Kapitan soy sauce chicken is a traditional Straits Chinese dish that’s deliciously flavoured with a rich blend of Asian spices, namely, lemon grass, turmeric, candlenuts, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorn, and braised in a lightly seasoned tamarind sauce enhanced with dried tamarind peel.
Each bite into the sauce-coated, tender chicken flesh rewards you with wonderful bursts of sweet, sour, tangy and savoury flavours, all delicately balanced and in perfect harmony. This dish originates from Malaysia, and is prepared and served traditionally as a curry dish, or Kapitan Chicken Curry. I have read elsewhere that Kapitan curry was named for ‘Kapitan China‘, a title which was bestowed upon the head of the Chinese clans in the state of Melaka situated on peninsular Malaysia, by the Portuguese in the 15th century. In Penang, you will often see the word ‘Kapitan’ widely used and associated with Malaysian food and cuisine.
In this Kapitan soy sauce chicken version, coconut milk is deliberately omitted – in its place, sour, tangy tamarind juice is used to complement the earthy, spicy and pungent spices, and as the braising liquid for the chicken. The result – a truly appetite-whetting, zesty dish! You can enjoy eating this with nothing else but steamed Jasmine rice, chilled cucumber slices and hard-boiled eggs, quartered, on the side.
Kapitan soy sauce chicken is a traditional Straits Chinese dish that's deliciously flavoured with a rich blend of Asian spices, namely, lemon grass, turmeric, candlenuts, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorn, and braised in a lightly seasoned tamarind sauce enhanced with dried tamarind peel. (Recipe adapted from "Zesty Southeast Asian Treats" by author Anna Phua).
- 1 chicken, washed, drained and chopped into chunks
- 4 tbsp tamarind paste
- 300 ml water
- 1 piece dried tamarind peel
- 5 tbsp oil for frying
- 15 shallots, peeled
- 1/2 thumb-size fresh turmeric, peeled
- 1 lemon grass stalk, tough outer skin removed, use bottom 3-inch segment of the stalk only
- 2 candlenuts
- 2 cloves
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 tsp peppercorn, crushed
- 1 tbsp soy bean paste
- 30 g chilli paste, or more if you like it spicy
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp chicken seasoning powder
- Mix tamarind paste with water and using your fingers, squeeze the paste. Strain through a fine sieve to obtain the tamarind juice. Discard the skins and seeds.
- Slice lemon grass thinly. Using a mortar and pestle, pound lemon grass till fine, followed by candlenuts, shallots and turmeric, pounding each spice until fine before adding the next. Alternatively, place the said ingredients in a food processor and process into a fine paste. Add crushed peppercorn, soy bean paste and chilli paste and combine well.
- Heat up oil in a wok over medium fire. Stir-fry the spice paste from (2) with cloves and cinnamon quill until fragrant. Add chicken chunks and stir-fry for a few minutes, making sure to coat chicken chunks all over with the spice paste. Continue to stir-fry until the chicken pieces just start to cook on the outside, about 5 minutes. Then add tamarind juice and the dried tamarind peel. Let braising liquid come to a boil, then lower heat.
- Let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and is tender, and the braising liquid has reduced to a thick gravy. If the braising liquid reduces too quickly, add water little by little. At the end of cooking, add the seasonings and stir to mix well. Dish out and serve hot.