Asam Pedas or spicy tamarind gravy is one of the favourite dishes amongst the Malays in Singapore and Malaysia. A dish so understated and yet complex in its taste. The one we love but take for granted when it makes it to our dinner table. It has never occurred to me how complex this dish really is until I put myself to the test. Countless of times I stood by my mum watching her cook this and never a time did it seemed hard to achieve. Like most other Malay and Asian dishes, it’s the trick of getting the balance of flavours right which is the hardest skill to master.
The versatility of this dish definitely gets my vote. A minor tweak to the recipe and you can add fish or prawns instead of chicken. The spicy gravy is highly addictive. Before you know it, you will be slurping it like soup. Paired with warm white rice and you have the perfect marriage. In this household, we waste none of it, leftover gravy will be savoured with warm Indian roti the next morning.
What you need:
1whole chicken, cut into 4-6 pieces
20 dried chillies , de-seeded & soak in hot water for 10mins
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1/2 tbs dried shrimp paste
1/2tbs turmeric powder
1/2tbs cumin seeds
1tbs coriander seeds
2 sticks lemongrass
500ml of water
4tbs tamarind juice or juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of Vietnamese mints (optional)
4tbs cooking oil
De-seed the chillies and soak the chillies in hot water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
To get the tamarind juice, mix a tbs of tamarind paste with enough water and mix it well and soak. As the tamarind soak, the water gets darker. This is what you want.
In a blender, put together the onions, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, turmeric powder, cumin, coriander and chillies. Blend into a fine paste.
Heat up the oil in a medium pot or a pot big enough to fit the chicken.
Fry the chilli paste on medium low heat till fragrant, cooked through and it has begun to dry up but be careful not to burn it.
Bruise the lemongrass with a pestle or the back of a knife and put it in the pot. Add in the water and tamarind juice, mix well & cover the pot and let it boil.
Once it is boiling, put in the chicken, mint and season with salt.
Simmer till the chicken is tender.
Note: When adding water, make sure it is not too watery. The gravy should be nice and thick and not soupy. Lessen the chilli if you wish for something milder.
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