Ayam Masak Merah Recipe (Spicy Tomato Chicken)

When I was working as a teacher at a student care centre during my university days, I got to know Makcik (auntie) G who was working there as a cook. I remembered how outstanding her nasi ayam (chicken rice) and nasi lemak (coconut milk rice) were – definitely some of the best I had ever eaten in Singapore. Some time later, I engaged Makcik G to cook her signatures for a Christmas party at home and all my guests thoroughly enjoyed the meal. That was also my first time eating her Ayam Masak Merah (or Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce) which was truly unforgettable.

It’s a pity I didn’t ask for the exact recipe from Makcik G then as we lost touch thereafter. Nonetheless, I thought I would try recreating that awesome flavour after figuring out what goes into an Ayam Masak Merah. In Makcik G’s style, the chicken had to be deep-fried beforehand. I suspected she added MSG too.

Kinda unhealthy but that dish was absolutely heavenly.

Ayam Masak Merah Recipe

This was my first attempt at making Ayam Masak Merah years ago. Used canned tomato sauce (not ketchup – you can get it from the pasta section of supermarket) as the base so the colour was more on the reddish/orangey side.

Ayam Masak Merah Recipe

My current ‘improved’ version of Ayam Masak Merah is quite different. It isn’t as red in colour and in fact, it looks like a regular curry as it has coconut milk in it. It is also ‘wetter’ with more gravy (as the husband likes more sauce for his rice). Overall, this recipe is simpler to make and it’s also much healthier than the regular version.

I chose not to fry my chicken (too much hassle, haha) so I removed all skin and fats off the chicken pieces and stir fried them instead. Also, I used canned chopped tomatoes with no salt added instead of canned tomato sauce this time just to lighten the flavour which would give me greater leeway to adjust the taste to my preference. You can also use canned tomato soup for a more intense tomatoey flavour.

So different. Is this still an Ayam Masak Merah then? Lol. Just know, there are never hard-and-fast rules when it comes to cooking. Plus, I’m an experimental cook! ?

Though my dish wasn’t as good as Makcik G’s, it still turned out beautifully. The fresh spices in that sauce really stood out and they weren’t weighed down by the heaviness of the coconut milk. In fact, I thought my Ayam Masak Merah was rather light but equally comforting and delicious. You can taste bits of tomatoes in the sauce too.

Well, it’s not necessary to add coconut milk to your Ayam Masak Merah, really. But I think it really gives depth, body and aroma which makes this recipe so creamy and moreish though the sauce will end up looking more curry-like, lol.

Ayam Masak Merah Recipe

Ayam Masak Merah Recipe
  • approx. 1-1.2 kg chicken parts of your choice, skin & fats removed
  • 1 can 400g chopped tomatoes (no added salt)
  • 200ml reduced fat coconut milk
  • 400ml water
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 15 dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes
  • 12 shallots, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 knob ginger approx. 15g, peeled & sliced
  • 1 knob galangal approx. 30g, peeled & sliced
  • 4 stalks lemongrass (use inner white parts only)
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • coriander leaves as garnish
For the chicken:
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
Rub chicken with ground turmeric and salt. Chill in fridge for at least half hour.
Using a food processor or chopper, blend the dried chillies, shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal and lemongrass into a fine paste.
Heat oil in pan and stir fry the chicken till meat is no longer pink. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, stir fry the spice paste, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick till fragrant.
Add tomatoes, cooked chicken (from Step 3) and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes till chicken is cooked through. Dissolve the stock cube in the sauce.
Season with salt and sugar to taste and gently stir in the coconut milk.
Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice.

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