Traditional recipes

Malay Ayam Masak Merah - Red Cooked Chicken recipe

Malay Ayam Masak Merah - Red Cooked Chicken recipe

  • Recipes
  • Ingredients
  • Meat and poultry
  • Poultry
  • Chicken
  • Marinades for chicken

This is one of my favourite curry dishes. It's a typical Malay dish, and can be eaten with rice, or bread if you prefer. Try it and see what you think!

Gloucestershire, England, UK

32 people made this

IngredientsServes: 3

  • Marinate : (A)
  • 6 chicken pieces
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • Dry Spices : (B)
  • 2 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon bark, medium length
  • Fresh spices: (C)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp shallots, minced
  • (you can also use the ground powder version of garlic & ginger)
  • Sauce : (D)
  • 8 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • honey to taste
  • 2 tbsp ground chilli paste *
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into rings
  • a can of peas - optional

MethodPrep:20min ›Cook:1hr ›Ready in:1hr20min

  1. First, marinate (A) together. This doesn't have to be long or be kept in the fridge.
  2. Next, in a medium sized pan, fry the chicken until the skin is lightly crispy, and set aside.
  3. In a different wok, stir fry the dry spices (B) until fragrant.
  4. Add fresh spices (C), continue to stir fry until fragrant. Make sure the heat is quite low, so as not to burn your garlic - it'll taste horrible burnt!
  5. Then, add the sauce ingredients (D), and simmer until thickened and boiling (put the heat up a bit to medium), then toss in the fried chicken, the sliced onion rings, and give it a quick stir until all the sauce thickens & the chicken is done.
  6. The colour should be red, and the sauce thick & sticky.
  7. You can add the peas after you've taken the pan/wok off the heat.
  8. Serve with white rice, basmati rice, or some Indian bread.

*Chilli paste

Either boil some dried whole red chillies & blitz them to get the paste, or blitz fresh red chillies - seeded if you want them to be less spicy.

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Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ayam Masak Merah)

It’s been a year! Omg, I didn’t plan on this long hiatus from the blog, you guys, but my oh my, did the travel bug bite!

Still, the saying there’s no place like home rings so true for me. After practically living out of a luggage for close to four months this year, I’m just happy to be among my usual comforts, back to this creative space bringing you my latest, tested and tried recipes.

You all know how I absolutely love dishing out heritage food, and the one I’m sharing the recipe for today has long been on my to-do list.

Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce

This Malaysian and Indonesian culinary dish that we call ayam masak merah in Malay, literally translates as ‘chicken cooked red’ or ‘chicken in red sauce’.

I realise this in itself doesn’t say much about what this dish is really all about. So, I’m referring to it as ‘chicken in spicy tomato sauce’ for clarity and simplicity. You’ll get the immediate impression that it’s tongue-tingling and tomato-ey!

Malaysian chicken in spicy tomato sauce starts with chicken that’s lightly dusted with turmeric and salt for a fresh light coating.

The meat is deep-fried until half cooked, and then added to the spicy tomato sauce. The chicken stews gently till tender as the sauce reduces, transforming into this thick, saucy, and incredibly savoury one-dish meal.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? I’m here to show you it really is!

Ayam Masak Merah / Chicken cooked in Spiced Tomato Sauce

To me. Ayam masak merah is a dish that brings back sweet childhood memories.

Ayam masak merah is a simple dish of fried chicken pieces, cooked in spiced tomato soup with coconut milk based gravy.

Its has that creamy, rich taste from coconut milk, heat from chilli paste, a hint of galangal and lemongrass and the crucial ingredients in making Ayam masak merah .. its the tomato soup.

So I guess its apt to translate this Ayam masak merah to Chicken cooked in Spiced tomato sauce.

I hailed from northern part of Malaysia, a state known as Kedah.

In this part of Malaysia, Ayam masak merah / Chicken cooked in Spiced tomato sauce , is not our everyday dish.
For most of us, fish is our staple protein. We'd either have fried fish (yums) for lunch and dinner with sambal, or have some delicious fish curry or steam fish.

Having chicken or beef for lunch or dinner is a REAL treat :D

Ayam masak merah / Chicken cooked in Spiced tomato sauce is only for special occasions like weddings, Eid or close family and friends come visiting.

