When I saw Cambodian chicken curry or khmer chicken samlá at lovely Dhanaya’s blog, my quest to learn more about it widened and expanded my repertoire of everyday dishes; an adventure that I heartily embrace. What I found out in my journey is when we learn about ingredients from cultures beyond your own, food becomes a bridge that builds mutual respect. Thank you Dhanaya for introducing me to Khmer cuisine.
The beauty of Cambodia lies in their cuisine and the simplicity of Khmer people. The food has much more in common with its neighbouring countries, strong Indian influences, yet holds onto its own unique aromatic flavour and taste that are distinctively Cambodian. One of my acquaintances notes khmer cuisine has a delicate balance between sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness with a keen appreciation for textures.
Cambodian curry paste called as kroeung is the foundation of khmer food. One of the advantage of kroeung paste is it can be made in advance and kept refrigerated or frozen; however, it is always best when fresh. It is prepared by pounding the ingredients in a mortar pestle along with a complex blend of spices. The main ingredients used in khmer cooking are prahok, galangal, kaffir lime leaves/rind, lemongrass and tamarind. Since fish is found in abundance, the most prominent and unique khmer ingredient is the use of prahok (fermented fish paste) which gives volume and depth of flavour to the dish.
Following the original recipe, I made chicken samlá for the first time; my son who does not eat chicken gobbled up every last little bit of it only to say ‘gimme more’ which amazed me, also was pleased about it; since then this curry has been a regular and favourite to all. I try preparing different variations every time I cook it.
Made this dish with whatever available ingredients I could find at my place. Have used galangal powder (though I believe the taste differs) and used fermented shrimp paste instead of prahok. Khmer samlá is somewhere between stews and soups. It is an intensely fragrant, zesty, creamy and delicious dish hugely enjoyed with rice or some french baguette.
Have tried it with meat and added vegetables like carrot, potato, eggplants and sweet potato – tastes great! It can also be made with prawns too, however add prawns few minutes at the end of cooking period. Next time, if I get my hands on fresh galangal, fish paste (hopefully) and kaffir lime leaves, shall try it again.
Recipe originally adapted from ‘thespiceadventuress.com’ with slight changes made towards it.
prep time : 25 mins, cooking time : 35 mins, serves : 4-6, cuisine : cambodian, author : gloria
10-12 chicken drumsticks (skinned)
½ cup thick coconut milk
½ cup thin coconut milk
½ cup chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp shrimp paste
1 tsp palm sugar
salt to taste
to be pounded to a smooth paste*:
2 stalks of fresh lemongrass
dry large red chillies (as per tolerance)
1 tsp preserved lime rind
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp galangal powder
1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
8 Asian shallots
4 big garlic cloves
Remove tough outer layers of the lemongrass stems and trim off the hard part at the root end, the tender inner flesh is what we need for cooking; cut into thin roundels.
Pound all the ingredients mentioned above* by hand using a mortar pestle; alternatively, you could blend everything in a food processor or blender, if you want to. This forms our curry paste.
Now, taking a small piece of aluminum foil, spoon the shrimp paste into the centre and wrap it to form a little parcel; dry roast it in a pan on medium heat on each side for a minute till it becomes fragrant and releases flavours; (do not burn it). Remove from the heat and allow it to cool slightly and then peel back the foil. Mix the cooked shrimp paste and pound together to blend with the curry paste**.
Heat oil in a wok over moderate heat, add the prepared paste** and stir-fry. Reduce the heat on low and allow it to cook for 11-12, stirring occasionally, till oil releases at the edges of the pan.
Now, add the chicken and continue to cook further without adding any liquid for 8 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the wok.
Add the chicken stock, salt and palm sugar; mix and cover with a lid; cook further till tender and desired consistency is obtained.
Finally, add the coconut milk and simmer gently for 2 mins; switch off heat.
for a vegetarian version, replace chicken with tofu.
can use whole chicken with bones instead of chicken drumsticks
can use anchovy paste instead of shrimp paste
add little oil on top to maintain the freshness of kroeung when kept frozen
can use store-bought coconut milk