH Gosh! So many ingredients but sound amazing! 😀 Can only imagine how aromatic and tasty was that chicken! Yummmm 🙂


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