Chicken Curry

All South East Asian countries would have their own signature curry dishes. I love Thai’s yellow curry. And of course, the mother of all curry dishes, Indian curry. We have a couple of version of curries, kari is the most runny type of curry. Then rendang is the driest type and needed to be cooked the longest. Gulai lies somewhere in between. We have chicken curry gulai often for lunches. Gulai curry is most common cooked using chicken meat. Lamb is also popular. The gravy is slightly thickened with longer cooking time and is best served with rice, although I love it with thick crusted bread now and then.

It is easy to make curry gulai from scratch, if you have all the ingredients ready. Grind everything up, cook them in a pot, add the meat ingredient and the rest of dried spices and lastly, the coconut milk. ┬áIt would be a great challenge for those who live in places where not all of these ingredients are available. But I often find that you can actually omit some if you really don’t have them. Pre-packaged spices for gulai is a great substitute, but often we grind extra shallots and garlic and mix the paste with the bought spices. Also, add some extra lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if possible. For extra heat, add some chili paste.

If you are up for it, gather all the ingredients and make some from scratch. It is easy. It is fun.

The gulai curry gets its rich color from these chilies, fresh red chilies and dried chillies. The fresh chilies should be more than the dried ones, as beside giving the curry the dark red hue, it is slightly bitter and way more spicier. Be sure to remove the seeds of both type of chilies if you like your curry to be mild.

The other fresh spices used are galangal, candlenuts, shallots, ginger and garlic cloves.

Dried spices includes cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom, cloves, cumin and coriander seeds.

Palm sugar (or gula merah) and tamarind pulp

Fresh herbs would be kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and salam leaves.

One whole chicken, chopped into smaller pieces. We normally cut our chicken into 8 bigger pieces or 16 smaller ones. Whichever you prefer.

Grind chilies, garlic, shallots, coriander, salt, candlenuts, cumin, galangal and ginger.

When it resembles coarse paste, transfer it to an electric blender.

I finish it off with a quick pulse for five seconds to finish it off. You can just grind the spices either in mortar and pestle or electric blender.

Process them as fine as possible.

Combine all the rest of the ingredients, except chicken and liquids, in a stockpot big enough to hold all the liquid calls for in the recipe. Stir fry over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add chicken, palm sugar and tamarind pulp into the pot and continue cooking the spices until fragrant and becomes darker.

Add water to the pot and mix well.

Cook the curry over low heat for half an hour, till the herbs and spices soaked through the chicken.

The liquid would evaporate slightly and the chicken would be nicely cooked.

Add coconut milk into the curry. Cook over low heat for another 15 minutes.

The curry is ready to be served. Serve warm with some rice. The curry is better known as “gulai ayam“. Enjoy!


Chicken Curry, Gulai Ayam

Makes 6-8 servings


50 g fresh red chilies
10 g dried chilies
40 g galangal
5 candlenuts
10 shallots
3 garlic
3 g fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
7 kaffir lime leaves
40 g palm sugar, gula merah
5 g tamarind pulp
7 salam leaves
3 stalks lemongrass
3 cm cinnamon stick
6 cloves
3 cardamom
1/2 star anise
5 g coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
600 g coconut milk
800 g water
1 whole chicken, cut into 16 pieces


Grind chilies, garlic, shallots, coriander, salt, candlenuts, cumin, galangal and ginger to fine paste.
Stir fry paste over medium heat with the rest of the ingredients, except water, coconut milk and chicken for 5 minutes, till fragrant and paste turns darker.
Add chicken, palm sugar and tamarind pulp into the pot and cook for 5 more minutes.
Pour water into the pot and let boil for 30 minutes over medium heat. The chicken should be cooked through during this stage.
Add coconut milk into the pot and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
Remove from heat and serve warm.

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23 Responses to “Chicken Curry”

  1. 1

    Sasa — March 13, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

    I love these types of curries that get the red oil on top (like Masaman and chu chee). Don’t think I’ve ever seen candlenuts, I wonder if I could substitute something?

    • Jun replied: — March 17th, 2011 @ 10:50 am

      Hi Sasa. Candlenuts are one of the basic spices used in many Indonesian cooking. It looks like macadamia nuts, but taste really different. Untoasted, it could be pretty toxic. That’s why most recipes that call for candlenuts always have them ground together with chili, shallots and garlic into paste and then stir-fried. If not available, it is better to omit them rather than substituting with macadamia nuts.

