Kam Heong Chicken Recipe

Kam Heong Chicken is big on flavour, full of Chinese, Malay, South Asian, Eurasian and Nyonya flavours! Perfect with some rice and a side vegetable dish or salad.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

plate of dark stir-fried chicken (kam heong chicken) with lemongrass and curry leaf
Kam Heong Chicken

What’s in a Name?

Kam Heong is from the Cantonese dialect.

  • Kam = golden
  • Heong = fragrant/fragrance
  • Kam Heong = translates to golden fragrance

So this has led to some folks calling this dish golden fragrant chicken (or golden fragrance chicken for a grammatically challenged description).

How to pronounce it?

  • Kam = come
  • Heong = hee-yong, but say it fast, joining the two syllables, as if they are one. The “o” has the same vowel sound as in “on”.

The Beauty of Kam Heong

I’m cooking kam heong chicken today, but you can just as easily use other meat, vegetables or seafood to make a recipe out of the ingredients here. Look out for some alternatives down the road.

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So back to kam heong, or kam heong chicken, what we’re cooking today. You’d be hard pressed to find another local dish that personifies the glorious culinary treasure trove that is Singapore and Malaysia.

The name and the ingredients used are a true testament to our unique local population that’s made up of Chinese, Malays, South Asians, Eurasians and Peranakans (aka Nyonyas). I know we’re missing you guys, orang Arab!

Head on over to the main recipes page here to read more about our local ethnic mix.

  1. The name, we’ve already ascertained, is of Chinese origin, as is the oyster sauce in the recipe.
  2. Then we have curry powder from the Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans.
  3. Curry leaves from the south Indians and Sri Lankans.
  4. Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass from the Malays, Eurasians and Nyonyas.
  5. And finally, you have all the other aromatic and umami-ladened ingredients like dried shrimp, soy sauce and such that are shared by all the local cuisines.

I’ll address the specialist ingredients further down this article.

Kam Heong Chicken Recipe

The recipe itself is pretty easy to cook. It requires a few easy parts/steps: marinate, make the spice paste, make the sauce, cook it all up. This is what we’ll be doing:

  1. Marinate the chicken, overnight if you want, or for a minimum of 1 hour. Your meat will thank you for it.
  2. Prep work with the usual chopping and stuff. We also combine all the ingredients that will make up the kam heong sauce in a bowl.
  3. Chop up our kam heong spice paste in a food chopper or with a pestle and mortar.
  4. Fry the chicken. Traditionally, the chicken would have been coated in a little flour and deep fried. You can do this if you like, or use an air fryer.
    But I’ve simplified the method without sacrificing on flavour by lightly frying the chicken pieces in a wok (or deep frying pan) with a little oil.
  5. Then everything else follows in the same pot. We push the browned chicken pieces to the side and fry the paste. This is followed by the sauce and everything else. We cook for another 6-7 minutes or so until the chicken pieces are done. I finish it all off with an optional squeeze of lime juice. Because lime juice makes everything taste better!

That’s it, that’s how we cook kam heong chicken.

The Marinade

This is a simple mix made with:

  • light soy sauce
  • just a little curry powder
  • dark soy sauce
  • ground white pepper (black pepper will work too)
  • cornflour (corn starch) – some people will use tapioca flour or rice flour for crispier chicken pieces

Kam Heong Chicken Spice Paste

This part of the recipe is very reminiscent of much of South East Asian cooking, in this instance, Malay, Nyonya and Eurasian. We make a spice paste from the onion, garlic, chilli, lemongrass and dried shrimp.

This paste will then be fried after browning the chicken.

Kam Heong Sauce

We mix together some of the ingredients to form our homemade kam heong sauce. This is what we’ll need:

  • curry powder
  • light soy sauce
  • sweet soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • turmeric powder

Ingredients

Let’s take a look at the more traditional ingredients that you may not be familiar with. Any suggestions on where to buy them is largely aimed at folks who are not living in Asia.

Curry Leaves!

Curry Leaves

Click here to read more about curry leaves on LinsFood. These leaves are used extensively in South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking.