When I think of Ayam masak merah / Chicken cooked in Spiced tomato sauce, I think of weddings! or vice versa :P

I put up a quick easy to follow video below. for anyone who wishes to try this delicious Ayam Masak Merah.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 (3 pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ cup dried red chile peppers
  • 3 fresh red chile pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 (3/4 inch thick) slice fresh ginger root
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 cardamom seeds
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar, or to taste
  • ½ cup water

Rub the chicken with turmeric powder and salt. Set aside. Soak the dried red chile peppers in hot water until softened. Blend the softened dried chile, fresh red chile pepper, garlic, onion, and ginger in a blender to a paste.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until golden on all sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Remove excess oil from the skillet, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Cook and stir the chile paste with the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cardamom seeds until fragrant. Return the chicken to the skillet. Stir in the water, adding more if needed. Toss in the tomatoes and stir in the ketchup and sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until no the chicken longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Ayam Masak Merah (Malaysian Red Cooked Chicken)

As a child I wasn’t a great fan of spicy food, in fact I loathed it. Having grown up in Malaysia this presented a very real challenge, especially for my grandmother. The undisputed Queen of the Kitchen, my amah was always keen to entice me over to the spicy-side and did so through a protracted period of gentle assimilation, incrementally introducing my tender palette to the delights of one of my family’s greatest obsessions: chili.

One of my earliest memories of eating around the family dining table was watching as the Ghani men ate raw chili padi dipped in hecko sauce (it was always the men, the woman seemed to have more sense). Egged on by brotherly bravado, my father and uncles would pop these searing missiles into their mouths, chewing and grunting in apparent pleasure, all the while wiping their brows with handkerchiefs damp with sweat. This would go on until the large plate of chillies was laid bare and their stomachs churning in revolt. Apparently, this is what my amah was coaching me for, an adulthood of chili padi and agonising trips to the loo! It was a terrifying prospect to one so young, but thankfully she started me off easy and that is how Ayam Masak Merah become a childhood favourite of mine!

Despite it’s rather alarming name, Masak Merah (red cooked) is actually one of the milder dishes amongst the pantheon of Malaysian curries and was the perfect vehicle to get me started on, what to be, my love affair with all things spicy. Unlike most other Malaysian curries where the use of coconut milk is ubiquitous, Masak Merah is tomato-based, hence the name. Reliant on tomato rather than chili for its colour, the dish is fiery red but without the burn associated with its devilish hue. As it is still ostensibly a curry the use of chili is a prerequisite, but the quantities of such can be reduced without losing the appeal of the dish, making it an excellent option for those adverse to too much heat, especially children.

Quick to make and utterly delicious (even when eaten on the day it’s cooked), my fondness of Masak Merah followed me long after I have graduated to spicer dishes. When I moved to the UK it was one of my favourite tastes-of-home, and whenever I came back from a holiday in Malaysia my bag was always loaded with packets of Brahim’s Masak Merah sauce! Like most expat Malaysians I never bothered to learn how to make our favourite dishes, especially when the quality of readymade sauces were so widely available. Sadly, upon moving to Cape Town, my trips back to Malaysia diminished and with it my supply of those handy packs of Brahim’s. As is the case, there was only one thing for it: I would have to learn to cook Masak Merah myself!

Finding a decent recipe for this beloved childhood dish was surprisingly hard and almost all of my previous attempts fell woefully short of expectations. Cans of tomato soup seemed to dominate the recipes, but as far as I could recall I’d never seen a tin of Heinz in amah’s cupboard, much less in her Masak Merah! Disappointed, I did what every sensible Malaysian does and turned to the family WhatsApp group. Of course, they didn’t disappoint, and the recommendations came flooding in almost immediately. Initially most of these seemed similar to the recipes I’d already tried, but then came the motherload, a message for my aunt, Rohani Jelani. One of Malaysia’s preeminent food writers and cooks, hers was the Masak Merah I had been hoping for and it didn’t disappoint! Simple, both in method and ingredients, this was Malaysian home cooking at its best, and with just a few tweaks was the closest I’ve come to finding a recipe that matches my recollection and expectations. Amah would be proud.

