R.AGE Food Fight: Ayam Masak Merah with Cauli “Nasi Tomato”

What’s red in colour, delicious, and also uniquely Malaysian? Ayam Masak Merah, a Kedahan dish commonly seen at Hari Raya Celebration and Malay Weddings, of course. Do you know what else is red and Malaysian? Red Palm oil, which is the star of the day in this blog post. Needless to say, I decided to cook this dish because I was inspired by the colour, but it also happens to be one of my favourite Malaysian dishes, due to its rich aroma, and a nice balance of savoury note, sweetness, richness, piquancy and just enough heat to tickle your system.

Did you know that Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer of Palm oil? Interestingly enough most of it is exported and we don’t really see a lot of Palm oil used in cooking locally. It’s not that Palm oil is not good for us, in fact, it’s high in antioxidants, which is responsible for combating free radical damage. It also has virtually no cholesterol, just like another super cousin of it, the coconut oil. It has its signature red hue due to high level of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to Vitamin A (the Vitamin that’s good for our eyes), and it’s also high in Vitamin E. In short, it comes with pretty attractive health benefits, but of course as with all fats, consuming in moderation is key.

Ayam Masak Merah with Cauli-Nasi Tomato

This recipe is super nontraditional as I’m adding my own twist to it. For example, a good amount of recipes calls for canned tomato soup for the gravy, and I’ve opted for canned tomatoes instead for a fresher taste. I’ve also added lemongrass in the spice paste for an extra depth of aroma. Ayam Masak Merah is commonly paired with Nasi Tomato, and I’ve done my own interpretation of a low carb substitute using Caulifower instead. Although this means that I can’t cook it the traditional way infusing milk, spices and tomatoes slowly into the grains, but nothing a good dose of gravy over won’t fix, right? This way, you even get your vegetable quota sorted. By the way, it’s also Gluten-free and Paleo friendly, how about that?

The cooking process is a little complicated, and involves deep frying (*gasp*) as this is the way we can keep the chicken juicy with a nice firm texture. You might also work up a sweat if you don’t have a fancy food processor (which I don’t), but with the end result this delicious, I can assure you it’s all worth the effort. Now let’s get cooking! To make this a little extra special, I shall include a full cooking video for your viewing pleasure.

Ayam Masak Merah (Malay Red Cooked Chicken) with Cauli-Nasi Tomato

Ingredients:
Spice Paste:
5-6 Shallots
3 Red Chili (or more if you like it spicier)
1 thumb sized Ginger
5-6 cloves of Garlic
1 Stalk Lemongrass

Spices (roast in pan beforehand):
2 Star Anise
3-4 Cloves
1 stick of Cinnamon

500g Chicken Drumsticks (or any other part you like)
1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1 canned Tomatoes
300ml Coconut Milk
Palm Oil

Cauli Nasi Tomato
Half head of Cauliflower
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 tablespoon Ketchup

First, to make the spice paste. Place everything in food processor/blender/pestle & mortar/or anything that can chop things into small pieces and process til fine. I had to make do with a smaller device on the day of filming the cooking video so my spice paste isn’t as paste-y as it should be. But well, still tasty! Set aside until needed.

Then we move on to deep fry the chicken. The Chicken drumsticks need to be marinated with turmeric and salt for at least half an hour. Fill a pot with Palm oil (great choice for deep frying because of the high smoke point), and when it’s hot enough (you can test it with a wooden chopstick, if it bubbles up it’s ready) add the chicken pieces to deep fry until they are starting to take on a glorious colour. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.

Pour most of the oil out leaving around 3 tablespoons, and add in the spice paste to stir fry. You want to cook until it’s nice and fragrant and starting to split from the oil. Then add in the canned tomatoes (I’ve actually used my hand to squeeze the tomatoes into smaller pieces, you can also use a blender for this job), followed by the roasted spices and coconut milk. Mix everything well, and add the chicken drumsticks. Turn the heat to medium low and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until chicken is fully cooked and the sauce is nice and thick. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and sugar if needed.

While the chicken is cooking, we can prepare the Cauli “Nasi Tomato”. Cut the cauliflower into small florets, and use a blender/food processor to pulse a few times until the cauliflower become rice grain like (do not over process!). Heat the pan with Palm oil, and add the cauliflower rice, follow by tomato paste. Cook for 3-4 minutes until cauliflower is softened. Serve hot.

To assemble, place the cauli rice (using a bowl to mold if you want it nicely shaped) onto a plate, then pick your drumstick, making sure you also get plenty of that nice gravy on. Garnish with sliced tomatoes, some coriander and serve with achar if you like.

I love everything about this dish: the vibrant colours, the addictive gravy, succulent chicken, piquant cauli rice (with the added bonus of health), and the fact that the goodness of Palm oil is fully utilised. I hope you get to try this dish at home too, as it will sure impress your taste buds, and your family/friends.

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