• Pandan-scented chicken curry (China Squirrel)Source: China Squirrel

Here’s a Malaysian curry with a rich, concentrated, sweet-spicy gravy that is, unusually, flavoured with tomato. Chicken pieces from the thigh and leg work best here as they won’t dry out, as breast pieces are prone to. Skin-on is the way to go and under no circumstances use boned chicken; gnawing the bones clean is definitely a highlight of this lip-smacking dish. 






Skill level

Average: 3.6 (20 votes)


  • 1.25 kg chicken pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 ½ tbsp lime juice
  • 2 ½ tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 500 ml (2 cups) boiling water
  • 12 dried red chillies
  • 4 candlenuts, chopped (see note)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 ½ tbsp chopped ginger
  • 600 ml vegetable oil
  • 2 ½ tbsp tomato paste
  • 60 g (⅓ cup) chopped palm sugar
  • 1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes
  • 80 ml (⅓ cup) light soy sauce
  • 3 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 pandan leaves, trimmed, bruised and tied in a knot
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot
  • 300 g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • handful of coriander sprigs
  • steamed rice and lime halves, for serving

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Marinating time 1 hour

Soaking time 30 minutes

Place the chicken in a large, non-reactive bowl. Sprinkle over the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and lime juice then, using your hands, rub the mixture all over the chicken. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pour 125 ml (½ cup) of the boiling water over the tamarind in a small bowl and stand for 30 minutes or until softened. Pour another ½ cup of boiling water over the dried chillies in a small bowl and stand for 30 minutes or until softened. Drain the chillies well, squeezing as much liquid out as possible. Combine them in a food processor with the candlenuts, garlic and ginger and process until a coarse paste forms. Strain the tamarind through a sieve, using your hands to extract as much thick liquid as possible. Discard the solids.

Drain the chicken well then pat dry using kitchen paper. Heat the oil in large wok over medium-high. Cook the chicken pieces in a few batches. Then deep fry turning once, for 5 minutes or until light golden all over. Transfer the chicken to a tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb excess oil then fry the remaining chicken.

Discard all but about 80 ml (⅓ cup) of oil from the wok and reduce the heat to medium. Add the chilli mixture to the wok and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another 1 minute then add the tamarind liquid, palm sugar, remaining water, tomatoes, soy sauces, star anise and cinnamon and stir. Add the chicken, pandan and lemongrass and turn the chicken to coat - chicken will not be completely submerged in the sauce. Bring the liquid to a simmer then reduce heat to low. Cover the wok and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until chicken is nearly cooked through.

Remove the lid and cook for another 20 minutes or until chicken is very tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Discard the pandan, lemongrass and whole spices. Scatter over the cherry tomatoes and coriander then serve with steamed rice and lime halves for squeezing over to taste.



• Candlenuts can be found in Asian grocery stores. They can be toxic if not cooked. Substitute macadamia nuts of if you can’t find candlenuts.



Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel. 


This recipe is part of our 10 ways with pandan column. View previous 10 ways with… columns and recipes.