Tuesday 25 September 2012

Tales of The Elusive Black Nut - Ayam Buah Keluak (Nyonya Braised Chicken In A Black Nut Curry)

Ayam Buak Keluak is one of my favourite childhood dish which I will no doubt strike a cord here with anyone who grew up in a Peranakan household. A signature Nyonya dish just like the Babi Pongteh and a firm contender in my Nan's kitchen as the most frequently made delight.

Not the quickest dish to make and it takes a bit of foreplanning. The preparation of the nuts are rather laborious as you first have to soak them in water  for days before cracking them open, scoop out the flesh and then refill them again.

I have always wanted to make this ever since I left Singapore. However, one of the main component, the elusive Buah Keluak (Indonesian black nut), is not exactly the easiest ingredient to get hold of outside Singapore. I personally think that the difficulty level is right up there with See Hum (blood cockles). And it is precisely of this reason why I have yet to make this until now. So what's change? Well, nothing really, they are still as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But luck was on my side when I accidentally stumbled upon them in my friend, Goz's amazing fridge freezer after one of my supperclub night.

'Eh, what's this ?'

'Huh? Aiyah, just some buah keluak lah'

'Can I have them please?'

'Ok lah!'

And so, as if my years of prayer have been answered, a bagful of Buah Keluak finally landed on my eager hands. These black nuts may look bizarre and unsightly but to those in the know, they contains delicious black creamy flesh. They are rich and earthy and a true Peranakan delicacy. With these amazing nuts now at my disposal, I knew that Ayam Buah keluak was exactly what I'm going to make with it.

I seek them here, I seek them there, I finally sought the damn elusive Buah Keluak!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

12 Buah Keluak (Indonesian black nuts)
10-12 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks (you can remove the skin for healthier option)
5 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp tamarind purée
500ml water
2 tsp sugar, plus more for the buah keluak
sea salt, to taste

For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste. toasted in a dry pan or a hot oven
2 stalk lemon grass, cut into rings
2in length fresh galangal, skinned and chopped
10 shallots or 1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic clove, skinned
10 dried red chillies, soaked in warmed water (use less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 tsp ground turmeric


To prepare the buah keluak, Soak the nuts in cold water for at least 48 hours, changing the water twice in between. Scrub clean to get rid of any dirt and grit and rinse in running water. Using a pestle, pound the smooth side of the nut to crack open a small opening. Scoop out the flesh using a teaspoon. Combined the flesh with a pinch of salt and sugar in a mortar and pound to form a firm, smooth paste. Stuff the paste back into the shell and set aside. 

Pound all the ingredients for the rempah into a paste using a mortar and pestle or alternatively, blitz in a food processor.

Heat up the oil in a wok or large pan over medium heat. Add the spice paste and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant. 

Add the tamarind purée and cook for another minute before adding the chicken pieces and prepared buah keluak. Stir well to coat with all the spice paste. Add the water and sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and tender, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.

Serve with some fresh steamed rice.


  1. yummy! just like how my mama makes it; pure, unadulterated nutty goodness! how did your friend get his hands on buah keluak in London?!!

  2. I see that you are another buah keluak fan too. He brought them back from Singapore, vacuum packed.