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Malaysian Chicken Curry – Kari Ayam

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This delicious one pan Malaysian chicken curry can be prepared in under an hour.

Whenever I’m planning a recipe research trip, I do a lot of research on the cuisine of the places I’m visiting before traveling. On my latest trip to Malaysia, it was Malaysian chicken curry or kari ayam that I simply had to try because there are so many varying recipes out there for it! I had made many different Malaysian chicken curries but kari ayam was the one that I really needed to get right.

Malaysian chicken curry - kari ayam

So easy to prepare and out of this world delicious.

The curry culture of Malaysia

Malaysian chicken curry and other curries are big business all over Malaysia. Walk into most curry restaurants and you will be confronted with a massive selection to choose from.

A couple of my Malaysian chicken curry favourites were devil chicken curry and ayam masak merah.

These are both famous Malaysian curries but it was kari ayam that I really had to try. Kari ayam translates simply as chicken curry so what made this curry so special? I had to find out.

What makes kari ayam special?

You will probably find this Malaysian chicken curry to be quite simple to prepare. Just because it’s easy to make doesn’t mean it isn’t out of this world amazing.

You can actually cook this up in under an hour in one pan and the flavour is out of this world.

Cooking Malaysian style curries…

Malaysian chicken curry and other curries for that matter were inspired by Malay, Indian and Chinese cooking techniques.

You’ll certainly see the Indian inspiration in many curries from the spices used to the cooking methods.

In this and other Malaysian curries, the sauce is simmered until the oil splits from the sauce. This is different to more western sauce preparations. You want to cook the curry sauce until the oil rises to the top. You could skim this oil before serving but that isn’t done in Malaysia or India. 

The heavy use of curry powder

If you’ve tried my many Indian recipes on this blog and in my books, you might know that many Indian cooks hate the idea of a curry powder. They want to roast and grind only the spices that are needed for each individual curry. 

That said, you will find some delicious curry powders that play a big role in other Asian cuisines and well as the recipes of Sri Lanka.

The following Malaysian chicken curry recipe calls for a lot of curry powder which in Malaysia would be a Malaysian curry powder.

What is Malaysian curry powder?

Look at the ingredients of any shop bought Malaysian curry powder and compare them to Madras curry powder. Both are essentially the same thing but Malaysian curry powder usually doesn’t contain fenugreek.

So you can use a good quality, shop bought Madras curry powder or make your own Madras curry powder for this kari ayam. 

If you do make your own using my recipe, you can leave out the fenugreek or leave it in. I like it in this Malaysian chicken curry.

Malaysian chicken curry in pictures…

Ingredients for Malaysian chicken curry

Get all the ingredients together before you start cooking. It’s easier that way.

Blending aromatic ingredients together.

Blend the garlic, ginger and shallots with a little water to make a thin paste.

Curry powder and chili powder

The curry powder and chili powder are very important ingredients.

Getting the colour of this Malaysian chicken curry right…

Kari ayam is traditionally bright red in appearance. This is done by adding a lot of bright red Kashmiri chili powder.

If you don’t like really spicy curries, you should be pretty safe with mild Kashmiri chili powder. That said, you could substitute a mild paprika which will achieve the same colour but result in a much milder curry.

Mixing chili paste

Yes the amounts of curry powder and chili powder are correct! Mix them with just enough water to form a bright red paste.

Infusing whole spices into hot oil.

Heat the oil and infuse the whole spices into it for about a minute.

Adding fresh aromatic ingredients to the pan

Stir in the onion, curry leaves and lemongrass.

Adding the spice pastes and chicken to the pan.

Add both the white, aromatic paste and the chili paste and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the chicken.

Adding water to the pan which will make the sauce.

Cook the chicken until it begins to turn white and then add just enough water to cover.

Covering the pan to simmer for 20 minutes.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Simmering the kari ayam stock and adding tomatoes.

After 20 minutes, uncover the pan and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add quartered tomatoes after 10 minutes, if using.

