Malay Ayam Masak Merah: Sugar and (Lots of) Spice

Ayam masak merahIn many ways, the holiday season in Singapore is not unlike that of many other cities.

Forests of tinseled trees and explosions of twinkling lights take over malls and shopping streets; there is an unceasing assault of cheeseball tunes wishing you a Holly jolly Christmas. And tables everywhere are packed with glistening hams, turkeys or perhaps, a big plump goose.

This being Singapore though, my family often likes to include a local favorite or two at a Christmas meal — which is how we sometimes find ourselves chasing a plate of hearty roast beef with something curried. So when my sweet Let’s Lunch friend Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club suggested sharing a non-traditional holiday dish for our monthly virtual lunch date, I started craving something spicy.

One of my favorites? Malay ayam masak merah, a dish of fried chicken doused in a complex tomato-based gravy that’s both fiery and sweet …

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Wilma Jean (Brooklyn): Fried Chicken, Down-Home

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It’s been a rough few weeks over here — between the stresses of packing up the lair for a move, wisdom teeth extractions and trying to squeeze in writing somewhere in there, I tell you, it’s all been enough to send a girl running out for fried chicken.

Which, it turned out, was not a bad idea.

Some chefs with rather tasty chops had just opened a new casual Southern restaurant near me in Brooklyn in July, after all. The specialty? Fried chicken …

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Nur Indah Kitchen (Singapore): Indonesian Fried Chicken Perfection

Nasi Ayam PenyetAnyone who knows me even for a nanosecond usually picks up fairly quickly on the fried chicken fanatic that I am.

Besides noodles (and perhapsĀ meatloaf), fried chicken is just about my favorite food. And the kind that I tend to crave is Asian fried chicken, specifically Malay or Indonesian, which usually is marinated in a melange of Southeast Asian spices — turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander and more — before getting deep-fried to crisp perfection.

While this may be fairly hard to find in my adoptive home of New York City, there’s a plethora of it in Singapore — especially, lucky for me, at the closest hawker center to my family’s home on the country’s idyllic east coast. At the cosy Bedok Corner Food Centre, there is not one but four excellent stalls, all side by side, serving nasi ayam penyet, an Indonesian dish of crispy spicy chicken that’s been smashed for greater tenderness right before serving.

So when I was sitting at home in Singapore today, daydreaming about the perfect lunch, the decision was easy …

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Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice: Revisiting a Legend (Or Something Like It)

Few things provoke more heated and lengthy conversations in Singapore than where to find the best chicken rice in the country.

Whenever the topic of where to eat one of the city-state’s national dishes comes up, everyone has a favorite. (Mine, for the record, remains a tiny stall hidden away on the fifth floor of downtown Far East Plaza — in the 20 years that I’ve been going there, it’s never failed me.)

Among the names that pop up, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is always up there. This stall, which has been operating for years in the popular Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, is terrific, to be sure. The chicken is juicy and tender, the rice is sufficiently oily and packed with pandan, chicken fat and other flavors, and the chili sauce, zingy and divine.

Even so, it had been many years since I’d had any Tian Tian because the lines for the stall’s rice are often simply too long. So when I found out that the stall opened an outlet near my home on Singapore’s East Coast, I had to check it out …

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Summery Mexican Chicken Stew: A Farmers' Market Treat

The sweltering days of summer always make me crave two things: 1) Something cold. (If it’s bubbly, all the better.) 2) Something spicy.

So when the sous chef mentioned Mexican recently, the wheels started whizzing — talk about a food just perfect with an ice-cold beer on a super hot day. Tacos? Enchiladas? Spicy corn salads? Where to begin?

That’s when I came across a recipe for chicken braised in Mexican spices — a lovely preparation for chicken that leaves you with mounds of shredded meat and a deliciously spicy gravy.

As for what to do with the chicken and gravy, a trip to my Brooklyn farmers’ market seemed to be in order, especially since my Let’s Lunch crew had decided on a local market-inspired lunch dish for August …

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