Chicken with Garlic Yoghurt Sauce – An Ode to Old Friends.

Chicken with Garlic Yoghurt Sauce in all its glory.

Chicken with garlic yoghurt sauce: a chimera of a chicken dish is the result of Greek, Indian and Chinese influences

Years ago when I was a young man, a Greek friend of mine said to me, “Choen! I love Chinese…” as she chewed on her chow mein, “…food. I love Chinese food. Greek food is too overcooked. Chinese food is just right, not overcooked”. At around the same time, I was busy tucking into another mouthful of moussaka.

Oh, moussaka, that most Greek of Greek dishes that even UK supermarkets choose it to represent Greek food in the frozen microwave food section. By the same token, my friend’s whole Chinese food experience probably came from the box via the delivery guy from a nearby Chinese takeaway.

My memory of what happened next is a bit hazy, but I imagine that it goes along the lines of cinematic scenes of me doing a great cookout making simple Malaysian dishes from a wok while they made something elaborate in the oven that only the ancient Mediterranean cultures can produce. To be honest, I would have been impressed with a tossed salad, cheese and olive oil finished off with ouzo. However the rest of the day went, there was lots of laughter and fake sober faces.

While no great Mediterranean-Malaysian cookout actually occurred, I have certainly been to plenty of cookouts in my day particularly with my Mumbai-an housemates and other pan international Indian friends (Malaysians included). From them, I observed a lot of tricks on using yoghurt and layering of spices in elaborate curry making. Again, this is a totally different philosophy from simple Malaysian-Cantonese type home cooking which I grew up with. Our dishes tend to make use of light natural flavours and soya sauce more, and zero dairy. 

So what exactly am I going on about here? Well, recently someone challenged me to do a garlic sauce chicken. And that got me into an thinking mode: What is a garlic sauce?

The recipe for garlic sauce varies depending on the cuisine

In Malaysian Chinese cooking, soya sauce with minced raw garlic is a type of garlic sauce. Go to that peri-peri chicken chain restaurant, and the sauces with garlic in them are also considered to be types of garlic sauces. Go to the kebab shop, and the garlic sauce probably comes in the form of a white oily paste. Go to an Indian curry house and everything is basically some form of garlic sauce with different spices mixed in. Some other places would make a dairy cream sauce with some garlic in it and call that garlic sauce. So, using this rhetoric, anything with garlic is simply some other sauce that has been infused with garlic.

Garlic eaten on its own is simply an experience that is on a level that is basically performing self-flagellation on the tongue. I would know because I have tried eating spoonfuls of that stuff in minced form. It burns, mama, it really, really burns. But with soya sauce added, it gets a little better.

We Malaysians eat so much garlic in our food on a daily basis that we probably don’t or can’t really notice it’s a presence in our food anymore.

All of which leads to this chimera of a chicken dish, which shall employ yoghurt and lots and lots of garlic, Chinese five-spice, and onions and capsicum, among other things. We will be using both the hob and an oven to bake the stuff.

The resulting chicken should have a juicy and tender texture, with a crispy outer layer, aroma of lemon and garlic, but somehow tastes like Chinese roast chicken (the one in Nasi Ayam), and a rich garlic sauce that’s excellent to dip bread in, or toss pasta with, or because we are Asians, flood our rice with.

But here’s a warning, this is going to be a lot of cooking and waiting in between, and to some people might be as complex as long but beautiful Greek names.

How to make Chicken with Garlic Yoghurt Sauce

This recipe feeds 2 (or feeds 4, if you use the resulting sauce to toss with lots of pasta and the chicken legs get divided to thigh and drumstick)

A. To prepare, 1 day before:

  • 1 shallow bowl or tray for marinating.
  • 2 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), regular battery farmed type, average 250g to 300g each
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese five-spice (the weight doesn’t register on the scale)
  • 1 teaspoon and a pinch of sea salt 
  • 100g of smashed up and finely chopped garlic, about 2 bulbs (chopped
  • finer than in the picture, which was done about halfway)
  • Pinch of fresh thyme (doesn’t register on the scale)
  • 250ml or 1 cup  of natural yoghurt (full fat is better)
  • 1/2 a lemon

Preparation Method

1. With the two pieces of chicken (washed and drained) in a shallow bowl, rub salt and 1/4 teaspoon of Chinese five-spice all over every single piece of chicken. Try to get some under the skin too where possible. Squeeze the juice out of half a lemon onto the chicken. Let this sit for a while.

Give the chicken a good rub to get the flavours in.

2.  In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt and garlic together. Add in a pinch of salt.

Mix yoghurt, garlic and a pinch of salt.

