Richly Spiced Cambodian Chicken Curry

EpicureanPiranha | August 16th, 2011 - 19:20

Warm spices and caramel contribute to the rich, complex sauce of this comforting Cambodian curry.

Cambodian cuisine is less known than that of its neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. It is a colourful cuisine whose style and ingredients reveal strong influences from its neighbouring countries (though less spicy in general than Thai or Vietnamese food) and China. Influences can also be seen from the period of French occupation (including the use of caramel in certain dishes, and eating curries with toasted baguette!) and from India (many Cambodian curries contain Indian curry powder and black pepper as opposed to chilli, which is served separately).

There are many curries and stir-fries in Cambodian cuisine, and most dishes are served with rice (hundreds of varieties are grown there). This delicious Cambodian curry contains a number of spices and herbs, including Indian curry powder, as well as nuoc mam (or Thai fish sauce) and coconut milk. Lemongrass, lots of fresh basil and coriander, fresh galangal (or ginger if you can’t find galangal), and the addition of dark caramel (which you can see in the top-right portion of the image below) impart a special warmth to the fragrant sauce.

The chicken pieces are coated in fragrant spices then stir-fried. You can see the palm sugar caramel in the background, which will be added to the dish during the following step of cooking.

The recipe also calls for sweet potatoes, so all that’s needed to accompany this dish is some Thai fragrant rice and a green vegetable.

This is another shot of the same dish, which I had prepared with new potatoes and parsnips this time (replacing the sweet potatoes). When preparing a recipe like this, don’t be afraid to substitute certain ingredients depending on what you have on hand. As long as you preserve the “essence of the recipe”, the dish will be slightly different, but equally delicious!

The same dish, prepared with new potatoes and parsnips instead of sweet potatoes.

Richly Spiced Cambodian Chicken Curry

The original recipe for this delicious curry comes from one of my favourite cookbooks, “500 Hot & Spicy Recipes”, published by Hermes House in the UK. I often change recipes, but this one was delicious as is ~ I simply changed and elaborated the preparation of the dish to ensure that when you make it, it comes out perfectly, and I’ve increased the amount of chicken used (if you have any leftovers, this reheats well ~ just sprinkle with a few more fresh herbs before serving).

This curry is quick to cook, however preparation of all the ingredients takes some time, so start well in advance of when you want to serve it, or the day before, then cover and refridgerate and just gently reheat when you wish to serve it. In this case, add the fresh herbs just before serving or else they will wilt and lose their gorgeous green colour!

The recipe calls for making a small amount of caramel. You’ll need a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan to do this (which provides even heat distribution and helps avoid scorching!).  Make it when indicated below, or it risks hardening in the saucepan before you can add it to the recipe!

Metric Ingredient Preparation
45 ml Indian curry powder or garam masala
15 ml Ground turmeric
600 g Skinless, boneless chicken pieces Or 800 – 900 g skinless chicken pieces with bones.
30 ml Sesame oil
2 Large French shallots Finely chopped.
2 Large garlic cloves Finely chopped.
4 cm Galangal Peeled & chopped. ♥ If you can’t find galangal, you can use fresh ginger.
2 Stalks of lemongrass Sliced thinly then coarsely chopped.
10 ml Chilli paste Use Sambal Oelek or Chinese chilli paste.


2 Medium sweet potatoes Peeled and cubed.
45 ml Nuoc mam Thai fish sauce.
600 ml Coconut milk
1 Small bunch Thai basil Use leaves only. Use regular basil if unavailable, but flavour will be different.
1 Small bunch fresh coriander Leaves and finely chopped stems.
Salt and freshly ground pepper


  • Mix the curry powder or garam masala and turmeric in a small bowl. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and dry with paper towels, then place in a small bowl and coat with half the spice mix. Set aside.
  • Heat a wok or a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the sesame oil. Add the shallots, garlic, galangal, and the lemon grass and stir-fry until the shallots start changing color. Stir in the remaining dry spices and the chilli paste, and cook for 30 seconds before adding the chicken pieces. Stir-fry for another 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, make the caramel.

Make the Caramel

Metric Ingredient Preparation
25 ml Palm sugar Or raw cane sugar.
  • Place the sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan along with 7.5 ml water, and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup turns golden. If using raw cane sugar, ensure there are no sugar crystals on the sides of the pan by brushing down sides with a silicon brush dipped in water (if sugar crystals come in contact with the melting sugar syrup, this will cause the syrup to crystalize!). Set aside.

Finish the Curry

  • Now add the cubed sweet potatoes, nuoc mam, the caramel, the coconut milk, and 150 ml water to the chicken and spice mixture; mix thoroughly to combine.
  • Bring the ingredients to the boil while stirring, and immediately reduce heat. Simmer for 15  to 20 minutes until chicken pieces and sweet potatoes are fully cooked.
  • Season with salt and pepper, then add half the fresh coriander and mint; taste to adjust seasoning.
  • Garnish with remaining fresh herbs just prior to serving.



Serve this curry with some Thai Jasmin rice and steamed or lightly stir-fried green vegetables.


2 Responses to “Richly Spiced Cambodian Chicken Curry”

  1. I can hardly wait to try out this recipe. I’m traveling right now and cooking faciities are a bit limited. But I expect it will be wonderful.

    I found this through Flickr where a contact of mine faved your entry.

    If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll share one of my favorite recipes which is a home favorite, but relatively easy to make with limited facilities, for sweet potato hash.

    • Hi Jean ~ thank you so much for registering and for your lovely comment! I’d love to have your recipe ~ it’s always fun to try new recipes, especially from people who love to cook! Enjoy your vacation and I’ll make sure to look at your website this weekend :-}

      ~ marie

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