Kapitan chicken is a Straits Chinese dish richly flavoured with an aromatic blend of Asian spices. In this non-curry variation, the tangy and salted flavours of soy bean paste and tamarind sauce creates a deliciously piquant and savoury dish.
Prepared and served traditionally as a curry dish, Kapitan chicken, or Captain’s curry, is a well known Straits Chinese heritage dish in Malaysian cuisine.
It’s richly flavoured with a harmanious blend of South East Asian spices and aromatics, and stewed in coconut milk, which places Kapitan curry squarely in the curry family.
So imagine my surprise when I came across a Kapitan chicken recipe in a cookbook of my collection, that isn’t quite a curry in the usual sense! Interestingly, this version of Kapitan chicken is flavoured with soy bean paste and tamarind sauce instead of coconut milk.
Having cooked this many times now, I find this to be wonderfully delish and immensely enjoyable in and of itself. In fact, it’s become a meal favourite among my family. And I’m just excited to introduce and share this unique dish here for all of you to try.
What does this Kapitan chicken taste like?
A taste of this Kapitan chicken is like a burst of bold, spicy and piquant flavour that stimulates all your taste buds! There’s salty sweet, sour, and spicy nuances, all distinct yet balanced in perfect harmony.
As with many Nonya dishes, you’ll discover that fresh and dried spices like lemongrass, turmeric, shallots, candlenuts, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves, all add such wonderful breadth and depth of flavours to the dish.
Asian seasonings like soy bean paste and tamarind juice is what gives this non-curry Kapitan chicken its distinctly piquant flavours, cutting out the richness of coconut milk in a traditional curry version.
Take my word when I say that Kapitan chicken will work up an appetite and have you digging in for more! One of the best and simplest ways to enjoy it, in my humble opinion, is with nothing else but steamed rice and some cucumber slices on the side.
Ingredients for Kapitan chicken (soy bean paste version)
One glance at this somewhat long list of ingredients might seem like an effort you’re not willing to muster up.
But actually, the ingredients for Kapitan chicken are really easy to put together and with cooking, it will be ready to serve in just over an hour.
Which makes it perfect for a weekend cook, if you’re starved for time during the week. It’s also an excellent make ahead dish, as the flavours will have come together beautifully overnight.
So, at a glance, here’s what you’ll need:
- Chicken. Use a whole chicken, weighing between 1 to 1.2 kg, chopped into 10 to 12 parts. You may also use your choice of favoured chicken parts like bone-in chicken thighs, drumsticks, and wings.
- Soy bean paste. I use soy bean paste (taucheo) which is also referred to as fermented soy bean paste or salted soy bean paste. Feel free to substitute with Japanese or Korean soy bean paste. But do adjust the recipe accordingly as soy bean pastes sourced from different origins can vary quite a bit in their flavour and saltiness.
- Chilli paste. Added for a little heat, but hardly noticeable in the final dish. If you love a bit of a spicy kick, you can always add more.
- Tamarind pulp
- Tamarind peel
- Fresh turmeric root
- Cinnamon bark
- White peppercorns, freshly ground
- Seasonings (sugar, salt, and chicken seasoning powder – optional)
How to cook Kapitan chicken
1. Blend the spice paste
In a food processor, blend chopped shallots, turmeric, thinly-sliced lemongrass and candlenuts with enough oil to help grease the blades. Process until you get a fairly fine paste.
Then add the soy bean paste, chilli paste and freshly ground white peppercorns. Blitz just for a few seconds till well mixed. Set aside.
2. Prepare the tamarind juice
In a bowl, add tamarind pulp and water. Rub the pulp with your fingers, loosening the flesh from the seeds. Give the flesh a good rub to extract as much flavour as possible.
Strain through a fine sieve to get the tamarind juice. Discard the grit, skins and seeds.
3. Fry the spice paste and chicken, then braise till tender
- Steps 1 & 2: Heat up oil in a wok over low-medium heat. When hot, put in the blended spice paste, cinnamon bark and cloves. Fry together until fragrant and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Once oil starts to rise to the surface (see 2), the paste is ready.
- Steps 3 & 4: Add chicken chunks and stir-fry for a few minutes to coat chicken evenly with the spice paste. Continue frying until the chicken pieces start to cook on the outside, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Step 5: Add tamarind juice and the dried tamarind peel and stir to mix well. Let braising liquid come to a boil, then lower heat. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is tender to your liking. If the braising liquid reduces too quickly, add just enough water for meat to continue braising.
- Step 6: Once the chicken is tender and the braising liquid is reduced to a thick gravy, stir in the seasonings. Taste, and add more sugar or salt, if desired, to balance the flavour. The dish should be tangy and salty in a palatable balance.
Dish out and serve! And that’s all there is to a comforting, wholesome homecooked dish of Kapitan chicken! It’s really easy and a delicious main dish to serve at any meal of the day. I hope you’ll enjoy!
Here are more braised recipes to inspire your next meal:
- Braised Chicken with Oyster Sauce
- Mapo Tofu (Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork and Bean Curd)
- Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Chinese Sausages
- Assam Pork Curry (Tamarind Pork Curry)
- Chinese-Style Tender Braised Chicken with Potatoes