Opor Ayam is a traditional dish of celebration at Eid ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, or Lebaran as it is called on Java. Some recipes for this widespread dish include tumeric, while some do not, but without it the dish is grey in colour and less celebratory, to my eyes. Opor Ayam is not particulary hot, but it is very rich, with a balance of sweet, spicy, and sour. Very tender chicken is achieved here by simmering the pieces without first browning, simmering gently, and simmering until just done. I use only dark meat parts rather than the traditional whole jointed chicken, because that neatly eliminates the problem of dark and light meat finishing at different temperatures. It is important to skin the chicken, in order to let the spices penetrate the meat, and because too much rendered fat in the sauce makes a rich sweet curry taste quite flabby. Kaffir lime leaves add lovely floral notes over the dish, and it really is just not the same without them. They are sold frozen at Asian groceries and they keep forever that way. In Java, this curry is thickened with kemri nuts, which are hard to find here (and a tad poisonous when raw), and while macadamia nuts are a good substitute, consider them optional if you need a nut-free curry.
Accompany with a vegetable dish and white rice. Pair with water, or a Loire chenin blanc.
forty-five minutes;serves four
4 macadamia nuts (optional), diced
1 Tbsp coriander seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp oil
4 shallots, diced
1/2 tsp tumeric
14 oz (400ml) coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp palm sugar (may substitute 1 tsp brown sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
3 lbs chicken legs and/or thighs, jointed and skinned
1 Tbsp tamarind juice (may substitute 2 tsp lemon or 1 Tbsp lime juice)
1. Grind the macadamia nuts, coriander, garlic and tumeric to a paste in a mortar.
2. In a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, gently sweat the shallots in the oil over medium heat, until soft.
3. Add the paste to the pot and mix it into the hot oil.
4. Add the coconut milk to the pot and stir to dissolve the spices. Add the cinnamon, lemongrass, lime leaves, sugar and salt. Carefully bring to a simmer.
5. Add the chicken and return to a simmer. Place the lid on and cook for ten minutes. Turn all the pieces and replace the lid to cook another ten. Turn the pieces again and simmer another five minutes. Check that your chicken is done, which it probably is.
6. Off heat add the tamarind juice, stir through, taste the sauce, and adjust for salt, sugar, and acid (tamarind).