Ayam Pongteh Recipe (Nyonya Stewed Chicken)
During Chinese New Year in Singapore, each household would have their own specialty dish (out of a sea of goodies) that visitors would look forward to. One place would have amazing smoked ham, another would have exquisite pei dan (century eggs), one household would have jars of especially good kueh belanda (rolled love letters), and my great grandma serves an exceptionally tasty ‘hot and dry’ version of chicken curry. And I’m like my dad, I remember the houses we have to visit according to what dishes we’re looking forward to eat!
And what about my own household’s signature dish? Well, it’s got to be the ayam pongteh, a Nyonya soybean-based chicken stew with mushrooms and potatoes. Heartwarming, comforting and delicious. Grandma used to make it, but she’s become frail in recent years and has stopped cooking. Grandma also used to make acar acar her style, a delightfully moreish Nyonya pickled vegetable dish. I miss that dish.
Mum took over the reins with the cooking of the pongteh the past few years, but since mum’s also sick this year, my household did not cook it this time. But on the bright side, I actually cooked pongteh for Fakegf’s Tuan Yuan Fan on the eve of Chinese New Year this year (pictured above).
I love our ayam pongteh and have cooked this dish at least 6-7 times now. Each attempt was reliably successful, thanks to mum’s home recipe. Our household’s version does not contain coriander seeds*, so if you’re a purist, then look for another recipe elsewhere. I always looked forward to waking up on the first day of Chinese New Year and having ayam pongteh for breakfast. It’s such a heartwarming and comforting dish. We either eat it with rice (I’d mash the potatoes with the rice and drown everything with gravy), or with oven-hot french loaves to dip in the gravy. And fresh green chillies are a must, just tear them over your plate and it’ll lift the flavours even more. So that’s how my family eats it.
*Erratum: I’ve learnt that ayam pongteh doesn’t have coriander seeds, it’s a similar dish, babi chin, that uses it. A lot of people get confused over this. Thanks. Denise @ Singapore Shiok for clarifying.
These are the ingredients you need to cook pongteh. It’s so simple! Remember to get proper small red shallots and not French shallots or those big red onions. This time round, I bought Dutch cream potatoes, which turned out too waxy in texture for me. Find a potato variety that you like. I like my potatoes to turn soft, mashable and slightly grainy. Which types will do that? Another mistake I made this time round was me buying ang moh sourdough bread, which was delicious in its own right, but sourdough definitely does not go with pongteh gravy, haha! Other than those two things, the dish still turned out tasting like what I remembered back home.
The full recipe is below, but here are pictures of the simple steps involved. First, fry the pounded shallot/garlic mixture till fragrant, then add the pounded taucheo (preserved soy beans), then add the chicken, stir. While doing all this, also bring to a boil half a litre of water in a pot. .From this point on, things start to look like a kitchen disaster. The ingredients stick to the wok and turn quite blackish and you query how is this ever going to become an actual stew. Don’t worry, just keep soldiering on.
Now add the potatoes and pre-soaked shiitake mushrooms, then drizzle some dark soy sauce (not too much). Stir, and then allow to simmer a few minutes before transferring everything into the pot. And one trick is to ladle some of the water from the pot back into the wok, and scrape all the goodness off the sides of the wok, making a gravy that you want to transfer back into the pot. Cover with a lid and simmer till cooked. Keep overnight, eat the next day. Voila!
Masak Pongteh (Home Recipe)
- Heat oil in wok, add & fry: shallot/garlic mixture till fragrant
- Add & continue to fry: pounded soya beans
- Add & fry for a while: 1 chicken (cut into bitesize pieces)
- Add & stir fry to mix well: Chinese mushrooms & 2 big potatoes (quartered)
- Sprinkle dark soya sauce & stir fry todistribute evenly
- Leave to simmer for about 3 mins
- Transfer to pot of boiling water
- Leave to simmer till chicken is cooked& potatoes are tender
- Season with sugar (if needed) to taste
- Serve with green chillies and french loaves or white rice
You may also be interested in looking at other Nyonya recipes in my Recipes Section. Nyonya cooking’s the one style of cooking I can comfortably say I’m a little better at.