One of my favorite food is semur ayam, and it has been so since I was just a little kid. I grew up in Medan before moving to the capital city when I was twelve.
Semur is easy to find in both cities, but there are significant differences between the two versions. In Medan version, chicken are first fried until the skin is crispy. Also, Medan version uses coconut milk instead of water.
I definitely prefer semur ayam Medan – Medan style chicken in nutmeg & sweet soy sauce, but it may just be my bias. So feel free to try this and the more common Javanese version and then decide which one you like best.
Must-Have: Kecap Manis
Cooking abroad means sometimes you must make do with compromises. Some ingredients are quite okay to be substituted, but some you definitely must hunt them down.
Case in point, you can’t make a proper semur without Indonesian kecap manis. It should be easier now to buy kecap manis in the States.
I currently live in a tiny city in Minnesota, and all the Chinese/Asian/South East Asian groceries have them. If you need to buy them online, I think ABC Bali is the cheapest option, but only if you go through gallons of them, like most Indonesians I know 🙂
If you only use kecap manis sparingly, just stick to ABC or Bango.
Of course, some ingredients are okay to be substituted.
Original version uses Indonesian bawang merah, which I sometimes encounter. French shallot is very similar to bawang merah, but typically three times larger, and is the best substitute for bawang merah.
When even French shallots mysteriously disappear (which was the case when I took this photo), I use regular onion. It’s okay for recipe like this, but it is definitely not okay when you are making acar.
Another ingredients that can be safely substituted is kemiri (candlenuts). Any Indonesian recipe calls for kemiri, you can safely substitute with equal weight macadamia nuts.
Semur ayam is a chicken and potato dish stewed in spices, nutmeg, and kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce). The taste is very bold, the chicken and potatoes tender and succulent, and you will want to mop up all the sauce with a big bowl of steamed white rice. This delicious dish is very easy to prepare and you will want to put this in your meal rotation! ♥
What you need to prepare Indonesian semur ayam
Most Indonesians will prefer to use bone-in chicken pieces to prepare semur ayam, but boneless skinless meat can also be used for a fuss-free experience. Aside from chicken, you will need the following to prepare Indonesian semur ayam:
lemongrass, bruised and knotted, or cut one into 2
This is grilled/broiled version on the ever-popular ayam semur, ayam bakar semur.
The original version of ayam semur is full of sauce, but in this version, we cook until the sauce is almost gone and very thick, then transfer the chicken to be broiled, while basting it with the sauce.
If you have a charcoal grill, you can also grill the chicken instead of broiling, they are actually even better when prepared that way!
Ingredients for ayam bakar semur
We will need one whole chicken, cut into 8-12 pieces. Or you can also use 4-6 chicken quarters, cut into chicken thighs and chicken drumsticks. I prefer to later approach since my family loves chicken quarters and I would be the only one left to eat the breasts.
2. Kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
Anytime we make a semur dish, we will need to use kecap manis. You should be able to find kecap manis in your Asian market, or you can also place an online order from Amazon. I must say that online prices are more expensive, so be on the lookout when you visit your Asian market.
3. Aromatics, fresh vegetables, spices, and seasonings
For the aromatics and fresh vegetables, we will need tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and shallots.
For the spices and seasonings, we will need daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves), cinnamon, candlenuts (Indonesian: kemiri), cloves, cumin, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper.
Step 1: Braise the chicken
First, grind shallot, garlic, ginger, and candlenuts into a smooth paste.
Heat oil in a wok over medium heat and sauté spice paste, Indonesian bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, and white pepper until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken pieces and fry until no longer pink. Then, add tomatoes and stir until they start to wilt.
Stir in salt, Indonesian sweet soy sauce, and salt. Once it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cook and tender, about 30 minutes.
TIPS: You get a standard version of ayam semur if you stop at this point. Step 2 and step 3 are the extra steps to turn a regular ayam semur into the broiled/grilled version.
Step 2: Prepare basting sauce
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, remove the chicken from the wok and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet.
Turn the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the sauce until it thickens into a basting sauce consistency. It should look like a barbeque sauce.
Turn off the heat, and strain to get a smooth sauce.
Step 3: Broil the chicken
Preheat the oven broiler.
Brush the chicken with basting sauce and broil until they are slightly charred. It should take about 4-5 minutes per side.
Serve the chicken immediately with steamed white rice and any remaining basting sauce.
I love serving this dish for a BBQ potluck even. Once I am done with step 1, I will store the chicken in an air-tight container. Then I reduce the sauce and store it in a separate container.
On the day that I will be serving this, I simply arrange the chicken on a baking sheet, brush with basting sauce, and broil.
If it is an outdoor event and we will be doing a backyard BBQ, I can use a charcoal grill for the final step. If you have this option, grilling with a charcoal grill is the best version for ayam bakar semur.