Adding cooked potatoes to the pan and garnishing with coriander (cilantro)

Once the curry begins to separate with oil floating on top, stir in the cooked potatoes and a handful of coriander (cilantro).

Useful cooking equipment…

The following cooking equipment will come in handy but not all are essential. Just make do with what you have if you want to make this sesame chicken recipe now.

  • A good wok: I like to use a carbon steel wok when cooking Chinese and other Asian recipes. You will find it much easier to prepare sesame chicken with one. Don’t let that stop you if you don’t have one. A good frying pan will do the job fine.
  • A good chefs knife: A sharp knife will come in handy for whatever you happen to be cooking. Slicing the chicken and vegetables for this sesame chicken will be much easier if you have one. I recommend investing it one good quality chefs knife rather than purchasing a set of knives.
  • A cutting board: This is of course obvious but it is really nice to have a good, sturdy chopping board for cooking.
  • A measuring jug: This will come in useful for measuring the sauce ingredients and also to store the prepared sauce before pouring it into the wok.
Kari ayam - Malaysian chicken curry

Season with salt to taste and serve.

Malaysian chicken curry - kari ayam

Dig in!

If you like this Malaysian chicken curry 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
Soto Ayam
Malaysian Devil Curry
Ayam Masak Merah – Malaysian Red Chicken Curry
Chicken Kapitan
Homemade Kecap Manis

Have you tried this Malaysian chicken curry recipe?

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Yield: 4 - 6

Malaysian Chicken Curry - Kari Ayam

Malaysian chicken curry - kari ayam

This Malaysian chicken curry or kari ayam is super easy to prepare and tastes amazing! Most of the work involved is passive work so you can just sit back and let your stove do all the real work.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) ginger, rougly chopped
  • 4 banana shallots
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 4 generous tbsp Madras (see page 00) or Malaysian curry powder, homemade or shop bought
  • 1 generous tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder (more or less to taste)
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 3 tbsp rapeseed (canola), coconut or peanut oil
  • 1 x 5cm (2 inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 x 5cm (2 inch) ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 3 banana shallots, thinly sliced
  • 20 fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layer removed, white parts only, lightly bruised
  • 700g (1 ½ lbs) chicken thighs and/or legs, skinned or unskinned
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 250ml (1/2 cup) thick coconut milk
  • ½ tsp tamarind concentrate (see page 00 or shop bought)
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
  • 2 red spur chillies or spicier red bird's eye, thinly sliced


  1. Cook the potato chunks first by boiling in water until about 90% cooked. They should be fork tender but still a bit too hard to serve. Set aside while you prepare the pastes.
  2. To make the aromatic paste, place the garlic, ginger, shallots and water in a blender and blend until smooth, Set aside.
  3. Now prepare the chilli paste. Spoon the curry powder and chilli powder in to bowl and pour in the water. Stir with a spoon until smooth and set aside.
  4. To cook the curry, heat the oil in a large pan or wok that has a lid over medium high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the cinnamon stick, star anise and cardamom pods and stir for 30 seconds to infuse their flavours into the oil.
  5. Now add the garlic, ginger and shallots and fry for another minute and the add the curry leaves and lemongrass stalks and fry for another minute.
  6. Add the prepared aromatic paste and chilli paste and stir well. Continue frying for about three minutes at which time the sauce will have darkened a few shades.
  7. Add the chicken and stir well to coat with all the other ingredients and fry for a few minutes or until the meat is turning white. Then add just enough water to cover the chicken.
  8. Cover the pan and allow to simmer over a medium heat for 20 minutes. Take off the lid and add the coconut milk and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or until the oil separates and rises to the top. Stir in the par-cooked potatoes and continue simmering for a few minutes or until they are deliciously soft.
  9. Season with salt to taste and serve garnished with the chopped coriander and chillies. Although it isn't aways done, I like to serve this curry with lemon wedges to squeeze over it at the table.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 569Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 57mgSodium: 548mgCarbohydrates: 76gFiber: 9gSugar: 22gProtein: 23g

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