Note: Though not traditional, you could also use jointed chicken wings. Simply dust the wings in seasoned flour, dip in egg and then coat in flour. Deep-fry before adding to the sauce. Reduce to its nice and sticky. Delicious!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Ayam Masak Merah

Ayam Masak Merah is a traditional Malay dish that is usually served at functions alongside Tomato Rice .

It’s super delicious and has a little spiciness to it! Try this recipe out for yourself and let us know what you think

  • Author: dishbyili
  • Prep Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 Minutes
  • Total Time: 30 Minutes
  • Yield: 5-6
  • Category: Poultry
  • Method: Intermidiate
  • Cuisine: Malay


1 Whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces

1 Tablespoon of Tumeric Powder


1) In a bowl, put in all the chopped chicken. Marinate the chicken evenly with salt and turmeric powder. Set aside.

2) Blitz together the onions, garlic, fresh red chilies and birds eye chili.

3) Grind the ginger and smash the lemongrass with the back of a knife.

4) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until golden on all sides. Remove chicken from the skillet and set aside.

5) Remove the oil from the skillet, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Cook and stir the chili paste with ginger until fragrant.

6) Add in the tomato puree and stir in some water,adding more if needed.

7) Add in the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves and bring to a boil.

8) add in all the chicken, salt and sugar and let it simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and lastly toss in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 mins. Serve hot.


You could choose to even add in some green peas to this Ayam Masak Merah Dish. Add in some sliced onions just about 2 minutes before the dish is cooked to add a slight crunch to your Ayam Masak Merah dish

Ayam Masak Merah (Malay-Style Red Chicken Curry)

Curries originate in India and have been traveling across to different parts of the world for many thousand of years. Curries come from the South Indian word Kari meaning sauce. As a result of spice trades and immigrations, curries hit all four corners of the globe and create many different versions of curries.

Curries differ greatly in their taste and content, not only between countries but also within countries. For example, the curries of India are different than those of Malaysia and Indonesia. In India, the curry cuisine in the north is not the same as that in southern India. Malaysia being a multiracial nation, naturally, we have many types of curries! I must say that I am very lucky to be able to have tasted different types of curries since I was little.

Generally, curry is a spicy recipe but the way the types of spices and herbs are used differs considerably from country to country. Not all curries are hot.

In curry dishes, either yoghurt or coconut milk is used. In Malaysia, coconut milk is the most common feature in almost all curry dishes. As our curries have got more influence from Southern India than Northern India. Having said that, ayam masak merah is one of those curry dishes where you don’t have to use coconut milk. Instead, the sauce is mainly made up by tomato, chili paste, and fresh spices.

As a Malaysian-Chinese, curry is nothing uncommon in our daily meal. Ayam Masak Merah has many names when translated to English. Some have called it as ‘Red Cooked Chicken’, ‘Chicken in Red Chili Sauce’, ‘Chicken in Red Sauce’… I have named it as Malay-Style Red Chicken Curry. Ayam masak merah is a very popular and tasty curry dish amongst all Malaysians across all communities. Ayam masak merah is a typical malay dish that is usually served with tomato rice (nasi tomato) and nasi lemak (coconut scented rice).

I remember when I was little, there was a stall owned by a Malay couple served very good ayam masak merah accompanied with nasi lemak. You have to be there before 8:30am everyday else everything will be sold out!

Remember Ayam Masak Habang, an Indonesian dish prepared by Sefa? Ayam masak habang looks pretty similar to ayam masak merah. There are only a few differences in the ingredients used and a slight different in cooking method. I have not tried to cook ayam masak habang which I think I will soon to find out the difference between two, taste wise. I suspect, these two dishes are somehow kind of related.

Anyway, I want to tell you that there’s one very important principle that you have to remember in using spices when you cook Malay-style curry. Empat sekawan (in Malay) means four friends or four buddies. There are 4 important spices that are used in a lot of curry dishes they are green cardamoms, star anis, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. So, these are the usual suspects in making curries and they are call empat sekawan (four buddies/friends). It’s a great tip! To all Malaysian readers, Happy Mardeka!

