Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
This Indonesian Chicken Curry, known as Ayam Woku Kemangi, is a quick and easy recipe. It’s a dry-ish curry and is just bursting with the scents of the herbs and aromatics used in cooking it. It can be spicy, depending on what chillies you use, and the lemongrass and ginger lend a sweet, citrusy and floral flavour as well as scent to the ayam woku.
Let’s break the name down before we get to the recipe itself.
Ayam = chicken
Woku = spice, spice paste
Kemangi = Thai sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum, horapa in Thai)
The beauty of our Ayam Woku Kemangi lies in the spice paste (woku) and herbs used. The dish hails from the Manado people of North Sulawesi in Indonesia, and was originally made as a spicy fish dish. In the map above, you can see the relative location of North Sulawesi to the rest of Indonesia, as well as to the other countries in the region.
The combination of aromatics, herbs, spices and candlenuts is by no means unique to the area. You’ll find the same ingredients used all over Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and even southern Thailand, where the cooking is highly influenced by Malaysia, as the 2 countries share a border (see the map).
Ayam Woku Recipe
The traditional recipe calls for a variety of herbs and the odd ingredient that may not be easily available to folks outside of Asia. Let’s take a look at some of the more difficult to get ones, which I’ve labelled as optional in the recipe.
You can always do what I do, and grow the herbs.
I simply cannot do without my tropical herbs!
Thai Basil in Ayam Woku Kemangi (Daun Kemangi in Indonesian)
In my experience, the basil is Thai sweet basil (ocimum basilicum), as pictured above, known as horapa in Thai. Some people call for lemon basil or regular basil, I suppose it all depends on what you can get your hands on. Thai basil has a sweet, anise-like aroma and flavour.
Kaffir Lime Leaves (Daun Jeruk)
Click here to read more. The Kaffir Lime leaves, with their trademark double leaves, are an essential part of many South East Asian cuisines like Thai and Malay and Indonesian. The leaves have a citrusy, sharp aroma that adds to any dish they’re included in.
Turmeric Leaves (Daun Kunyit)
Click here to read more. Turmeric leaves have an absolutely delightful scent, both lemony and spicy at the same time, there is no substitute for them. If you can get hold of a fresh tuber (Waitrose and Ocado sell them in the UK), you can grow the leaves very easily. Just pot it up.
Pandan leaves (Daun Pandan)
Click here to read more. The pandan leaf has a wonderfully, sweet aroma with dashes of freshly cut grass. Used in many Asian cuisines, it is called many names in the various countries it’s found in. In the UK, Indian grocers may stock the fresh ones, Chinese grocers definitely stock them in the freezer.
Click here to read more. A very common ingredient in Malay and Indonesian cooking, it’s often ground and used to thicken and enrich curries and stews. Macadamia nuts, one for one, are the perfect substitute.
If you can’t get any of the above, do as I show you in the video, make the recipe with what you can get. Lemongrass (sereh) is very easy to get these days, even if just in paste form.
How to Cook Ayam Woku Kemangi
As you can see in the video, it’s a very easy process. Cut your chicken pieces small, keep them off the bone, and you can be done with the whole recipe in 30 minutes. And that includes the prep time.
Put your rice on before you start, and it’s a 30-minute dinner!
This is what we do:
- Slice your herbs thinly (or not, as you see me being lazy in the video)
- Make the spice paste by chopping/blending everything up in a chopper.
- Brown the chicken slightly (a couple of minutes will suffice).
- Add the spice paste and other ingredients and simmer.
- Finish off with the Thai basil, lime juice and spring onions (scallions).
Easy right? Let’s get our aprons on!
More Indonesian Recipes on LinsFood
And if you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Terima kasih!
Indonesian Chicken Curry with Thai Basil (Ayam Woku Kemangi)
Ingredients are not listed in order, instead, I’ve grouped them in type and purpose
- 500 g boneless chicken OR 750g (1 3/5 lb) on the bone
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 large tomatoes diced small (see video)
- 125 ml water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white sugar
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 spring onion scallion, sliced
Grind to a paste
- 1 large brown onion quartered for easier chopping
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 2.5 cm ginger, sliced for easier chopping
- 1 lemongrass sliced for easier chopping
- 2 red chillies heat level up to you, sliced for easier chopping
- 2.5 cm turmeric OR ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 3 candlenuts or 3 macadamia nuts, optional
- a little water 2-3 Tbsp
- If you have all the herbs, first thing you do, is thinly slice the pandan, kaffir lime and turmeric leaves. Just roll them up into a chiffonade with the biggest on the outside, and slice them. Set aside.
- Place all the ingredients in a chopper with a small amount of water and grind to a paste. Set aside.
Cooking Ayam Woku
- Heat the oil on high heat in a wok, frying pan or roomy saucepan, and brown the chicken pieces lightly, for a couple of minutes. Your kitchen will smoke a little here.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the spice paste, frying and coating the chicken for about 2 minutes, until you get a beautiful aroma wafting up.
- Add the herbs, tomatoes, water, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked. This will depend on the size of your chicken and whether it's on the bone or boneless. On the bone chicken like drumsticks will need 30 minutes, even 45, if they are big. Add a little more water if your curry gets too dry.
- When the chicken is done, toss in all the Thai basil, stir for 1 minute, to wilt the leaves, then turn the heat off.
- Add the lime juice and spring onions and stir. That’s it, dish up. You shouldn’t need anymore salt.