The Malaysian Kitchen: 150 Recipes for Simple Home Cooking, written by Christina Arokiasamy, features the traditional and modern flavors of Malaysia with a variety of dishes such as Pineapple Sambal Prawns, Sweet Mango and Cashew Salad with Chili-Lime Dressing, Kuih Keria (Sweet Potato Doughnuts with Palm Sugar Caramel), Soto Ayam (Malaysian-Style Chicken Soup with Potatoes and Carrots), and Penang’s Famous Char Kway Teow. I will also be sharing Christina’s recipe for Hainanese Chicken Rice following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Christina Arokiasamy was raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as the daughter of a spice merchant and was Malaysia’s first official food ambassador to the United States. Before moving to the United States, she was a chef in the professional kitchens of Thailand’s and Bali’s Four Seasons resorts. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and teaches cooking classes.
Chapters are divided according to course: Sambals, Aromatic Pastes, and Dressings; Soups; Salads; Vegetables; Rice and Noodles; Seafood; Street Food; Meats; and Desserts. The contents include a list of all the recipes at the beginning of the book.
Christina definitely had beginners in mind when putting together this beautiful book. She begins with an introduction of Malaysia, how its cuisine has been influenced over the years with a blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Baba-Nyonya, and Portuguese cooking, and even includes a little background into her own life. I especially love the tidbits and cultural notes scattered throughout with a closer look at Malaysian living, specific ingredients, and cooking techniques.
The basic pantry guide is particularly helpful for those who aren’t familiar with Southeast Asian ingredients. You will find full descriptions of popular ingredients, their use, storage, cooking guide, and substitutions when possible. A spice chart is even included for easy reference.
The food photography is provided by Penny De Los Santos with on location photography by David Hagerman. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. The titles are listed in English and occasionally Bahasa Malaysia. Measurements are written in US Customary.
This book is a great pick for those who are new to Malaysian cuisine and others like me who have grown to love the incredible flavors over the years. It is especially helpful for beginners with substitutions noted for more difficult to locate ingredients and quicker methods provided when available. The techniques in the recipes are well-explained for the best possible results. Having a market nearby that stocks Southeast Asian ingredients will be helpful to locate items such as curry leaves, shrimp paste, kicap manis, palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind concentrate, coconut cream, lemongrass, galangal, red and yellow lentils, shiitake mushrooms, daikon, Thai basil, black mustard seeds, fried tofu, oyster sauce, Thai chilies, and more.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
I have been wanting to make Hainanese Chicken Rice for a while now and finally had the chance to try it in person at a Malaysian restaurant while in New York City last week (more on that soon!). With the flavors fresh on my mind, I was excited to make it at home using Christina’s recipe.
Hainanese Chicken Rice was brought to Malaysia by Chinese immigrants from the southernmost island of Hainan. A whole chicken is poached, cut into slices and served with a seasoning sauce, chili sauce, and rice cooked in the broth from the chicken for an additional boost of flavor. There are a few steps to this dish, but none are overly difficult. The longest (and mostly hands off) is poaching the chicken until tender, roughly one hour. I love having the chili sauce on the side so you can adjust the heat to taste.
There are a few ingredients in this Hainanese Chicken Rice which may require finding a specialty market.
Shaoxing wine is a fermented rice wine originally from Shaoxing in the Zhejiang province in eastern China. I have been able to find it at larger grocery stores with a sizeable wine selection, such as Wegmans. It is also available in Asian food markets specializing in Chinese ingredients. Sherry can be used as a substitution.
Fish sauce (nam pa, nam pla, nuoc mam, patis) is a condiment popular in Southeast Asian cooking. It is created by slowly fermenting fish (generally anchovies) in a salt water mixture, then pressing to produce a thin liquid. It has quite the strong smell, but provides a savory umami flavor. Brands from different countries will vary a bit in taste and quality. Fish sauce is available in most Asian food markets and even some larger grocery stores. Be sure to check the ingredient list first. The good ones should only contain anchovies, salt, and water.
Screwpine/Pandanus (Pandan) is a tropical tree found in South Asia, Australia, and a few Pacific islands. Its slender, long green leaves have a herby vanilla-like flavor popular in Asian sweets or as a wrapping. I have been able to locate the leaves in the frozen section of some markets with Southeast Asian ingredients. It is optional in this recipe if you are unable to find it.