Ayam Masak Merah – Tomato Chicken Curry

Don’t let the red color of this traditional Malaysian dish dish intimidate you if you aren’t a fan of spicy food. Some Malaysian dishes do have quite a bit of heat, but this dish (which translates from Malay to ¨Red Cooked Chicken”) gets most of its deep red color from tomatoes. The dish is often served at weddings, accompanied by Nasi Tomato (Tomato Rice).

There are a few spicy red peppers to give a hint of heat. Those spicy peppers are joined with other common ingredients used in Malaysian cooking, such as turmeric, galangal (ginger), lemongrass and garlic. The complex dish includes a little sweetness from sugar and cinnamon, all simmered together in a rich tomato and coconut milk gravy.

Don’t forget to pin or bookmark the recipe for later!

While the ingredient list sounds a little challenging, making Ayam Masak Merah is actually pretty easy.

The dish starts with making crispy fried chicken which is finished in a curry tomato sauce. The complex flavors of this dish are perfectly balanced and not overwhelmed by heat, making it a crowd favorite and a great introduction to the famous dishes of Malaysia.

  • 1 kg chicken drumsticks
  • 1 red onion sliced thinly
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 3 tablespoons dried chilli paste
  • 2 tomatoes diced
  • 400 gm tomato puree
  • 4 tablespoons tomato sauce (ketchup)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon fennel powder
  • 1 cup canned peas
  • 1/2 cup fried shallots
  • 60 gm coconut palm sugar (gula Melaka) adjust to taste
  • salt adjust to taste
  • water
  • coriander leaves
  • cooking oil
  • 2 red onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 30 gm ginger
  • 1/4 cup water, add more if needed


1. Mix chicken with (B) MARINADE. Marinate for 20 minutes.

2. Blend (A) into a smooth paste. Set aside.

3. Heat up enough oil in a wok and deep fry chicken until golden brown. Set aside.

4. Leave about 1/2 cup of the frying oil in the wok.

4. Add sliced onions and stir fry until onions are softened.

5. Add blended ingredients and stir fry until fragrant.

6. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom and chilli paste. Stir fry until oil starts to separate.

7. Add diced tomatoes, tomato puree, ketchup, coriander powder, fennel powder, gula Melaka and salt. Mix well until gula Melaka dissolves.

8. Add in the fried chicken.

9. Add water, just enough to cover the chicken. Stir to combine.

10. Cover wok with a lid and let simmer until liquid thickens.

11. Add peas and fried shallots. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minute(s).

Eating and food were important agendas all along in my life, not mere methods of fueling the body. Growing up, my parents dictated what went into the mouths of their children. There was no chance of turning my nose up against anything that came out of their kitchen, running around with store bought chicken nuggets, having an opinion about certain vegetables or calling a bowl of chips dinner. Despite this, our table was always laid with good, home cooked, nutritious food. While I didn't necessarily agree with my late father's insane affection for all sorts fried fish - without any gravy, just seasoned and sizzled in peanut oil till the skin is crispy golden brown and the insides still tenderly juicy - which he would contently enjoy with a bowl of plain rice and perhaps a plate of stir fried long beans, those fish were the best he could score from the mongers during those ungodly hours only restaurant chefs would be caught hanging out at the wet market (read 4-5 AM). No trashy junk food was allowed in the house, only good chocolate, occasionally. Mother baked ferociously to provide the sweet treats and there was always fresh fruit after dinner, whether or not I liked those sour Sunkist oranges.

With the tight regime at home, for some balance I was allowed to eat freely at school. However, being trained with top notch cooking from home, my palate turned picky and even at school I generally avoided fries and hamburgers. With RM20 of pocket money every week, half the time during recess I would be downing triangle packets of 50 cents nasi lemak and plates of seafood fried rice, mee goreng mamak or roti canai with dhal and sambal besides my undying loyalty to the auntie selling authentic fish ball noodles swimming in ladles of full flavored broth simmered from fried anchovies. By the time I went to university, Malay and Indian food were playing equal roles as Chinese in my diet, and I had no problem eating from our dorm's dining hall. On the first day I checked in, I ate briskly with my hands, not knowing that cutlery would not be provided alongside the metal trays, plastic glasses and tea cups for our daily three meals.

