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Ayam Masak Merah – Fried Chicken in Thick Tomato Sauce

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Ayam Masak Merah is unique, easy to make and delicious.

The first time I tried ayam masak merah, I was hooked! This is a truly unique chicken curry. It really is like no other I’ve tried which is why I had to get the recipe and try it out at home. At street stalls in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, you will find that it varies slightly from place to place and cook to cook. One thing that is always the same though is the thick red gravy.

Ayam Masak Merah

Mildly spiced with a delicious tomato sauce. This fried chicken curry just plain gets it!

About this recipe…

Ayam masak merah orinates from Kedah in the north of Malaysia but it is also popular in Indonesia and Singapore now too. This is not an every day curry! Ayam masak merah is made for special occasions such as weddings and religious celebrations. 

What makes it different to other chicken curries is how the chicken is often, but not always deep fried first and the deliciously thick tomato sauce that coats the chicken. 


Many of the ingredients used are the same as in other Malaysian curries. It’s great how just a few tweaks on a theme can result in a completely different taste sensation.

By the way, I swear by the deep frying method! It gives the chicken an amazing texture. This might be a bit messy but you are not going to want to stop eating!

What does ayam masak merah mean in English?

This literally means chicken cooked in a red sauce. Pretty straight forward. The red sauce is prepared with chopped tomatoes or pasatta as well as all those dried red chillies that get blended into the paste.

What does ayam masak merah taste like?

Like so many south Asian curries, Ayam masak merah is a delicious combination of sweet, sour, savoury and spicy. None of the flavours are particularly overpowering though and you can adjust these to taste.

You get a mildly sweet flavour from the coconut milk. The tomato pasatta adds both a tart and sweet flavour. No sugar is added.

You get the saltiness from salt alone. So add that to taste as no soy sauce or fish sauce in added. The chillies, I use quite a lot, will give you a good zing but these too can be adjust to taste. Be sure to use fewer if you think my version might be a bit too spicy for you.


Yes there is a lot of oil in this recipe but it does serve a purpose. As I mentioned above, ayam masak merah can be cooked in less oil but you will be missing out on one of the things that makes this curry so good.

Using plain (all-purpose) flour to coat the chicken: If you are gluten free, you could use corn flour (corn starch) which is what I did this time as my mother-in-law doesn’t eat gluten. I think we will all agree that dusting chicken in flour before deep frying gives a crispier skin.  It’s not always used in this recipe but I think it improves it. 

Cooking the spice paste: Heat that oil up and fry the smooth prepared curry paste. This is done to intensify the flavours. The paste needs to be fried for a good couple of minutes until the oil separates and begins to float on top.

Simmering the sauce: Be sure to simmer the sauce down to thicken it. You want that sauce to be so thick that it coats the chicken. This is not a runny sauce!

Use tinned (canned) tomatoes: Unless you live in a hot country where you can get bright red tomatoes year-round, go for tinned (canned) tomatoes. These are always bright red and make the sauce look much better when served.

Step by step photographs…

Ingredients for ayam masak merah

Get all of your ingredients together before you start cooking. It’s much easier that way.

Rubbing chicken with turmeric, salt and cornflour (corn starch)

Rub the turmeric and salt into the chicken skin and then dust with the cornflour (corn starch) or plain (all-purpose) flour.

Testing the oil to ensure it is hot enough to fry.

Heat the oil. It is ready when bubbles form immediately around a wooden chopstick or spatula when dipped in the oil.

Frying chicken

Fry the chicken in batches until crispy and golden brown. About 8 minutes per batch.

Blending paste ingredients

Meanwhile, blend the paste ingredients and set aside.

Infusing whole spices in the oil.

Once the chicken is cooked, discard the cooking oil, wipe your wok clean and add about 70ml (1/4 cup) fresh oil. When hot, add the whole spices.

Adding curry paste to the wok

Pour in the paste and fry for a good couple of minutes, stirring regularly.

Adding passata

Then add the passata and stir it in.

Simmering curry sauce

Allow the sauce to cook down and thicken for a couple of minutes.

Adding black pepper and coconut milk to wok

Stir in the ground black pepper and about half of the coconut milk and continue simmering.

Adding chicken to the wok and sauce

Then add the fried chicken and stir so that the sauce coats it. Add more coconut milk if desired.

Finished ayam masak merah

Taste and season, adjusting the spicing if you want to.

Ayam masak merah


ayam masak merah

I’m telling you… This one is not to be missed. Try this soon.

If you like this ayam masak merah recipe, you might also like to try some of these.

Indonesian Chicken Sate
Indonesian Fried Chicken
Sambal Oelek – Indonesian hot sauce
Chicken with Sambal Matah
Babi Kecap
Spicy Green Beans Indonesian Style
Indonesian Bakso
Ikan Bakar – Indonesian Fried Fish
Nasi Goreng
Mee Goreng
Sambal La La – Spicy Clams
Indonesian Blackened Fish
Seafood Laksa
Chicken Rendang
Beef Rendang
Butter Egg Floss Prawns
Malaysian Chicken Curry
Malaysian Devil Curry
Soto Ayam
Chicken Kapitan
Homemade Kecap Manis

Have you tried this Ayam masak merah recipe?

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Yield: 4

Ayam Masak Merah - Fried Chicken in Thick Tomato Sauce

ayam masak merah
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes


  • 1kg (2 ¼ lbs) chicken thighs on the bone, skin on
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 120g (1 cup) plain white flour or corn flour (optional)
  • 250ml (1 cup) rapeseed (canola) oil for shallow frying
  • 10 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 5cm (2 inch) ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2.5cm (1 inch) galangal, skin removed and roughly chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 star anise, broken into pieces
  • 2 cloves
  • 3.25cm (1 ½ inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods, smashed
  • 400ml (1 ½ cups) passata or blended tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml ( 1 ½ cups) thick coconut milk
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Place the chicken in a mixing bowl and rub the turmeric, flour and salt all over the skin. You might want to do this with plastic kitchen gloves so you don’t stain your fingers with the ground turmeric. Set aside while you prepare the paste or let it sit, covered in the fridge overnight.
  2. The paste can be done a day or so ahead of cooking if more convenient. Place all of the paste ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend with just enough water to make a thick paste. Set aside.
  3. When ready to cook the ayam masak merah, heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium high heat. The oil is hot enough for frying when lots of bubbles form instantly when you place a wooden chop stick or spatula in.
  4. Fry the chicken pieces until crispy on the exterior. You might need to do this in batches. Transfer to a metal rack to drip any excess oil and set aside.
  5. Discard all but about 70ml (1/4 cup) of the oil in the wok and place it back over medium high heat. You could cook this curry with as little as a couple tablespoons of oil. At Malaysias food stalls they use even more oil so do as you like.
  6. When visibly hot, stir in the star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and swirl around in the oil for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  7. Stir in the prepared curry paste and fry it for about a minute to cook out the rawness. Add the passata and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes to thicken the sauce and then add the fried chicken. Coat the chicken with the sauce and season with salt and black pepper to taste

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 236Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 358mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 13g

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