Sambal Ulek (Sambal Oelek) is a spicy chili condiment popular in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking. Red chilies are ground into a paste and seasoned with salt and vinegar. I have been able to find in in Asian markets and larger grocery stores. It is also available on Amazon, Huey Fong Sambal Oelek, or you can make your own (I used a store-bought that I had on hand, but there is also a recipe in the book).
I also made Stir-fired Bok Choy with Bacon and Garlic, Malaysian Wok-Fried Spaghetti with Kale and Sambal, Village Fried Rice with Chicken and Spinach, and Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry Puffs.
Bok choy is a current favorite for my husband. Adding bacon made it even better. The Stir-fried Bok Choy with Bacon and Garlic is just as it sounds. Pieces of baby bok choy are quickly stir-fried with bacon, garlic, and chili. It comes together so easily, 10 minutes tops including prep, and is packed with flavor. Christina recommends pairing it with her Tamarind-Glazed Roast Duck.
Malaysian Wok-Fried Spaghetti with Kale and Sambal is Christina’s modern take on the comforting Mee Goreng. Spaghetti is tossed with cabbage, kale, fried tofu, shallots, and scrambled eggs in a spicy Sambal Ulek and Kicap Manis coating. It is another meal perfect for weeknights.
Village Fried Rice with Chicken and Spinach also comes together easily and is a great way to use leftover rice. The rice is tossed in the wok with chilies, garlic, shallots, eggs, chicken, and baby spinach. It is flavored simply with a drizzling of soy sauce, kicap manis, oyster sauce, and a few cilantro leaves.
The traditionally fried pastries have been swapped for a baked puff pastry crust in these Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry Puffs. The puff pastry circles are filled with a spiced mixture of vegetables and diced chicken, brushed with an egg wash, and baked until golden. They were great for an afternoon snack.
Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipe
Excerpt from The Malaysian Kitchen
Hainanese Chicken Rice
- 1 small whole chicken (3 1/2 pounds) cleaned
- 6 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger peeled and smashed
- 6 green onions folded in half
- 3 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 8 cups water
- 3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat or peanut oil
- 3 cups jasmine rice
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger peeled and sliced
- 1 pandan leaf (optional) fresh or frozen
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons Sambal Ulek
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and left whole
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cucumber sliced
- 2 green onions (white and green parts) sliced
Poach the chicken:
- Begin by trimming the fat surrounding the inner part of the chicken cavity and set it aside for the rice. Place the chicken into a stockpot that is tall enough to allow the chicken to be covered with water. Insert the garlic, ginger, and green onions into the cavity of the chicken. Next pour the rice wine, soy sauce vinegar, and fish sauce into the cavity, then secure the opening with a short bamboo skewer.
- Add the water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 hour or so. The chicken thigh joint will easily pull away from the body when the meat is done. While the chicken cooks, skim any froth from the surface of the broth.
Make the rice:
- Cook the reserved chicken fat in a 3 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the solids have shrunk considerably. Discard the solids.
- While waiting for the fat to break down in the pan, wash the rice by gently rubbing it with your fingers in a bowl filled with water. When the water becomes cloudy, drain the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. Drain well.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and panda leaf (if using) to the chicken fat and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the garlic is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice and carefully mix until the grains are well coated with the fat.
- Add 4 1/4 cups of the broth from the chicken pot to the rice and bring to a boil (keep the remaining broth to serve with the chicken). Boil until the liquid on the surface is evaporated and small bubbles appear from holes in the rice, 3-4 minutes. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender and the rest of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered and undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and cover. Alternatively, you can cook the rice and broth in a rice cooker.
While the rice is cooking, make the seasoning sauce and chili sauce:
- Mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl; set the seasoning sauce aside. Blend the chili sauce ingredients in a mini food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl for serving and set aside.
- Once the chicken is cooked, carefully lift the chicken and allow the broth to drain from the cavity into the pot. Strain the broth into a clean pot and reserve to serve with the chicken. Allow the chicken to cool slightly on a plate before cutting. De-bone the chicken (the bones will easily come off since the chicken will be very tender) and slice into 3-inch pieces, then arrange on a serving platter. Place the cucumber on the platter.
- Drizzle the seasoning sauce over the sliced chicken and cucumber. Set the bowl of chili sauce on the table. Pour the broth into individual bowls and sprinkle with the green onions. Serve the rice on individual plates. Enjoy while still warm.