Cooking a traditional Peranakan dish – Ayam Pongteh
My mum cooked black soy sauce chicken for us all the time when I was growing up. It was one of my favourite dishes as it went so well with rice. Even now, my boys are always happy when they know there’s ayam pongteh on the menu.
I don’t even remember if it was my mother who taught me this dish, or if I picked up the recipe from my Nyonya friends. It was only much later I discovered that the Nyonya version (specifically from Melaka) was slightly different. The key ingredient is the bean paste which gives it a deeper flavour and more umami. And by using palm sugar instead of normal white sugar (which you can), you get a different facet to the sweetness, one that’s more mellow and gentle.
One of the mainstays of Peranakan dishes, this is more common down south rather than Penang (where my ancestors hail from). Towards the end when the dish is cooked over slow fire, this is when the meat and potatoes absorb the flavours of the gravy, giving it a delicious outcome.
One trick is to boil the potatoes first until it is half cooked so that when you add it in towards the later half, it will have softened nicely. Otherwise, some potatoes take longer to cook and you might end up with uneven hard bits of potato.
You can eat this dish immediately after cooking. But it tastes even better if you let the flavours settle for a couple of hours and only serve it later.
Half chicken (or 300g pork shoulder)
4 to 5 shallots
5 cloves garlic
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 potatoes (cut into wedges)
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tbs dark soy Sauce (thick/caramelised)
2 tbs Taucu (Bean Paste)
2 tsp salt
1. Blend onion and garlic together until u get a rough paste.
2. Fry this mixture in 1 tablespoon oil until fragrant, add in the cinnamon and star of anis and give it a couple more stirs.
3. Add in the taucu and mix well.
4. Add in the meat and mix to ensure every piece is well-coated.
5. Add the two different black soy sauces and water. Add in the palm sugar and stir well, then add in the potato.
7. Once it comes to a boil, lower the fire and let it simmer for another 20 to 30 mins or so to thicken the sauce, longer if you’re cooking with pork as you want it well-cooked and softened. Add more water if it’s too dry. There should be enough liquid to just about cover the meat pieces.
8. Important: do the taste test! Everyone has different preferences and this is a very personal dish – feel free to add more sugar or salt, or less if that’s what you’re used to.
9. After you’re done, turn off the fire and let it rest for a couple of hours. Heat it up when you want to eat it and serve with rice.