Hainanese Chicken Curry

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Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

Chinese Heritage Cooking

Chinese Heritage Cooking

By Christopher Tan and Amy Van

Published 2018

  • About

Many members of Singapore’s Hainanese community entered the food and beverage and service industries in the first half of the 20th century. In the post-war period, some who had worked in Peranakan households opened coffee shops and small restaurants serving their own versions of Nyonya dishes. Today, Hainanese curry rice stalls still establish their reputations on the quality of their curry gravy.


  • Chicken 1, large, about 1.4–1.6 kg (3 lb 1⅔ oz–3 lb 9 oz), cleaned and cut into serving-size pieces
  • Salt 1 tsp
  • Sugar 1 tsp
  • Cooking oil 125 ml (4 fl oz / ½ cup)
  • Star anise 1 whole, small
  • Cinnamon 2 sticks
  • Water 500 ml (16 fl oz / 2 cups)
  • Local potatoes 500 g (1 lb oz), peeled and halved
  • Kaffir lime leaves (optional) 2
  • Coconut milk 200 ml ( fl oz / cup)
  • Evaporated milk (optional) 3 Tbsp
  • Potato starch 2 tsp, dissolved in 1 Tbsp water

Spice Paste

  • Dried chillies 6–10, soaked until softened, deseeded if desired
  • Finely sliced lemon grass 2 Tbsp
  • Candlenuts 5
  • Finely chopped ginger 1 Tbsp
  • Finely chopped garlic Tbsp
  • Shallots 200 g (7 oz), peeled and chopped
  • Meat curry powder 4 Tbsp


  1. Rub chicken pieces all over with salt and sugar and set aside.
  2. Pound or grind all ingredients for spice paste together to make a fine paste. (If using a mortar and pestle, add them to the mortar one by one in the order listed, pounding each ingredient until fine before adding the next.)
  3. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When hot, add spice paste, star anise and cinnamon. Fry, stirring constantly, until paste has thickened and taken on a cooked fragrance and the oil has seeped out. Do not rush this step as it is key to the curry’s final taste and fragrance.
  4. Add chicken to wok and stir-fry vigorously for 1 minute, tossing to coat chicken pieces with spice paste. Add water, bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Add potatoes and lime leaves, if using, to the wok. Half-cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes more, until chicken and potatoes are just tender.
  6. Stir in coconut milk, evaporated milk, if using, and potato starch. Increase heat to medium and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot with rice or sliced French loaf.