Many exciting cuisines can be found in Sumatra, especially in Aceh. Here, the dishes are laced with Arabic, Indian and Middle Eastern flavors adopted over centuries of trading. Acehnese cuisine is nothing new to most Indonesians. For instance, the mutton curry of gulai kambing bears similarities to Indian or Arabic mutton curry.
It is so fascinating to experiment with Acehnese cuisine. The combination of root spices such as turmeric, galangal and ginger; local classic ingredients such as coconut milk, pandan leaves, lemongrass, sun-dried tree sorrel (asam sunti); and Indian and Middle Eastern spices and herbs such as fennel, fenugreek, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds creates a wonderful and unique curry flavor.
These include duck, chicken or fish curries that can be thick or watery, with chilies and other spices lending them a reddish-brown hue.
But one of the best-known Acehnese curries forgoes that fiery spiciness. Gulee sie masak puteh, or white curry, which can be cooked with beef, mutton or chicken. The white chicken curry resembles opor ayam (a Javanese favorite during Lebaran, the holiday at the end of Ramadan) but has a totally different flavor. The Acehnese white chicken curry has more complex layers of taste with a variety of spices and curry leaves, known locally as daun kari or daun salam koja.
It’s the perfect dish for breaking the fast for the whole family. You can prepare this the day before and reheat when you want to serve it. Enjoy!
White chicken curry from Aceh
I use organic chicken, which is delicious for slow cooking. It will take a long time to cook, but it’s worth the wait. The sauce won’t be a pure white, as the name suggests, but more of an eggshell shade. You can use broiler chicken if organic chicken is unavailable, or forgo the poultry altogether for beef, mutton, fish or tofu and tempeh. To make this dish lighter than opor, add the coconut milk at the end.
• 2 whole organic chickens, skinned (optional) and quartered; 15 shallots, peeled; 3 cloves of garlic, peeled; 3 candlenuts; a thumb of fresh ginger, peeled; 3 bay leaves; 2 sticks of lemongrass, white part only; 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut (optional); 500ml coconut cream; 400ml water; a small bunch of curry leaves; 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
• Spices: 1 teaspoon cumin; cloves; white and black pepper; fennel seeds; coriander seeds; 3 pods of cardamom; 3 star anises; 1 stick of cinnamon.
1.Put all the spices in a skillet and cook on medium heat for around 5-7 minutes or until fragrant. Stir occasionally.
2.Remove the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and star anise and transfer the rest of the spices into a pestle and mortar and grind finely. Set aside.
3.Rub the chicken pieces with the spice mixture and leave to marinate for 10 minutes.
4.Sliced the shallots, garlic and ginger and grind finely. Add the candlenuts and grind. Season with salt and set aside.
5.Heat a shallow frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the shallot paste and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and add lemongrass, curry leaves, cinnamon stick, star anise and desiccated coconut. Mix well and cook the chicken for 2 minutes on each side.
6.Add the water and keep mixing the curry. Simmer for around 2.5 hours or until the chicken is tender. Season with salt.
7.Add the coconut cream and cook for around 8-10 minutes. You are looking for a thick and creamy consistency. Check the final seasoning. Add a touch of salt if necessary. Serve immediately with hot steamed rice.