Gulai Ayam

This recipe comes via Ella Irdam. Over a decade ago she was living in Rotterdam, Holland, as a graduate student and hosted two weary travelers. One of those travelers was Coucou Home founder, Mary Warner, who asked Ella to write down the recipe for her because as she tells us, “it was unlike anything she had tasted back home in the American South.” For Ella, this dish tasted exactly like home, but her home in Indonesia. We’ve modified the recipe a bit since Ella wrote it off the top of her head years ago and make suggestions for items that might be hard to find. Additionally, for those with nut allergies, it’s possible to make the recipe without candlenuts or macadamia nuts, just expect a slightly thinner texture. Serve with rice or flat bread for a complete meal. 


10 pieces of chicken (mixture of legs and thighs, or whole cut up bird)
6 pieces of garlic, peeled
1 in. fresh turmeric, skin removed (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried numeric) and roughly chopped
1/2 in. fresh galangal, skin removed (or 3/4 tsp. dried galangal) and roughly chopped
1/2 in. fresh ginger, skin removed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. white pepper
4 candlenuts (or macadamia nuts)
5 red chilis, seeds removed if less is desired, and diced
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
13.5 oz coconut milk
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 lemon grass stalk, trimmed and cut so they can easily fit into the Dutch oven
10 Kaffir lime leaves
5 Thai Bay leaves (or Bay leaves)
5 scallions, separate white part from green tops and slice both, keeping them separate
Salt and pepper to taste



Large Dutch oven pot
Mortal and pestle or blender
Small saucepan



  1. Season all pieces of chicken with salt and set aside.
  2. Blend in a blender or crush into paste in mortar and pestle: garlic, turmeric, galangal, ginger, coriander seeds, white pepper, and candlenuts (or macadamia nuts).
  3. Add coconut oil to small saucepan and bring to medium-low heat.
  4. Add to small saucepan diced chilis, white part of scallion, and blended spices from blender or mortar and pestle and cook until fragrant and white part of the green onions have softened and are translucent. Don’t let mixture burn. Set aside.
  5. To large Dutch oven pot add the salted chicken pieces, water, coconut milk and chicken stock. Add the spice mixture, bay and lime leaves, and lemon grass and stir to incorporate ingredients.
  6. Bring chicken and sauce to near-boil, then simmer, being careful not to let broth boil to prevent curdling.
  7. Simmer mixture for 1-1/2 hrs.
  8. Check chicken for doneness. It should be tender, but not falling off the bone, and the sauce will have reduced a bit. Remove and discard leaves and lemon grass. Add more salt to taste.
  9. Serve with rice or flat bread and top chicken and sauce with reserved scallion tops.

Makes about 5 servings.

EatCoucou HomeRecipe