The cure for homesickness – Opor Ayam (Chicken in coconut gravy)

You ever get those days when you have the biggest craving for a dish you haven’t had in forever? Just out of the blue for no reason. And it’s almost always something you used to have all the time as a child. This was one of those days.

Opor Ayam is magic!!!

One could describe it simply as chicken in an aromatic coconut gravy, spiced with coriander, cumin and some other not-so-secret ingredients. But that wouldn’t do it justice. What it is, is rich and savoury and freaking addictive; it’s comfort food at its best; it feeds the soul and chases away the blues; it’s me when I was eight and running circles around my mum and walking hand in hand with my dad; it’s the dish you need when it’s cold and wet outside and you’re feeling that all too familiar ache of homesickness.

Opor Ayam

I was taught this dish by the lovely Salma, who used to be our domestic helper in Indonesia. She had been with us since before I was born; and watched me take my first steps and speak my first words. But she is more than just the help. She has become such a part of the family that even though she’s retired now, she would still come back and cook delicious dishes for us when we miss them. Of course, now that I’m no longer in Asia, I no longer have that option. And that is why I made sure I got her to teach me this dish the last time I was back.

The master at work

I had to modify the recipe a little according to the ingredients I could find here. Hence, pine nuts in place of candlenuts and lime leaves in place of Daun Salam. You could argue that macadamia and curry leaves make better substitutes and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, I chose to use pine nuts and lime leaves because, well mainly because they were what I had on hand (you know how lazy I can get) but also because I felt that pine nuts would add more to the body of flavour. And the lime leaves would cut the richness of the coconut milk, making it not too heavy. And I’m happy to report that I wasn’t wrong.

One quick note about the recipe: I only specified Asian shallots as a size reference. Asian shallots are much smaller than their European cousins. They’re about the size of a cherry tomato and the European shallots/ Banana shallots are usually twice the size. They taste the same though. I just wanted to mention that so you don’t go using twice the amount of shallots. Although, I’m not sure there is such a thing as too much shallots.

Opor Ayam
Opor is such a versatile dish, it pairs beautifully with rice, noodles and rice cakes. Think Lontong and Burasak.

Speaking of Asian…. Being typical Asian, I don’t like chicken breast very much. I don’t like it at all actually. The only time I don’t mind it is when it’s pan seared or grilled perfectly and it’s still juicy inside. But then I start freaking out about whether it was undercooked and if I was about to die a painful death of Salmonella poisoning. But the husband likes the breast (typical men *rolls eyes*) so I oblige. To keep it from getting all dry and stringy, I like to take it out of the pot when it’s just cooked and add it back to the pot in the last 5 minutes to heat through before serving. He hasn’t complained so I guess that works.

What’s your go to dish when you’re feeling down or nostalgic? Let me know in the comments. Bon appetit!

Opor Ayam

Opor Ayam (Chicken in aromatic coconut gravy)

Serves 4

  • 1 chicken, cut in 10 pieces
  • 4 lime leaves
  • 1 Salam leaf (if you have)
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup (250ml) coconut milk
  • 1 – 2 cups water
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp sugar
Spice paste:
  • 8 asian shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 piece galangal (half the size of a thumb)
  • 2 candlenuts (soaked) OR 1 Tbsp pine nuts


  1. Combine all ingredients for spice paste in a blender and blend into a fine paste. Or you could grind the ingredients in a mortar until very fine.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a wok over medium heat and add the spice paste. Stir fry until very fragrant and oil is incorporated into the paste.
  3. Add coriander, cumin and turmeric. Mix well.
  4. Increase heat to high then add the chicken pieces, lime leaves, lemongrass and Salam leaf. Mix well and continue to stir fry for a minute or two.
  5. Add enough water to barely cover the chicken, give it a stir, put the lid on and bring it to a boil. Bring the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. After 20 minutes, add coconut milk and season with salt and sugar to taste. Put the lid back on and simmer another 20 mins. If you’re cooking chicken breasts, remove them and set them aside while the dark meat continues to simmer. Put them back in the last 5 mins to heat through.
  7. Top with fried shallots and chili if desired and serve with rice, noodles or rice cakes.


4 thoughts on “The cure for homesickness – Opor Ayam (Chicken in coconut gravy)

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