They lend an inimitable aroma that’s herbal and woody at the same time, and unfortunately, that cannot be substituted. I’ve been growing my own curry leaves for almost 30 years as they are something I cannot live without. See my YouTube short above.

If you have access to a South Asian grocer, you may be able to get them. Failing that, go online to do a search for fresh sprigs of curry leaves.

Dried curry leaves have such a faint aroma that I usually tell my readers and students not to bother, but you might want to give it a try anyway. They can be found in larger supermarkets here in the UK, and perhaps the same goes for where you are.

If you can’t get them, you could just finish your kam heong chicken with some freshly chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) for just a little more aroma.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

These are optional but I love using them to further enhance the South East Asian slant of our golden fragrant chicken. Doesn’t get more aromatic then kaffir lime leaves, does it?

Interestingly, these guys are easier to find in the UK than curry leaves.

Dried Shrimp

Click here to read more about dried shrimp (udang kering in Malay) and substitute ideas.

Dried shrimp is a must when cooking kam heong recipes. Its briny, umami-filled characteristic plays a big role in the flavour base of our dish. So you need to get your hands on it.

Click here for my global Amazon affiliate link to get dried shrimp.

dried shrimp in tiny black bowl
Dried shrimp (Udang Kering)

Curry Powder and Turmeric

Any generic curry powder will do. Mild, medium or hot. Garam masala will work as an alternative too.

We also add turmeric powder to our kam heong chicken for yet another piece of the fragrant puzzle.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is very easily available these days and by different brands too. I suggest you always check the ingredients list to ensure that you buy one with the most oyster extract.

Some brands only have as little as 0.3% with lots of other flavourings added. Many of them will contain MSG, so look out for that too. If truth be told, while I prefer not to consume MSG, I have no problem if the odd ingredient I use has it.

Soy Sauce

Kam heong chicken uses the whole range of soy sauces that are a staple in Singaporean an Malaysian cooking.

We’ve got the regular light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sweet soy sauce, also called kicap manis. These are all easily found in large supermarkets and should be essential in your SMR pantry.

A little Malay language fun

  • Kicap = soy sauce
    However, it’s derived from ketchup, so in Malay, kicap tomato is tomato ketchup.
  • Manis = sweet
  • Masin = salty, and this refers to light soy sauce, so kicap masin.

Aromatics

Besides the curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves mentioned above, we’ve got onion, garlic, chillies, and lemongrass. Interestingly, traditional kam heong chicken doesn’t use ginger, but this does differ from family to family.

All easily available ingredients, right? How much chilli you use will determine the heat level of your kam heong chicken. I like a little spice in mine so tend to go for a handful of cili padi (bird’s eye chili).

You can use any red chillies you like and mild or hot, that’s up to you.

The Chicken

I thought I’d better touch on this.

This is like a stir-fry dish. We want small, bites-sized pieces of chicken to cook kam heong chicken. My favourite part of a chicken is the thigh, and that’s what I’m using here. You could also use chicken breasts, if you prefer.

That being said, slightly bigger pieces of chicken, on the bone, would also work here. Think about licking those bones clean when you’re done picking the meat! So chicken drumsticks and perhaps, even wings, would work beautifully.

plate of dark stir-fried chicken (kam heong chicken) with lemongrass and curry leaf
Make it mild or spicy

Vegetarian Kam Heong

I make vegetarian kam heong recipes all the time. In fact, I’m cooking one tonight, as Sapphire is home from Uni for a week. By now you know my 4 kids are vegetarian.

My favourite is Kam Heong Tofu, but I also very frequently use vegan chicken pieces for the the kids for a Vegan Kam Heong. But we have to leave the dried shrimp and oyster sauce out. So that, LinsFoodies, is a recipe for another day!

What about seafood, you ask? Anything will work: prawns, clams, squid, etc. Like I said earlier, stay tuned for a couple more kam heong recipes.

For now, shall we get in the kitchen and cook up some kam heong chicken?

If you enjoy the recipe and article, drop me a comment and let me know. Feeling like a star? Don’t forget that 5-star rating!😉

If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor and hashtag it #linsfood.

Lin xx

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