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Ayam Suwir Saus Empal - Chicken in Spices & Coconut Milk Sauce

Empal is a very popular Javanese dish, typically made from thinly pounded beef shank, cooked in spices, and finally fried. It can be a pretty laborious dish, and Mom usually just buy them from her favorite empal specialty store. I recreate this dish with shredded chicken thigh meat, which cuts the cooking time significantly, but the taste is pretty much there. I hope you will give this ayam suwir saus empal - chicken in spices & coconut milk sauce recipe a try.

Ayam Suwir Saus Empal - Chicken in Spices & Coconut Milk Sauce

Poached chicken thigh meat

If you have any experience cooking with beef shank, you know it is a very tough cut and requires long cooking time to make it tender. Here I use skinless boneless chicken thigh meat, poached in boiling water for 20 minutes. So much faster, plus I get to prepare the spices while the chicken is gently poaching away. Once done, just remove the chicken from the hot water, and shred the meat with two forks.

Ayam Suwir Saus Empal - Chicken in Spices & Coconut Milk Sauce

Empal spices

Once you are familiar with Indonesian dishes, you can expect a pretty long list of spices, and empal is no different. You need ginger, galangal, daun salam, tamarind, kecap manis, coconut milk, coriander, cumin, candlenuts (I use macadamia), shallot (I use red onion), and garlic. Daun salam is usually translated into bay leaf, but I think it is more appropriate to call it Indonesian bay leaf since regular bay leaf is wildly different compared to our daun salam. If you cannot find this, it is best to omit instead of sub with regular bay leaf.

Ayam Suwir Saus Empal - Chicken in Spices & Coconut Milk Sauce

Ayam Suwir Saus Empal - Chicken in Spices & Coconut Milk Sauce

5.0 from 1 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson




Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 30 mins

Total Time: 40 mins

Serves: 4


  • 500 gram (~ 1 lb.) skinless boneless chicken thigh meat
  • 3 tablespoon oil
  • 2 daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kecap manis
  • 100 ml (~ 6 1/2 tablespoon) coconut milk
  • Spice paste (grind the following together)
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 candlenuts (or 6-8 macadamia)
  • 1/2 inch galangal
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin


  1. Boil 4 cups of water in a pot, then add chicken thigh meat into the boiling water. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.
  2. Remove cooked chicken meat from the hot water, then shred the meat with 2 forks. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Sauté spice paste and daun salam until fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add shredded chicken meat to the frying pan, along with salt, ground pepper, kecap manis, and coconut milk. Stir and cook until the sauce is almost dry and chicken pieces are coated with sauce.
  5. Turn off the heat, transfer to a serving plate, and serve with steamed white rice.


  • Leah says:

    Hello Anita I made this yesterday for my family. I have 2 teenage boys, a picky teenage daughter, and a chinese indonesian husband who loves to eat:) I am a frequent visitor to your site, and have followed your recipes to the T. I get excellent results every single time, and my family is soooo happy. This chicken empal was a BIG hit, Thankfully I doubled the recipe. My husband added some long red chillis for extra heat, that's it. Thank you so much for translating your measuring terms into tsp, tbs, etc. Keep up the excellent work!

    • Anita says:

      Thanks for giving the recipe a try Leah! I am so happy it was a huge hit with your family :)

  • Silvia Koningin says:

    Hi Anita - The recipe looks really good and I plan to cook this for my family. However, I have a question on the candlenut mentioned. Is that kemiri in indonesian?

    • Anita says:

      Hi Silvia, yes you get it right :) Candlenut = kemiri.

  • Vita says:

    Hi Anita, do you think this is good with nasi kuning? Thanks

    • Anita says:

      Hi Vita, yup definitely, this should be really good with nasi kuning.

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