You say chicken amok, I say Khmer-rific!
Chicken amok is a delicious Khmer cuisine that is made with coconut milk base infused with a blend of curry spices. It is usually served with a side of rice.
When you ask anyone who has travelled to Cambodia what their favorite dish is, they will say “amok”. So what is this exotic sounding dish? Amok is a curry dish made with chicken or fish that is usually served in a bowl made from banana leaf or sometimes coconut shell. Not only the presentation is unique, but also the flavor of amok will stimulate your senses. It is just extraordinary.
Four years ago my friends and I went to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, which is known for being the largest religious building in the world. Siem Reap is known for its incredible history and culture and the temples are a beautiful testimony of the grandeur of the Khmer architecture from 15th century.
One of the highlights of our trip is trying the Khmer cuisine. On our first day, we went to Khmer Angkor Kitchen for lunch to try the famous chicken amok as recommended by our tour guide. The restaurant is conveniently located near the attractions in Siem Reap. What made the experience more unforgettable was the realization that we didn't have enough money to pay for our meal. We were $1 short! We had to borrow $1 from our tour guide. Lesson learned: Never ever leave your purse and make sure you have enough money before you order.
We sat in the balcony upstairs, as we wanted to have the view of street. The menu offered an exotic array of local dishes as well as international cuisine. We ordered chicken amok, shanghai rolls, and rice. The aroma of the dishes being served on the tables nearby was appetizing. We couldn’t wait to try their best-seller chicken amok.
We were stunned when the attendant brought our order. The presentation was exceptional. Chicken amok was served in a coconut shell bowl and the smell of the food itself was mouthwatering. I took a spoon of chicken amok with rice and instantly fell in love with it. It was an explosion of well-balanced spices in my tongue. I am not a curry person but it was a superb culinary experience for me. It changed my perception of curry forever!
Although exotic, it is not difficult to make. The steps are simple and the ingredients are readily available in Asian stores. The first step is to make the curry paste by putting the ingredients in a food processor. Mortar and pestle could be used to mix the ingredients for the curry but I prefer to use a food processor to ensure homogeneity of the mixture.
The next step is to stir fry the chicken until it turns golden brown. After that set aside the chicken and put the curry paste in the heated pan to bring out the flavors. Add coconut milk and let it simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Prepare slurry by mixing 3 tablespoons of sauce and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Pour this mixture into the sauce and wait until the sauce reached nappe consistency. Nappe consistency is a French culinary term that means the sauce is thick enough to coat the food evenly. So how do you know that your sauce has reached nappe consistency? Take a spoon, immerse it in the sauce and see if it coats the back of the spoon without running together.
See photo below for the illustration of nappe consistency.
Add the chicken and stir it until the sauce completely coats the chicken. The challenge is to present the dish in similar manner that it was served to us in Khmer Angkor Kitchen. The good thing is I brought home some bowls bought from a local store in Siem Reap. Some of the ingredients are not available in local grocery stores so I suggest going to Asian store to get them.
How to make Khmer chicken amok?
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Calories: ~330 kcal
For the Curry Paste
3 tablespoon lemongrass, chopped
1 teaspoon mint leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
2 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 red chili, thinly sliced and seeds removed
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon palm sugar
1 can of coconut milk
For the Curry
1 pound chicken breast, cubed and skin removed
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon lime zest for garnish
1 cup of basmati rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
To make the rice:
1. Prepare basmati rice according to package instructions. I usually add ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the rice to prevent the grains of rice from sticking with each other. While the rice is cooking, prepare the rest of the dish.
To make the curry paste:
1. Place all the ingredients in the food processor except for the can of coconut milk and blend thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. The consistency of the mixture must be slurry-like. Add water if the paste is too thick.
To prepare the chicken:
1. Put the oil in a deep non-stick pan. Season the chicken with salt and stir-fry it until it turns golden brown. Put it aside on a plate.
2. In the same pan, put the curry paste and let it simmer on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until the flavors come out.
3. In a bowl whisk together the coconut milk and fish sauce. Add the mixture to the pan and stir it to blend with the curry paste.
4. Make slurry to thicken the sauce. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 3 tablespoon of sauce.
5. Add the slurry on the sauce and stir continuously until it reaches nappe consistency.
6. Once the sauce has thickened, add the chicken and stir it until it becomes fully coated with sauce. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.
1. Serve with basmati rice and season with lime zest.