Another rich and aromatic Nyonya dish (see below), the Chicken Kapitan can just as easily be made with vegetables and/seafood if you’re a non meat eater. This is one of my favourite curries, reminiscent of the Massaman and the Kurma and comes with a tale or two explaining its beginnings. My favourite is the one about the Chinese cook and his English boss whom he called Kapitan, as in Captain.
Bored with the regular Chinese dishes he’d been making, he came across a Malay neighbour making her favourite curry and asked for the recipe. That very night, he prepared the dish from memory, adding every local spice and herb he could get his hands on. The Kapitan was bowled over with the rich, aromatic curry and asked what it was, to which the cook replied, “Ayam, Kapitan” – ayam being chicken in Malay. The rest, as they say…!
Nyonya is a term for the women as Baba is for the men of a community unique to Singapore and Malaysia which has it roots in Malacca.
Often also called the Straits Chinese (from The Straits of Malacca), ethnically, they are Chinese but have over the years, whether through inter marriage or gradual assimilation, taken on some marked Malay characteristics, namely the language spoken and the style of dressing. The church above is the Church of St Francis Xavier and the photo below is of the Dutch Square, both in Malacca; to read more about this colourful and historical town, head on over to my post on Malacca here.
The cooking of Chicken Kapitan itself is fairly standard, you sauté the paste, coat the chicken, add the coconut milk and cook. Extremely simple, it’s usually a thick curry but you can use more coconut milk if you prefer it with a little bit more gravy. Perfect with plain boiled rice or flatbreads.
As with many curries, I suggest you use boned chicken to cook Chicken Kapitan as the bones will add depth to the final dish.
And like all curries, the Chicken Kapitan is even better the next day! So a perfect party dish?
Some Specialist Ingredients for Chicken Kapitan
There are certain ingredients here that may be a bit exotic and difficult to get hold of for some people. For the more adventurous of you who have access to online specialist shops, I urge you to give it a try. Here in the UK, not much is difficult to come by these days!
What if you can’t get the “troublesome” ingredients? Here is what you can omit and still get a fantastic, rich curry: galangal, shrimp paste, lemongrass, lime leaves and crispy fried shallots.
Galangal – not the easiest ingredient to find for some people, click to read more. As there really is no substitute for galangal, the best thing to do is omit it from the recipe. Many large supermarkets in the UK stock this in a paste. Those of you familiar with Ocado, you can get the fresh rhizome from them.
Shrimp Paste – it delivers a deep, umami base to the spice paste. Again, click to read more and for substitutes.
Lime Leaves – leave out and finish off with chopped fresh coriander (cilantro).
For more Singaporean and Malaysian dishes, hop on over to that page!
Authentic recipe for Chicken Kapitan or Ayam Kapitan a legendary Nyonya curry from Singapore and Malaysia - rich, thick and aromatic.
- 1 kg chicken
- 500-750ml/2-3 cups of coconut milk (to taste)
- 6 fresh lime leaves
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp crispy fried shallots
- 10 shallots
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1"/2cm ginger
- half tsp turmeric powder
- 1"/2cm galangal
- 3 stalks lemongrass, bottom half
- 10 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
- 5 candlenuts/macadamia nuts
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste, toasted
- Grind the relevant ingredients to as fine a paste as you can.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan on high heat and sauté the the paste for about 2 minutes, lowering the heat slightly if you have to. You'll know when you've done it long enough because not only will the aroma be extremely strong but the you will notice that the oil and paste are distinctly separate.
- Add the chicken pieces, coat thoroughly.
- Add the coconut milk and salt and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is done, 30-45 minutes, depending on what portion you're using, legs will take longer.
- About 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the lime leaves and check seasoning.
- Serve, sprinkled with the crispy shallots.