Poh Ling Yeow, the insanely gorgeous and seriously smiley contestant from the first series of Masterchef Australia, is on a mission to boost the profile of Malaysian food.
The dishes most commonly associated with Malaysia are probably satay and the rich dry coconut curry, beef rendang - a traditional Malay recipe. But many cuisines - from Nyonya, a distinctive Chinese/Malay style of cooking, to that of the Indigenous peoples of Malaysian Borneo - are far less well known.
To add to the confusion, such classic dishes are sometimes cooked in the traditional style of their home country, and sometimes given the treatment of the cook's own culture so not only will you find, for instance, Chinese restaurants serving traditional Malay dishes, you'll find Malay - and other - restaurants serving variations of Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian dishes. Malaysian cuisine is, by its nature, enormously diverse and that's to be embraced.
This is Poh's mission - to have us cooking a Malaysian style dish as often as spag bol.
And talking to her, you want to. You could listen to Poh discuss the food that is indigenous to her heritage all day, its almost lyrical. While I suspect many people are afraid of Malaysian cooking due to the lengthy ingredients lists, she assures me just how simple the "making can be".
"Most dishes involve a rempah - a wet curry paste that forms the base of heaps of Malay dishes. You can make this in batches, keeping some in the fridge, or even freeze it for later. The majority of the ingredients go into this paste and it's mostly a case of a quick blitz in the blender and you're done," she says.
POH'S NONYA CHICKEN CURRY
Check out your local Asian store for the spices involved in this recipe. Serves 5-6.
3 Tbsp coconut cream
10 sprigs of curry leaves
1 star anise
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 kg chicken thigh fillets
500g baby new potatoes, peeled, halved and parboiled
2 bird's eye chillies, deseeded and halved lengthways
500ml coconut milk
1 Tbs salt
1 tsp sugar
REMPAH (wet spice paste)
3 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
15 dried long red chillies, deseeded, soaked in boiling water until soft, drained and chopped
20g shrimp paste
25g fresh turmeric root, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced
270g red eschallots or Spanish onion, peeled, sliced
1/3 cup vegetable oil
To make the rempah, blend the rempah ingredients in a food processor until you achieve a fine paste.
Heat a heavy based saucepan or wok, to a medium heat. Add the rempah, coconut cream, curry leaves, star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick and saute for about 10 minutes. You will know the paste is ready when it thickens, darkens in colour and the oil begins to separate from the mixture.
Add chicken pieces and stir-fry for one minute. Add potatoes, chillies, coconut milk, salt and sugar. Cover and simmer until chicken and potatoes are cooked through (about 30 minutes). Serve with steamed jasmine rice or roti.
- Daily Life
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