What's cooking this Raya: Ayam Portugis


Nurani’s daughter Nur Aliah helps her make ayam Portugis, the family’s favourite dish come Hari Raya. — Photos: NURANI MOHD AYUB

In Nurani Mohd Ayub’s home, preparations for the family’s Hari Raya meal start in earnest a few days before the day itself.

“The prep work like blending onions and chillies is done one or two days in advance, but cooking is normally on the eve of Raya. It’s because on the morning of Hari Raya, we go to the mosque and then after that, relatives come to visit my mother – she is the eldest in the family – so there is no time for me to cook on the day, ” says Nurani.

Nurani actually learnt how to cook from her mother when she was growing up in Johor and remembers the festive table heaving with all sorts of delicious dishes.

“Some of the must-haves for us were nasi briyani, soto and laksa Johor, which we always had to have because we are Johoreans, ” she says.

But perhaps the most crucial meal for Nurani’s family – one that she has continued to maintain on her own Raya table since she got married and had her three (now adult) children is the family’s hallowed ayam Portugis.

“Every year, we must have ayam Portugis. I don’t even know why it’s called ayam Portugis, I don’t think it’s from Portugal. But it’s a recipe that my mother inherited from my grandmother and which she passed down to me, ” she says.

Nurani says the interesting element that makes ayam Portugis stand out is the candlenuts (the ingredient in the centre). Nurani says the interesting element that makes ayam Portugis stand out is the candlenuts (the ingredient in the centre).

Akin to a rendang, Nurani’s inherited recipe calls for chicken to be fried before being immersed in a mixture of blended spices, herbs and coconut milk, resulting in a rich, heady affair that her husband and children are huge fans of.

It’s a recipe that she has also taught her eldest son, Mohd Ariff, 26 and daughter Nur Aliah, 20. They help her make it every year without fail, alongside other dishes like sambal tumis udang and rendang daging.

Nurani says the dish is actually quite easy to make, and can be modernised with the use of contemporary inventions, like airfryers.

“With modern gadgets, some Hari Raya dishes are easier to cook. Like for my ayam Portugis, I use the airfryer to fry the chicken so I won’t have all the mess in the kitchen such as oily surfaces, ” she says.

Nurani says what makes her ayam Portugis stand out is the addition of candlenuts (buah keras).

“It’s a sort of like rendang but the special ingredient is the candlenuts, which differentiates the taste and gives it a nice thickness – that’s why my husband and children love it and it’s a must-have in our home, ” she says.

AYAM PORTUGIS

For the chicken

1/2 a chicken, cut into 12 pcs

turmeric powder, to taste

salt to taste

For blending

5 red chillies

5-7 cili padi (depending on how hot you want the dish to be)

50g dried chillies

4 red onions

6 cloves garlic

5cm turmeric

4cm ginger

6 candlenuts

For cooking

1 red onion, cut into rings

250ml coconut milk

2 stalks lemongrass

3 tamarind pieces

cili padi, for garnish

Marinate the chicken with salt and turmeric then fry chicken until cooked.

Blend all the ingredients for blending and set aside.

In a wok, heat some oil and sauté onions. Once onions have softened, pour in the blended ingredients and stir till aromatic and a layer of oil emerges.

Add coconut milk, lemongrass & tamarind pieces. Add some water if mixture is too thick. Cook for another 5-10 minutes or until it turns into a thick gravy. Garnish with cili padi and eat with ketupat.

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