Recipes: Non-Vegetarian

Ayam Masak Merah: Malay-style Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce

For someone who writes and manages a food blog felicitously named, Hooked on Heat, it comes as a huge surprise to many when I confess that until very recently, say a couple of years ago, I belonged to the clan of folks who shied away from all things spicy. Ironically, it always petrified my Mom how her first-born could ever be averse to eating spicy food. Being one who can’t swallow a meal that lacks in the redness that can only be born out of the addition of hand-ground fresh chillies, not once did she smile while separating my portion of the daily meal before spicing it up for the rest of the family. I can’t even begin to imagine how she did it for this Ayam Masak Merah!

Recipe for Ayam Masak Merah (Malay-style Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce) taken from Visit site for detailed recipe.

As the years passed, I began to realize that my taste preference and my spice level tolerance slowly started to grow. So much so, that it surprised my Mom a few days ago, how much heat I can actually tolerate when it comes to my favourite kinds of food. Malaysian food, obviously being one of them. Like two long lost best friends, Mom and I have been spending lots of time bonding in the kitchen over gossip and spice bottles. She, imparting her wisdom and showing me the tricks of the trade, and me, trying to grasp as much information as I can during the six short weeks that she’s here. And amidst it all, Hubby Dear has been his most happiest with the wide spread Malaysian dishes that Mom lays on the dinner table with such ease, like this Ayam Masak Merah.

A few days ago, much to her delight, she discovered a jar of Sambal Olek in my fridge, which only motivated her more to enter the kitchen and whip something up. Over a discussion of what we could try next, I thought of a dish that I chanced upon a few years ago on one of our summer trips to Malaysia. Whenever I find a recipe that works for me, I know that it can only get better from there. Whether it’s one concocted from my very own imagination, or a desperate attempt to imitate something I happened to come across that just took my breath away – like this Ayam Masak Merah, or one that a close friend solemnly swears by, I know that if I like it on my first try then there won’t be any looking back. It took me only a few seconds before I could describe what I had in mind, and Mom was ready to get to work.

The verdict – I licked my plate clean, and now have another favourite to add to my repertoire!

Ayam Masak Merah (Malay-style Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce)

Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time35 mins
Servings: 4
Author: Meena,


  • 3 large boneless chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 medium-sized onion roughly chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass (the fresh bottom part only) roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp light cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp sambal olek (red chilli paste)
  • salt to taste
  • water as needed


  • Marinade chicken in turmeric powder and a pinch of salt, and set aside.
  • Blend onion, tomatoes and lemongrass to a smooth fine paste, adding a little water if necessary.
  • Heat oil in a non-stick wok and fry the marinated chicken till lightly browned. Set aside.
  • In the same pan, add in garlic, ginger and sambal olek, and fry to a few seconds till fragrant. Slowly add in the onion-tomato-lemongrass paste, stirring continuously till it starts to become slightly darker in colour and give out oil from the sides.
  • Mix in the fried chicken, and some water if necessary depending on the sauce consistency you prefer. Season with salt and let it cook covered for another 5-6 minutes till the chicken is completely cooked through. Serve warm.

This post was originally published in July 2007 and has been recently updated.

If you enjoyed this recipe, then you will surely love my Basil Chicken, Ginger Shrimp Stir-fry and Fried Egg Sambal recipe as well.

Tried this recipe? Leave a Comment and let me know, also Rate it by clicking the number of stars on the recipe card. Want to share your version with me? Tag me on Instagram @hookedonheat

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  • Reply
    August 1, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    5 stars
    Looks yummy! But sambal olek…? How do we make that?

    • Reply
      August 1, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      Sambal Olek is a ready chilli-garlic paste that can be found in most Asian grocery stores. If you have a hard time finding it then just substitute with any red chilli sauce, but remember to adjust amounts according to heat level preferred. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2008 at 10:58 PM

    5 stars
    Hi! Meena,

    I came across your blog just today and I have to say I have spent all evening going through it. Never in my life have I seen a blog as creative, fun, entertaining, simple, educational as well as beautiful as yours. Wow!!!!!! You are an inspiration to us all.

    Your recipes are not only fun but simple as well. My swwetheart just called me and said that he will be home in 30 minutes and hasn’t had dinner. Guess what I am making, your Malaysian Chilli Chicken. Thank Goodness, I have a jar of frozen lemon grass.

