Ayam Masak Merah (Malay Red Chicken Curry)

Ayam Masak Merah is one of my favourite curries ever! Top 2, along with beef rendang. Yep, my tastes are totally South East Asian; as far as I’m concerned, it’s hard to beat a good Malay or Indonesian curry!

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Ayam Masak Merah

This is one of those dishes that I always ask for when I’m visiting family back in Singapore and Malaysia. It doesn’t matter that I make it here in the UK, it’s just that eating a childhood recipe in one’s old home just tastes so much better! Know what I mean?

A little translation first:

  • ayam – chicken
  • masak – to cook, cooked
  • merah – red

⫸ So “chicken cooked red”, literally translated. Or Red Chicken Curry.

A Recipe for Malay Weddings

Like Nasi Minyak from the previous post, ayam masak merah is a dish that is synonymous with celebrations, and specifically, Malay weddings and also Eid.

These days, wedding menus may look a little more modern for some families, but traditional celebrations almost always feature this most delicious of Malay curries, alongside nasi minyak or biryani and some vegetable pickles.

Malay or Malaysian

In my previous post, I touched on the difference between the word Malay and Malaysian. If you’ve read it, you’ll know that the former refers to the race and language while the latter is one’s nationality.

So yes, ayam masak merah is a Malay dish, and yes, it is Malaysian, but it is also Singaporean.

Ayam Masak Merah Recipe

This is a very, very easy recipe, and requires the most basic of ingredients. Now I’m including lemongrass in this basic category, as I think that these days, lemongrass is pretty easy to get hold of, whether fresh or in a jar. Can you get it easily where you are?

Even after all this time, I can clearly see my granny (and mum and aunt) making this in the kitchen, in my granny’s old flat. In massive pots! Our recipe here is just the way I used to see them making it, right down to the tomato ketchup that my granny used to add to the recipe for added flavour.

And this is how we cook ayam masak merah:

  1. We start with marinating the chicken while you get all the other ingredients ready.
  2. Make the paste. A chopper is handy here.
  3. Lightly brown the chicken.
  4. Fry the spices, aromatics, then everything else is added in stages, to cook the curry.

Sound easy to you?

How Serve Ayam Masak Merah

Traditionally, it’s served with rice, especially nasi minyak during special occasions.

You could even have this curry with flatbread if you like. And you know I’ve said it before, baguettes were made for curries!

Nasi Lemak, Coconut Rice from Singapore and Malaysia
Nasi Lemak recipe is rice cooked with coconut milk, from Singapore and Malaysia.
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Nasi Minyak Recipe (the Malay Pilau Rice)
Nasi Minyak, a fixture at Malay weddings and religious occasions, is a dish of fragrant rice cooked with a little ghee, evaporated milk, spices and pandan leaves.
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Nasi Ulam
Nasi Ulam recipe, a rice salad from North Malaysia, served with a variety of side dishes like fried chicken, sambal belacan* (local shrimp paste chilli sauce) and fried fish, just to name a few.
Get the Recipe!

Right then, shall we get our aprons on? Told ya it was easy!

If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Terima kasih!

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood

Lin xx

Ayam masak merah in black bowl

Ayam Masak Merah (a Malay Red Chicken Curry)

Easy to follow ayam masak merah recipe, a fragrant Malay red curry from Singapore and Malaysia, chicken in a light tomato base with a touch of spice.
5 from 15 votes
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Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Malay, Singaporean and Malaysian
Keyword: chicken recipes, curry, easy recipes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 6 (6-8)
Calories: 367kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor


  • 1 kg chicken portions (or use a whole chicken, cut up)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 60 ml vegetable oil for frying the chicken
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 lemongrass, bottom half
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 Tbsp concentrated tomato paste (sometimes called tomato purée in Asia)
  • 3 Tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250 ml water
  • 2 handfuls frozen or fresh peas (completely optional, I don't add them)

Dry Spices

  • 1 cinnamon stick, medium
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves

Grind to a Paste

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 cm ginger
  • 1 lemongrass, bottom half
  • 1 tsp chilli paste (any generic one will do) OR 1 fresh red chilli


Marinate the Chicken lightly

  • Rub the chicken with the turmeric and 1 tsp of salt and set aside for about 15-20 minutes while you get everything else ready.