  2. 2

    Christine — March 13, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

    Til this day, I cannot tell the difference between kari and gulai. So the consistency of kari is runnier than gulai? From all Indo curries, I love rendang the best!

    • Jun replied: — March 17th, 2011 @ 10:51 am

      Yeah, gulai is slightly thicker than kari since it calls for more thick coconut milk than kari. Rendang is my favorite too.

  3. 3

    dinewithleny — March 13, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    looks sooo delicious. im making chicken curry tonite, mayb its time to try this recipe out. tq for sharing

  4. 4

    Claire @ Claire K Creations — March 13, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

    The flavour in your curry must be absolutely amazing. Your neighbours must hate you for making their dinner look bad!

  5. 5

    Min {Honest Vanilla} — March 14, 2011 @ 1:07 am

    Mmmm I love curry dishes and yours does not require any store-bought paste, love that even more! I’m bookmarking this to impress my parents at some point. Hehehe

  6. 6

    Kimberley — March 14, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    I love curries, especially when coconut milk is involved! (And am also wondering about candlenuts.)

  7. 7

    Maria @ Scandifoodie — March 14, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

    Although I’m a real chilli wimp I do love the idea of this dish. It looks delicious!

  8. 8

    OohLookBel — March 15, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

    I’ve never been much into curries, but I think I would be if I had to make the pastes from scratch. The richness of the colour actually has me salivating!

  9. 9

    Laura — March 21, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    Every time I have found candlenuts or daun Salam leaves they are so old and dried out I cannot decide if I should use them or not. :( This looks fantastic-I wanted to leave a comment on your FAQ page saying bravo! for you for doing things the old way, even if it means more fat, more sugar, more time and more effort. I love traditional cooking and hate the way people expect all recipes to be dumbed down.

  10. 10

    Yi @ Yi Reservation — March 24, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    This is such an awesome recipe. I’ll definitely try to make it next time. It’s a shame that I can rarely find those fresh red chilli here.

    I have not used/seen candlenuts here. Is there anyway I can substitute with other kinds of nuts? Thanks.

  11. 11

    Arudhi@aboxofkitchen — April 6, 2011 @ 7:12 am

    This gulai ayam looks super rich! Roti jala and nan bread were what comes next in my mind :D I only have Indian tamarind paste and hope that would work too (would it?). Thanks for the recipe!

  12. 12

    Soma — May 3, 2011 @ 6:54 am

    Bookmarked. The flavors and the chilis are making me drool 8 o clock in the morning for rice and chicken curry. all yours posts are so spectacular and your photographs and props are so appealing.

  13. 13

    rose — May 12, 2011 @ 11:02 am

    the chickens we got from the grocery fell apart so quickly; it’s hard to get the free range “hardy” chicken for long simmered curry.

  14. 14

    asianfoodophile — August 3, 2011 @ 11:38 am

    Additional info:
    Candlenuts are so called because they were used long ago by Pacific Island natives to light the way at placing the candlenut in a fireproof container and lighting it. These nuts contain oil so each nut can burn for an hour or more.

  15. 15 – recipes, menus, meal ideas, food, and cooking tips. – Pyramid Fried Rice — October 17, 2011 @ 8:32 am

    [...] basic ingredients are onion, curry paste, curry leaves and coconut [...]

  16. 16

    Jax — February 17, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    Thank you very much for this recipe, it’s so tasty!

  17. 17

    nurulthecook — September 1, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

    Another delicious recipe for me to try! I’m new at blogging and I’m learning so much from browsing your website. Thanks

  18. 18

    Mary Holland — June 13, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    Love all your recipes. The curry is fantastic.

  19. 19

    Mary Holland — June 13, 2013 @ 6:29 am

    Fantastic. Hoping I can fid all the spice ingredients. This recipe has my mouthwatering for a good curry.

  20. 20

    Ansh | Spiceroots — July 7, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

    such a delicious looking curry. I am just beginning to discover the fine aspects f Indonesian food. Love your blog.

  21. 21

    InspectorJon — September 21, 2015 @ 11:51 pm

    I think Hazel nuts are a reasonable substitution for candle nuts. They have a similar flavor but are dryer and smaller. I get candle nuts in a well stocked Asian grocery store. I’m from the west coast of the USA. I found your blog looking for the difference between Gulai & Kari. I love Indonesian food and will check out more here.

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