Malaysian red-cooked chicken with rice (#2)

After delaying until the 10th to start this journey, I’ve used the 11th to catch up and cook my second brand new dish of the new year. This is a really interesting dry-ish curry, again from Simply Nigella. I was prevented from cooking it yesterday due to the depleted stocks of lemongrass in Clerkenwell Waitrose (‘outrageous!’, I hear your cry).

Nigella goes to town on the chillis, and apparently that’s the calmed down version. I skipped a whole stage with dried chillis, and opted to replace the red onions for their white cousin – a personal preference of mine.

Stages: make the paste, cook chicken in paste, add juice/liquid and cook until ready.

Good things: the chicken is remarkably easy to pull apart once served, which makes it a lovely texture to eat. Even the lightest play with a fork can make it look like ‘pulled chicken’.

Bad things: takes more than an hour, and it might disappoint those who love nothing more than a flowing curry with lots of sauce (this is not a tikka masala).

Ingredients (serving 3, or 2 hearty portions)

  • 6 chicken thighs (skinless, boneless)
  • 3 fresh red chillis (I used 2 regular and 1 red thai chilli)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 (smallish) cloves of garlic
  • 3cm piece of ginger
  • 1 stick of lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 200g chopped tomatoes (half tin, roughly equivalent to a mug)
  • 100ml coconut milk (just under half a mug)
  • half tablespoon of sea salt flakes
  • Serving: Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice


  • 1 work (ideal) or a large/deep frying pan might do it
    • it needs a lid, but if not just make sure you have foil in the house like I do
  • pyrex measuring jug
  • a saucepan
  • wooden spoon
  • colander
  • stick blender


  1. Peel and roughly chop 1 small onion, 5cm of ginger and 2 cloves of garlic. Set aside together [Medium Bowl 1]
  2. Cut the top and bottom off of the lemongrass stick, peel one of the outer layers off. Then use the base of the knife to lightly crush the lemongrass stick from one end to the other (known as ‘bruising’). Set aside [Small plate 1]
  3. Put half a can of chopped tomatoes into the pyrex measuring jug, which should come to around 200ml. Then pour it into a large glass. Fill cold water into the pyrex jug to around 75ml, swill it around the jug to pick up any leftover tomato and then add that to the large glass as well. [Large glass 1]
  4. Put around a quarter of a tin of coconut milk into a mug – should be equivalent to around half a mug or just over 100ml. [Mug 1]
  5. Roughly chop up the 3 red chillis and add to the medium bowl with the onion, ginger and garlic. I always like to prepare chillis last. [so back to Medium Bowl 1]

Stage 1: making the paste, cook chicken in paste

  1. Take the stick blender, and blitz the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli together in the medium bowl you placed them in. It’s so satisfying to see it change colour from white to orange. (Tip: make sure the blender always touches the bottom of the bowl, otherwise you have chilli flying around your kitchen…)
  2. Take the wok. Medium heat. Fry the lomongrass for 4-5 mins.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato puree. Fry for 1 min, combining it with the chilli mixture.
  4. Add the chicken thighs, and stir thoroughly to coat them in the red mixture vaguely evenly. No need to brown them.

Stage 2: add the juice and cook

  1. Add the tomato and water mixture to the pan. Then add the coconut milk. Stir well so it combines to make a lovely reddish orange colour.
  2. Add the sea salt flakes and stir.
  3. Wait till it boils. Then reduce to a low heat and cover with foil as I do (or just put the lid on if you are so lucky as to have one). 30 mins. Stir every so often.
  4. Remove the lid/foil and leave uncovered. Increase the heat a little bit. Nigella says bring to a ‘bold simmer’ – a phrase that I love. Cook for another 25-30 mins. It can burn more easily at this stage, so stir more regularly and keep an eye on it.
  5. Once you’ve removed the lid, fill the saucepan with water and put it on a high heat so the water is boiling for when you need it. In the final 10 mins (obviously only once the water is boiling) cook the Uncle Ben’s rice.
    1. I like the boil in a bag stuff. My personal advice is 1.5 bags per person (awkward), but if serving for three people I think 4 bags would be enough.
  6. Once the sauce has reduced and almost back to a paste, take off the heat. Hopefully this has worked in tandem with the finishing time of the rice. Serve.

Nigella says refrigerate for at least a day, but I just cannot wait, so I ate it straight away and it’s still great.


At the early stages it’s quite easy to get a little terrified with how hot it’s going to be. The coconut milk calms it down, so don’t be frightened.

My advice on the rice entirely suits my own preference for carb loading like a marathon runner. As the ‘curry’ is relatively dry, maybe you could do with only 1 bag of rice per person.

Some of the colours this dish throws up are fantastic. The blitzed onion with chilli is almost carrot shade. Adding the puree makes it go a deep and intense red. When you add all the liquid it lightens, almost to mahogany, before returning to a darker red in the final 15 minutes or so of cooking.



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