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Khmer chicken "samla" with coconut milk

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

A samla is a type of Cambodian dish that has a consistency between a soup and a stew. It is perfect with rice, the staple form of carbohydrate on every Cambodian table. The samla is traditionally very heavy on lemongrass, a herb that is found abundantly in Cambodia, and used liberally in their dishes.

This is a very fragrant curry, loaded with the fresh scent of lemongrass, of course, but also with a touch of spice from the chillies and a rounded aromatic flavour from the other ingredients. The base is lovely, almost silky on your tongue and the chicken has completely absorbed the flavours. This is a lovely dish for any Asian meal or just by itself.

This was the first cookbook I bought by Naomi Daguid, and was immediately transported to wonderful meals at small tables across Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. A wonderful collection of recipes in a beautiful, coffee-table cookbook, mine stays in the kitchen! There are tons of recipes to explore and lots of anecdotes and stories to tie the cuisine to the land and culture. One of my favourite cookbooks!

For more wonderful recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the curry paste:

1 2-inch piece lemon grass, chopped

Zest of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon fresh turmeric, or powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 2-inch piece galangal

10 shallots, chopped

10 cloves garlic, chopped

3-4 dried Thai red chillies, soaked in water till soft

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

2-3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons oil

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces

2 cups coconut milk

2 cups water

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon sugar

Add all the ingredients to a small blender and blitz till you have a very smooth paste. the traditional method to make this paste is to start pounding each ingredient n turn, starting with the lemongrass, till smooth. Add the next ingredients and pound till smooth again. Continue till all the ingredients form a smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep pot. Add the curry paste and fry on low heat till the paste is dry and the oils begin to bubble to the surface, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the chicken, turn the heat up to medium and fry the chicken till it turns white and the curry paste sticks onto the chicken. be careful to stir the pot often so the curry paste does not burn.

Add the coconut milk, water, salt (remember you have salt in the curry paste too!), and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 45 minutes till the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender. The oil should form small polls on the surface of the curry. Taste for salt and spice.

Serve hot with rice.

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