'Ayam masak merah' literally means chicken cooked in red sauce. The red sauce mentioned here comes from tomatoes and is mildly spiced with aromatics such as ginger, garlic and dried chillies. The chicken pieces are marinated with turmeric powder and deep fried before being braised in the spiced tomato gravy. As the gravy thickens, it develops more flavours along with the fried turmeric chicken.
Fresh turmeric vs turmeric powder
While turmeric powder is used in this dish, you can opt for fresh turmeric. Use at least 2 tablespoons of fresh turmeric. Pound the turmeric with the skin removed until it becomes a paste. Optionally, add 0.5 tablespoon of water to it. Then, mix the chicken pieces with the turmeric paste and salt.
Tomato puree instead of fresh tomatoes
Tomatoes are added to the dish for the colour and sweetness of the gravy. In summer, tomatoes can be exceptionally sweet while winter offers tomatoes which are milder in taste. Instead of using fresh tomatoes then, substitute with half a can of tomato puree.
Non-spicy ayam masak merah
Ayam masak merah is only mildly spiced. If you do not want it to be spicy, just omit the dried chillies from the recipe. Otherwise, simply follow the tips in handling dried chillies to reduce the spiciness.
Two tips for best results
You'll first need to ensure that the blended chilli-ginger-garlic-onion paste is sautéed with oil until fragrant. This happens when the oil separates from the paste. If this step is not followed, the paste will not develop its best flavours leaving a raw taste of aromatics.
After cooking this dish several times, I noticed the taste is more intense when the dish is left to simmer until the ingredients are really soft turning the gravy thick and luscious.
I adore the slight hint of spiciness in the dish. Normally, the chicken meat is mixed with plain flour before they are fried. In this recipe, turmeric is added to the flour to enhance the flavour of the fried chicken meat. Thus, they can be eaten just as they are. If you love flooding your plate of rice with gravy, this is the perfect dish for you. Besides rice, pairing it with bread makes it equally delicious.