Turmeric Chicken Curry

Turmeric Chicken Curry

Turmeric Chicken Curry or also known as Ayam Masak Lemak is a classic Malay dish. My mother's recipe is from the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. The dish is simple and doesn't require any oil or artificial sweetener. You'll just drool because of its creaminess and richness!

5 stars

Preparation 30 mins
Cooking 30 mins


Ayam Masak Lemak Negeri Sembilan, Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Api


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Ayam Masak Lemak literally translates to “chicken cooked in cream”. The creaminess refers to the coconut milk in the dish which makes the gravy naturally sweet and luscious. As a classic Malay dish, this recipe is also ‘Whole 30’ which means there is no addition of sugar or oil. This recipe is not adapted to fit any diet but it's a traditional dish I've been eating since young. My kids and husband love the dish so much. Since it's so easy to cook, I prepare the dish often for us to enjoy!

What makes the Negeri Sembilan version of the dish so special?

This is the simpliest version of Ayam  Masak Lemak. Without using any oil or additional sweetener, the dish relies on the fats from the chicken and natural sweetness of the coconut milk. The simplicity of the dish makes it even more appetizing! The other varieties are from the states of Johor and Terengganu.

Is this dish spicy?

Yes. But wait. You can always adapt the spiciness according to what you're comfortable with. The spiciness of this curry mainly comes from the bird-eye chillies which are known to be extra spicy. You can either reduce the amount of recommended chillies or fully omit them from the recipe for a non-spicy dish. The other tip is to remove the membrane of the chillies as the heat is concentrated in the inner white pith.

If you still find the dish too spicy, add an additional splash of coconut milk to tone down the heat.

Alternatives for coconut milk

Coconut milk is the traditional selection in curries especially in Malay dishes. However, some may not enjoy its flavour. Should that be the case, I would highly recommend substituting it with evaporated milk, another favourite local choice. Otherwise, plant-based milk such as almond milk, soy milk or oat milk can be used as well.

Can turmeric powder be used?

Sure. Turmeric powder is much more intense than fresh turmeric. That's why you'll need to use a lesser amount of turmeric powder as recommended in our guide. For this recipe, use 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder as a substitute.

What is tamarind peel? Can it be substituted?

Tamarind peel or asam gelugur is an ingredient which adds sourness to a dish. It's often used in classic local dishes such as Asam Pedas Ikan Pari (Sour and Spicy Sting Ray), for example. However, this ingredient may be tough to find at where you are located. Instead of using asam gelugur, use key lime juice. Stir in the juice at the end of the cooking process after the stove is turned off.

Types of meat used for this turmeric curry

Besides chicken, you can use smoked beef (daging salai) or quail. They both go very well with the creaminess of the gravy. Otherwise, seafood or salted fish may also be used.

Additional ingredients

Just for the extra munch, potatoes or young jackfruit slices are added to this golden chicken curry. When using seafood, tangy ingredients such as pineapple or bilimbi (belimbing buluh) are added to get rid of the unpleasant fishiness smell or taste which many do not enjoy.

Cooking turmeric chicken curry in a slow cooker

Of course, you can prepare the dish using a slow cooker. Slow cookers are great if you want your food to be prepared while you run errands. So, when you're back, the meal is ready. With this recipe, you can start by sautéing the chicken until excess water is dried up. Then, add all the ingredients together and allow the dish to cook for 2 to 3 hours over high heat or 4 to 5 hours over low heat. However, I'd suggest adding the tomatoes shortly before serving or they may turned too mushy for your liking.

Preparing paste in advance

You can, of course prepare the turmeric and chilli paste up to 3 days in advance. Just remember to store the paste in the refrigerator. If you plan to make a few portions of the paste for future usage, it can be kept frozen for up to a month.


lemongrass stalk(s)
bird-eye chillies
8 cm
turmeric (fresh)
turmeric leaf
400 g
chicken meat
tamarind peel(s)
100 ml
150 ml
coconut milk
1 tbsp

Steps to Prepare

Turmeric Chicken Curry Step 1

Step 1 of 4

Pound turmeric & chillies coarsely into a paste. Discard the top 2/3 of the lemongrass, remove the first few outer layers and lightly crush the bulbous end with a pestle or large side of a knife. Then, cut turmeric leaf into thin slices. Set aside.

Turmeric Chicken Curry Step 2

Step 2 of 4

    • 400 g chicken meat

Heat wok over medium to low heat. Place the chicken pieces, the blended ingredients and bruised lemongrass into the wok. Let it sit in the pot/wok for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. This step will remove excess water from the chicken. Stir until there is no excess water from the chicken.

Turmeric Chicken Curry Step 3

Step 3 of 4

    • 1 tamarind peel(s)
    • 2 potatoes
    • 100 ml water
    • 50 ml coconut milk

Cut each potato into bite-sized wedges. Add tamarind peel, potatoes, water and coconut milk to the pot and let the dish simmer over medium heat for at least 15 minutes. Continue stirring slowly until the potatoes & chicken are cooked.

Turmeric Chicken Curry Step 4

Step 4 of 4

    • 100 ml coconut milk
    • 1 tbsp salt
    • 1 tomato(es)

Pour more coconut milk into the pot and further simmer dish. Cut the tomato into four wedges and add them to the dish. Finally, stir in sliced turmeric leaf for extra aroma. Allow the dish to cook for another 5 minutes. Stir slowly from time to time until the flavour comes together.

Published: February 13, 2020

4 Discussions

ee leen
4 years ago

ee leen

Hi hi, tamarind peel as in asam jawa or asam keping?

Mira - Community Happiness Manager
4 years ago

Mira - Community Happiness Manager

Asam keping. Tamarind pulp or tamarind paste refers to asam jawa.

4 years ago


I have tried to cook it. At first I confuse why there's tamarind, but when I taste it, excellent! I think changing the water to chicken broth is a good idea.

Emily Halim
4 years ago

Emily Halim

Thanks for trying Garjita! Yes chicks broth is an excellent idea. Much love from Malaysia. Stay safe ❤️

Lesley 🌸
4 years ago

Lesley 🌸

I just re-read the recipe and noticed that you explained that turmeric paste can be a substitute. So, it is just the turmeric leaf that I am not sure about. Thanks.

Emily Halim
4 years ago

Emily Halim

Hi, the turmeric leaf add aroma but if u can’t find it, that’s ok - still awesome with just fresh turmeric and lemongrass. If you can’t find tamarind slice, you can use key lime juice as substitute. Add about one tbsp after the stove is turned off ❤️

Lesley 🌸
4 years ago

Lesley 🌸

Terima kaseh Emily;)

Emily Halim
4 years ago

Emily Halim

Sama-sama ❤️

Lesley 🌸
4 years ago

Lesley 🌸

Looks really nice. We can finally easily find fresh turmeric here in Canada now but I have never seen a tumeric leaf. Can it be replaced with something? curry leaves maybe? I am not sure if I can find turmeric peel either nor maybe key lime. Would regular lime work or a vinegar of some sort? Thanks for your help Grace. Lesley Wee Burnaby, B.C. Canada

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