    Just like you I too am hooked on heat. Thank you so much for sharing your delicious recipes. I am a big fan.

    Kindest regards,
    Sweety ^_^

  • Reply
    August 6, 2007 at 7:21 AM

    5 stars
    Love this recipe. I made it last night and my husband and I couldn’t get enough. The lemongrass really rounds out the flavor!

  • Reply
    August 2, 2007 at 1:26 AM

    5 stars
    Hello there. That chicken just looks so good! I love chillies and anything spicy as well – though sometimes I have to tone it down for my husband ๐Ÿ˜‰

    thanks for linking me

  • Reply
    August 1, 2007 at 2:47 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena! Been following your blog for some time now and it seemed like the food Gods sent me this recipe just in time. I made it last week and it instantly transported me back to KL! I added an extra chili, but think I’ll refrain from doing that if I serve it for friends ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you don’t mind but I reposted the recipe on my blog, attributing it to you, of course!

  • Reply
    August 1, 2007 at 6:21 AM

    5 stars
    New to your blog…and love the chicken! As a Singaporean (of Chinese/Peranakan descent), I love spicy food too! One of my favourite spicy dishes is the Eurasian Curry Devil! It’s got cabbage, long beans, carrots, bacon bones, ham, sausages and plenty of chili/spices with mustard seeds. I have yet to try cooking it…but will attempt very soon!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2007 at 9:06 AM

    5 stars
    You know, I am going the other way. I used to be a chilli fiend as a kid and can hardly stomach them now. that’s what I get for living in England for 11 years… looks very lovely that chicken.

  • Reply
    Steamy Kitchen
    July 30, 2007 at 7:22 AM

    5 stars
    Oh thats funny that you and mom bond over spicy talk! My Mom and Dad had to stop eating so much spice as it was bad for my Dad’s health. (btw, is that possible …spicy foods bad for you???) My tolerance isn’t that much.but I do LOVE a bit of heat.

  • Reply
    July 28, 2007 at 2:02 PM

    5 stars
    Oh I love spicy food! When I was young, I could only handle the bottled sweet chili. Now, I love Malay and Indonesian spreads! The spicier the better!

    Your chicken looks yummy =)

  • Reply
    July 26, 2007 at 9:29 AM

    Thanks all, I do hope you try this out!

  • Reply
    July 26, 2007 at 10:24 AM

    5 stars
    Hi…First time to ur blog……Lovely set of recipes….Nice pictures….Red chilli chicken is looking amazing….

  • Reply
    July 26, 2007 at 1:04 AM

    5 stars
    Hey lovely blog…awesome pics!

  • Reply
    Ari (Baking and Books)
    July 25, 2007 at 12:02 PM

    5 stars
    This meal looks and sounds delicious. When my husband and I first met he couldn’t stand spicy or hot food, but now he loves it. Amazing how our palates change over the years!

  • Reply
    Mona Afzal Hussain
    July 25, 2007 at 9:09 AM

    5 stars
    Yeah, there’s always one person necessary in the house who likes hiding away from the spiciness of the food. My hubby in my house is the one of tat sort. He didnt like and was not able to tolerate anything that was hot on tongue. But now, since an year or so, he’s slowly beginning to tolerate spices, and i’m really happy for that. Well, I love your blog, and i can say easily that its one of the the best blogs. Keep it up.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2007 at 5:31 PM

    5 stars
    mmm sounds yummy! have to give it a go!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2007 at 10:23 AM

    5 stars
    How wonderful to have your mother visiting. I have some of the sambal olek paste in my fridge and I’ve never known what to use it for, so thanks! This sounds delicious.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2007 at 4:11 AM

    5 stars
    The hotter it is, the better I like it, unless of course it gets to the level of heat where the taste gets lost. This looks fabulous and I’m going to try it as soon as I can get my hands on some fresh lemongrass.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2007 at 2:33 AM

    5 stars
    looks great meena…nice picture…


  • Reply
    July 23, 2007 at 8:59 PM

    5 stars
    oh yum… another chilli chicken, looks really hot Meena, will definitely try this out soon.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2007 at 2:24 PM

    Hot hot and hotter! This looks great Meena!

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