Paste Ingredients

  • Chop the onion, slice the lemongrass into rings, and slice the ginger for easier chopping.
  • Place everything into a chopper and chop to a fairly fine paste, adding a Tbsp of water if necessary. Set aside.

The rest of the Prep Work

  • Bruise the lemongrass by pounding down on its base with the back of your knife.
  • Slice the large onion into rings and set aside.

Brown the Chicken

  • Heat the 60ml of oil on medium-high heat, in a large saucepan, with the tsp of sugar. Brown the chicken in batches. You only want to do this briefly, about a minute each side. We don't want to cook the chicken, just give it some colour. Place the browned chicken on kitchen paper lined plates.

Let's cook the Ayam Masak Merah

  • We'll use the same saucepan. Pour out most of the oil, leaving about 2 Tbsp of still in the saucepan. On medium heat, and fry the cinnamon, cloves and star anise for about 30 seconds, don’t let them burn.
  • Add the ground paste and lemongrass and fry for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the aroma hits you. Scrape the base of the pan to incorporate all the sticky bits from the chicken earlier.
  • Add the tomato purée and ketchup and stir well.
  • Add the chicken, stirring to coat the meat with all that yummy tomato stuff. Add the water, stir and let it come to a boil.
  • Lower the heat right down and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes, depending on size and part. Meat on the bone, drumsticks and legs are going to take longer than boneless breast meat.
  • Five minutes before the end of cooking time, add the sliced onion rings, stir and leave to simmer. If the curry is too dry for you, add a little water, perhaps no more than 125ml (½ cup). You don't want to dilute the flavours in the curry. And be sure to check the salt.
  • When the chicken is cooked, add the peas (if you are using them), stir, check the seasoning and add more salt if you think it needs it. Turn the heat off.


Can be kept overnight, can also be frozen up to 3 months.


Calories: 367kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 85mg | Sodium: 612mg | Potassium: 418mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 467IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 2mg
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14 thoughts on “Ayam Masak Merah (Malay Red Chicken Curry)”

  1. I’ve read the recipe so many times but just can’t figure out how much onion to blend for paste and how much to cut into rings because recipe only says 1 large onion. Then 3 tbsp Tomato paste or Purée? Both are different in texture.

    1. Hi Sasha, there are 2 large onions in this recipe: 1 to be sliced into rings (found with the main ingredients list), and 1 to be added to the paste ingredients. I noticed that in the paste ingredients instructions, I’d written down onions (with an s), so that’s probably what caused the confusion. My bad, have edited that.
      Concentrated Tomato Paste/Purée:
      My readers are found all over the world. So I try and cater to everybody’s needs when I write the ingredients down. When I was growing up, we called this tomato purée (in Singapore and Malaysia). And my readers in other parts of Asia use that word too.
      But here in the UK, it’s called paste, and that’s what my readers in Australia and the US call it.
      So that’s why I’ve written it the way I have, mentioning that it’s not passata, which is what the purée is called in many parts of the Western world.
      Writing for an international audience is not always the easiest thing.

      1. Thanks for your quick reply so I can prepare for dinner tonight. Still simmering in the wok. Had added chicken stock and gula melaka and more salt to it.

  2. 5 stars
    So glad I found your page, so many of the things I love to cook ❤️ and the dishes turn out amazing

    1. Thank you Rania! I’m so glad you found me too, . Let me know how you get on with the different recipes, and if you are looking for anything in particular.

      1. I am cooking the Ayam Masak Merah as we speak, I love this so thought I’d try your recipe.

        I would absolutely love a good sambal recipe for Nasi Lemak, my absolute fave for breakfast (or any time really)

        1. I’ve always chided myself for not publishing the sambal when I published the nasi lemak recipe years ago. A clear oversight. I’ll rectify that next week, as I just got some ikan bilis in. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

  3. 5 stars
    Those chicken pieces coated in the luscious sauce are stuff happiness is made of! Very easy to follow recipe and fortunately I have all the ingredients.

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve been waiting a long time for this recipe, Kak Lin! Eversince I made your beef rendang. Thank you, just in time for raya.

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