3. Pour the yoghurt garlic mix over the chicken, rub evenly. Let the chicken bathe in the stuff.

4. Put the thyme on top of the mix.

Let it soak thyme after thyme

5. Cover up and dump into the fridge. Go watch some tv, sleep, whatever. You won’t be seeing it again until you are ready to cook dinner again the next day. I let mine seep for 24 hours.

What’s happening here is, the yoghurt will tenderize the chicken while the garlic and thyme will rub each other and themselves off the whole mix, and due to the lemon juice, very slowly some of the yoghurts will turn into soft cheese.

B. Cooking Method

Prepare all the ingredients you need.


  • 1 non-stick pan
  • 1 deep full metal deep saucepan or full metal pot big enough to fit the two chicken pieces
  • 1 oven that can fit the saucepan or pot
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 200g aubergines. I used 3 small ones. Cut into half lengthwise.
  • 100g about 2 small carrots  (it doesn’t really matter exact weight). Cut into half lengthwise.
  • 200g 1 yellow onion (sweet onion is better). Diced.
  • 150g 1 red capsicum. Remove the seeds and white bits inside and then cut julienne.
  • 50g parsley chopped fine.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 25g salted butter (not margarine or mix stuff)
  • cooking oil about 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • a dash olive oil (the more virgin the posher you are)


1. Preheat the oven to 210C.

2. Coat lightly the bottom of the deep saucepan with some olive oil. Put the aubergines and carrots in. Pinch in some salt. Let them be very lightly be coated in the oil. Warning: Do not flood it with oil at this stage or when we finish cooking the dish would be covered in so much oil that the Americans will send in their marines.

Don’t flood this with too much oil.

3. In a non-stick pan, heat up some cooking oil (I used neutral flavoured sunflower oil). When the oil is warmed up but not too hot, put the butter in. Remove the chicken from the marinade and put one piece of the marinated chicken (plus whatever’s stuck on it) into the simmering butter oil. Fry till the outer layer’s brown, baste as you go.

This smells amazing.

When it looks brown enough, remove the chicken and place it on top of the aubergines and carrots in the deep saucepan. Put the second one in and repeat. Remember to baste. (We are not trying to fully cook the chicken fully at this stage).

Look out for that nice brown on the outer layer.

4. In the still simmering pan of butter oil, put in the diced onions. Let it fry for a few minutes until it is soft, then add in the capsicum and fry until those are bit soft too.

Let all the lovely colours mix together.

5. Pour the onion and capsicum mix on top of the chicken. No need to stir just spread over the chicken evenly.

Like blankets of red and gold.

6. Pour the remaining yoghurt and garlic over the onion, capsicum, chicken and aubergine. No need to stir just spread evenly.

7. Scatter the chopped parsley over the yoghurt garlic layer.

Spread it out evenly, layer by layer.

8. Cover the pot with a lid. When the oven has warmed up for at least half an hour (longer better), chuck the pot in. Bake for an hour.

Keep the lid on and let it bake.

The longer you bake this the softer your chicken gets, but bake too long and the yoghurt will break down completely to curd and whey, and the other components turn into a messy mush so ugly that they will look like a horror movie set, which actually isn’t really a problem if you are not going to Instagram it.

You also need to find a timing where the garlic is softened enough to almost disappear into the resulting soupy sauce (it will cool down thicker). Every oven’s thermostat behaves differently and the timing I’ve noted down is based on my oven.

So you have to find that balance to suit your preference.

C. Open grilling

1. Remove the pot from the oven. Careful not to burn yourself, hot!
This is how it should more or less look like under the lid.

All these lovely flavours await you.

The sauce, with the chicken removed, should look a bit like this, with an aroma that’s slightly lemony and very garlicky.

Have a little taste of that lemony and garlicky goodness.

2. Remove the chicken onto a shallow tray, and put this into the oven for 20 minutes to half an hour, or even longer (but not until it turns to coal, please). What we are going to do is get the skin to cook crispy. You’ll see the skin bubbling after about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Every oven’s thermostat is different, so the timing is a guide based on my oven’s behaviour. Always keep your eyes peeled and nose open.

Let the oven do its magic.

3. Remove the chicken from the oven, place on a plate or a bowl, pour the garlic sauce and other content over. If you like, squeeze some lemon juice over before serving.

We want to look for that nice and crispy skin.

This is how the chicken looks like straight out of the oven.

Nice and crispy! We’re done.

D. Option- the sauce is great to toss pasta with

1. I chose penne for this. This is a portion for one. I filled a soup bowl with dehydrated penne and poured that into boiling water and cooked it according to the packaging’s recommended duration.

2. After it’s rehydrated fully, drain it, then toss it with some of the garlic sauce. Serve.

This tastes great with penne.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Follow me on Instagram for more recipes. Enjoy!

Choen Lee


Photographer, presently instagramming a little bit.

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