Being cash strapped university students, my dorm mates and I look would forward to every meal with a spirit quite similar to little kids at a birthday party in McDonalds (sundae cone bar fitted, scary clown optional). Luckily for us, the small army of Malay women who formed our dining hall's team of cooks were very much competent with what they had. The daily menu of the week was pretty much fixed, some days more interesting than others but always with at least two proteins, two vegetables, rice and fresh fruit. We would eat at the dining hall most of the time, getting our room/floor mates to pack our meals if we couldn't make it back to the dorm during meal hours. Skipping meals would only cause us to regret it later, those would be the moments when my equally gourmet roommate and I would break out our (illegal) hot plate and cook up bowls of tom yam instant noodles, complete with soft-centered eggs and spiked with fresh birds eye chilies stolen from the shrubs behind our dining hall kitchen. Other times we would make chili tuna or onion sardine sandwiches with the panini press she hid in her closet under a pile of clothes. While we secretly made a lot of supper/midnight meals in our rooms and constantly went out on our motorbikes for mamak stall sessions (University of Malaya, being a city campus, is parked right smack in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, where good, student-budget-friendly food is not difficult to find), dining hall meals were enjoyed quite seriously over endless student gossips around big communal tables of eight to ten.

It was during these four years in college that I ate a lot of ayam masak merah, served with pickled acar and fragrant fried rice. This menu was the general favorite at all of UM's dorms, with the fried chicken and nasi minyak days coming up a close second. Even students who normally skipped dining hall food would quietly produce themselves in the collection queue, trying to blend in with their slotted Tupperware, asking for extra rice and preferred chicken parts. On the days of ayam masak merah, one had to be on time and be downstairs as soon as meal hour started. About 45 minutes into it, only the masak merah gravy would be left with no more ayam and the makciks (Malay for middle-aged ladies) behind the steaming hot pass would move on to distribute the less enticing, though quite worthy ayam masak kicap. On the days of ayam masak merah, we would plan our presence in the dining hall with military precision. If we would be away at class, foot soldiers will be enlisted to fill our Tiffin carriers and Lock & Locks of various sizes. If it was raining the morning of an ayam masak merah day and we slept at 3 AM the night before after an instant noodle cookout, another set of foot soldiers at the Computer Science Faculty would be marking our attendances for the day's lectures while we groggily go downstairs for some masak merah love.

You see, the deal with ayam masak merah is simple, straight and forward. It is the best way to cook chicken in a spicy, thick gravy, period. It's the chicken dish found at any respectable Malay wedding, feasts cooked up to toast various joyous occasions, the month long celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, and from time to time, normal daily meals in a typical Malay household. Being not elaborate (less work than a rendang) yet unassumingly addictive, this is so cherished in Malaysia, most Chinese, Nyonya and Indian mothers would know how to make it, albeit some with their own adaptations. In the case of my mother-in-law, this is one of her famous Diwali feast item. Together with her mutton peratal and meat dalca, no one would be able to leave her house wanting more, despite already being stuffed silly with her heady briyani and crispy dosa. This version moves quite away from the Malay by not being at all sweet and using fresh yogurt in addition to coconut milk. After three years of cooking it with her on the night before Diwali, I found last year's effort the best and decided to give it a go. My only advice when you make this - cook a huge pot of rice and don't invite too many people over.

Recipe from Mageswary, my mother-in-law.
Serves 8 to 10.
Prep time 20 minutes, cook time approximately 20 minutes.

Note: You can also make this with just a mixture of chicken legs, thighs and wings instead of a whole cut up chicken.

In a large pot or wok, heat up oil well and deep fry marinated chicken till just golden brown. Remove oil from wok, safe about 2-3 tablespoons and return wok to medium high heat. Add in cinnamon stick and star anise, fry till fragrant. Add in onions, fry till softened and slightly browned. Add the blended ginger and garlic paste and the lemongrass. Fry for about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes and cook until soft. Add the chili powder and chili sauce. Stir for about 5 minutes, and then add in coconut milk. Cook till mixture come to a boil, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Reduce heat to medium low then add in yogurt and stir well. Add in the chicken and stir thoroughly to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, till chicken is done and gravy reduced, about 6-8 minutes. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and coriander leaves. Mix well, check seasoning and garnish with more coriander leaves before serving.

Watch the video: PTSS Kitchen: AYAM MASAK MERAH (December 2021).