Devil curry, or kari debal as it is traditionally known among the Serani (Kristang-Eurasian) community, is probably one of Malaysia’s little known heritage dishes. This is probably because Kristang food was rarely available outside the home up until recent years. While Eurasian restaurants still aren’t popping up all over the place just yet, devil curry aficionados can find this dish served in select Nyonya restaurants as well as the small handful of Eurasian restaurants out there.
Another reason why this dish is not more popular could be due to the fact that each Eurasian family has their own twist and take on it, much like many Malaysian recipes. Some like it spicier, some more tangy, while others prefer a dryer curry. Regardless of familial preferences, ask any Serani and they will likely remember having devil curry served on the family table for as long as they’ve been alive. While there are no legitimate records on the origins of devil curry, it is believed to be a fusion of Nyonya and Portuguese cuisine, created soon after the Portuguese arrived to colonize our shores hundreds of years ago.
For the Serani’s, devil curry is almost always served during Christmas, alongside a spread of roast lamb or roast turkey. However, as it is a fairly easy dish to put together, this dish has become more common during regular meal times and other special occasions. The recipe we have below is a classic in the Danker-Sta Maria family, and they have graciously shared with us how to make it. Be warned though, it is pretty spicy if you’re not used to eating the hot stuff. Enjoy!
- 1.2kg whole chicken, cut in 24 parts
- 3g mustard seeds (1 tsp)
- 370g potatoes, cut into 6 pieces each (4 medium potatoes)
- 470g water
- 125 large red onion, cut into 6 segments (1 onion)
- 40g red chilies, cut into 3 pieces each (2 chilies)
- 20g sugar
- 20g salt
- 80g distilled white vinegar
- 70g cooking oil
- 90g garlic cloves, peeled
- 125g shallots, peeled
- 14g lemongrass, white parts only (about 2 stalks)
- 24g ginger, peeled & cut small
- 6g turmeric, cut small
- 10g galangal, cut small
- 78g rehydrated dried chilies, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
- 110g fresh chilies
- 40g candlenuts
- 145g cooking oil
Method: cooking devil curry
- Prepare all your ingredients.
- Blend all aromatic ingredients until fine. Add a little water to aid in the blending process if necessary. You can also use a food processor.
- Heat cooking oil in a flat bottomed or regular wok on high heat.
- Without waiting, add mustard seeds to the wok and fry until it starts to pop.
- Add blended aromatics and stir until the sides start to dry up a little, about 3 minutes.
- Add chicken pieces and stir until evenly coated.
- Add cut potatoes next. Also stir and mix until evenly coated.
- Add water and stir until the curry is mixed well. Bring to a simmer.
- Turn the heat down to medium low and leave to cook until the potatoes are tender and chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 18 to 20 minutes. Leave the wok uncovered and stir occasionally, but not too often so the chicken pieces stay intact.
- Once chicken and potatoes are cooked, add cut onion and red chilies. Stir through and let it cook for about 10 minutes.
- Add sugar, salt and white vinegar and stir until thoroughly mixed. Unlike most curries you’re familiar with, devil curry has a moderate sour-vinegary taste. The curry should taste sour, but not overwhelm you with vinegar fumes. Cook for another 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how thick you would like your devil curry.
- Serve with soft white bread or rice.
- Important – the weight of rehydrated chilies is after it has been rehydrated.
- If you’d like a less spicy devil curry, remove and discard seeds from both the rehydrated and fresh chilies.
- The trickiest part of this recipe is blending the aromatics – we recommend using a food processor if you don’t have a powerful blender. Alternatively, feel free to either cut the ingredients extra small beforehand, or give the blender compartment a good shake every once in awhile.
- If you would like a dryer devil curry, continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has dried or thickened further. Alternatively, add a little less water at the start.
- Devil curry always tastes better the next day. Besides Kristang cuisine, devil curry also works really well with Nyonya food.
- Unlike typical curries, devil curry contains no coconut milk, curry leaves or typical curry spices – it’s a different breed of ‘curry’ altogether. But it is still delicious. Devil curry is also great for freezing and can keep for up to three months.
How did you like your devil curry? Will you be adding it to your regular menu from now on? Show us how your curry turned out by tagging your pictures with #butterkicap!
Roast Lamb Recipe: A Classic for Christmas & Special Occasions