Ayam buah keluak (chicken with black nut curry)


Mentioned Peranakan cuisine, ayam buah keluak - a mainstay of the cuisine will come to mind.

It is also well known as a labour intensive dish to prepare. I am ok with the grinding of rempah, soaking the nuts and simmering it with the meat.

It is the cracking of the nut (with a small hammer and scissor), digging out the paste, marinating it and then stuffing it all back into the shell that is regarded as truly a labour of love for the one you cooking it for.
I don't love easily and which is why I cooked this dish only once a year during the CNY.

The essential ingredient here, the keluak nut is from a mangrove tree that grows in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The kepayang tree is a poisonous tree, and the poison is easily removed by washing with water.
This is the reason why we soak the nuts (to remove the toxic) for a couple of days before cooking.

My mother-in-law used to scrub clean the nut and soak it for a week. (obviously, she wants to be very sure she don't kill anyone)
I soak the nuts between 1-3 days (much depends on my patience) and Yes, myself and those who have tried my cooking are still very much alive and kicking.

You may use chicken or pork ribs or both, actually.
Some will add marinated ground meat (pork/chicken/prawns) to the paste and stuff it back into the shell.
I have always preferred the neat way - just add sugar, salt and pepper to the paste and stuff it back.

I know I can get and cook with the (scoop out) keluak paste from the wet market, but I am old school, and part of the fun is to "gorek" (dig) the paste from the shell and smear it on the white rice. I then scoop gravy into the shell, "rinse it" to make sure I get all the paste out from the shell.
(You will do the same too if you were the one who does all the cracking and stuffing of the nuts)

This robust dish is an acquired taste - those who like it considered it a delicacy with hard nuts to crack :)

You will need:

30-50 nuts
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
dash of pepper
1 chicken (1.6kg) cut into piece and season with 1 teaspoon of salt for 1/2 hour
500gm of pork ribs pieces (optional)
100gm tamarind soaked in 200ml of water, squeezed and drained
800 - 1000ml of water

Paste: (grind into a fine paste)

130gm fresh chillies
300gm onions
10gm turmeric
10gm chilli powder
70gm sliced galangal
70gm sliced lemon grass
60 candle nuts
90 gm of shrimp paste
150ml oil for frying


1. Scrub and clean each nut to remove any sand or thin layer of muds. Soak 2-3 days.

2. Make a small opening at the "mouth"( flat surface of nut) each keluak nut with a small pick (or scissor) and hammer.

3. Scrape out its content in a bowl. Add sugar, salt and pepper to the paste and pound to form a smooth paste. Refill the shells with the marinated paste.

4. Heat up an iron wok and add oil to it. Add the paste and fry over medium heat, constantly stirring to prevent the paste from burning.

5. Add in the chicken and coat it with paste. Pour in the tamarind and water and boil for 5 mins. Add in the nuts.

6. Lower the heat and cook for 30 mins or till chicken is tender. Stir occasionally.

7. Add more water if you like thin gravy.

8. Serve with white rice.

Cooks' Note:

1. If adding pork ribs, cook for 30 mins before adding in the chicken and nuts.
2. Season and taste the nut paste.
3. Add more tamarind if you like your gravy sourer.
4. Make more of the rempah and freeze for future use.
5. Gravy will turn slightly dark due to the paste from the nuts.
6. Use the tiny coffee/tea stirrer for easy scooping of paste from the shell.

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