A sweet and savory, easy to make Malaysian chicken dish that has become a mainstay in the House of Annie’s kitchen.
I first tried Ayam Pong Teh at a Nyonya restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. My cousin had taken me to eat it and we all enjoyed the flavorful tender chicken and potatoes and also the savory sweetness of the sauce on our rice. It was the most popular dish that day.
I had been wanting to try to make Ayam Pong Teh ever since then. So imagine my surprise when I saw that this recipe was featured in one of my Saveur magazines many years ago.
When I saw the feature on Malacca and saw the recipe, I must admit I was skeptical. Very often, I don’t trust Western magazines to do justice to Asian recipes (they often substitute and “westernize” the flavors a little so that they are no longer truly authentic). But when I looked at the Ayam Pong Teh recipe, I thought it sounded pretty good. And I should have trusted them more—Saveur’s editor is James Oseland after all and he has spent many years in this part of the world, even coming up with a cookbook that I love. And next to Fine Cooking, Saveur is the other food magazine that I love. (Man, I’m missing both these magazines right now!)
So, I tried the recipe, and ever since that first time, this has become a mainstay in my kitchen. The flavors were just right! Also, it’s quite a simple recipe really for something that delivers so much flavor.
The key is the use of gula Melaka (palm sugar) in the making of this dish. The smoky sweetness imparts a depth that cannot be substituted with regular sugar. If you can, do try to get yourself some gula Melaka (or gula Jawa at the Asian grocery stores) when making this. Don’t use Thai palm sugar for it, it’s not the same. You need the dark smoky flavors for this dish. If you absolutely cannot get it, dark brown sugar will do in a pinch but it won’t have that same rich sweetness.
Try this recipe tonight and see if it doesn’t become a mainstay in your kitchen too!
Ayam Pong Teh recipe
(Nyonya-style Braised Chicken with Potatoes)
adapted from Saveur Magazine
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped (I tend to double this as I like the flavor of shallots)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil will work too), and I have used a little less oil with no problem
1/4 cup taucu (brown bean sauce)
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp palm sugar, chopped
1 3-3 1/2 lb chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, about 18 pieces
4 small boiling potatoes (I find Yukons or Reds will hold better in the braise than Russets), peeled and cut into large pieces (if the potatoes are really small, leave them whole).
3 cups water
salt to taste
1. Pound shallots and garlic into a coarse paste. Set aside.
2. Heat oil over medium heat, add shallots and garlic paste and fry for about 2 mins, making sure not to burn the paste.
3. Add taucu, dark soy sauce and palm sugar. Stir until palm sugar has dissolved and liquid has thickened, about 30 seconds.
4. Add chicken and potatoes and the 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil.
5. When the water boils, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours.
6. Season with salt and soy sauce to taste. Depending on how sweet your brown bean sauce is (some brown bean sauce is sweetened), you might need to add a bit more salt/soy sauce to balance out the sweetness. The end flavors should be a nice marrying of savory saltiness with undertones of sweetness.
Serve over rice.