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Kari Ayam Medan (North Sumatran Chicken Curry)

Guest recipe by Lara Lee.

Lara Lee Kari Ayam Recipe Tropical Sun Organic Coconut Milk

Serves 4/ Prep: 20 minutes/ Cooking time: 1.5 hours/ Difficulty: Easy

A melody of spices interweaves with coconut milk in this famed Indonesian curry known as Kari Ayam in the north Sumatran metropolis of Medan. A dish influenced by Indian traders who sought riches along the Indonesian spice trail, it is complex in both history and flavour. The sauce is layered with toasted coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, cardamoms and cloves, simmered with a spice paste of lemongrass, shallots, garlic and ginger, and is a perfect balance of spice and savoury flavours that harmonise brilliantly with the richness of the coconut milk, making it a true joy to eat.


4 whole cloves

1 star anise

2 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

Neutral oil for cooking

6-8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Sea salt

2 lemongrass stems, bruised and tied into a knot

5 makrut lime leaves (fresh or frozen)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 can (400ml) of Tropical Sun Organic Coconut Milk

400ml chicken stock

1 long red chilli, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 spring onion, sliced into thin matchsticks

Spice paste:

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

6 long red chillies, roughly chopped

4 banana shallots or 8 Thai shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled

6cm (about 30g) ginger, peeled and thinly sliced


Deep, heavy-based saucepan or casserole pot, wooden spoon or heatproof silicone spatula, bowls, food processor, tongs. 


  1. Using a deep, heavy-based saucepan or casserole pot, toast your spices. Warm the pan to a medium heat and add the cloves, star anise, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Toast for about 1 minute until fragrant and then set aside. Toast the fennel seeds separately for the spice paste next for about 1 minute and then set aside.
  2. Place the shallots, garlic, ginger, chillies and fennel seeds in a food processor and grind as smooth as possible. Set aside.
  3. Season the chicken with a little salt. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a medium-high heat in the heavy-based pan and fry the chicken thighs skin side down until the skin is golden, around 6-10 minutes. You may need to do this in batches. Set aside.
  4. Using the rendered chicken fat still in the pan, heat the saucepan to a medium heat. Fry the spice paste for around 7-10 minutes until fragrant.
  5. Add the lemongrass, makrut lime leaf, the ground spices of nutmeg, coriander, cumin and turmeric along with the coconut milk and chicken stock and stir to combine. Return the chicken thighs to the pan, bring the liquid to the boil and then simmer on a low heat for 60 – 75 minutes, stirring every so often so the sauce doesn’t catch at the bottom of the pan.
  6. Once the sauce is thickened and reduced, remove from the heat and season with salt, if needed. To serve, garnish the curry with the sliced chilli and spring onions.





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