Kapitan Chicken

I’ve been cooking this curry for years – it’s one of Clancy’s faves – yet as good as it tastes on the stovetop, it tastes better in a camp oven over flames. If you are going to cook it on your next adventure though, blend the spice paste up before you head out. Alternatively, make a big batch and keep some in the freezer that you can take with you.

The method I’ve given here is for a stovetop, but it translates just as well to fire. We last cooked it using the Oz Pig – mainly because it’s easier to control the heat and stir the sauce. If you’re using coals, you don’t need any on the lid.

Some notes on the ingredients

With regards to ingredients, as per usual adjust to your own taste – especially where the chilli is involved. We usually use a few large red chillis and leave some of the small ones with their seeds intact. The large red chillis won’t add a lot of heat to the dish, but they will make your paste more orange than yellow – not a big deal.

Candlenuts are something you might not have come across before – and something we’ve, in the past, left out to adapt the recipe for nut allergies. Sure, they add some authenticity to the dish, but on the other hand, they’re not really missed. If you can’t get candlenuts – which are available mostly at Asian supermarkets – macadamia nuts add a similar texture.

Belacan (Belachan) is another one you might not have come across before. It’s truly foul smelling stuff…when I say foul, I mean, really foul – another reason to mix up your paste before going on your adventure. You don’t want this stuff lying open in your tent/van/whatever.

It’s the sort of smell that seriously you wouldn’t know if it were off or not. Worse than smelly cheese, this doesn’t have the aroma of unwashed wet socks, but rather the stink of decaying shrimp. And that’s what it’s made from – fermented shrimp with a little salt. It’s then sun-dried and cut into blocks – although some stockists will sell it in a wet form that is also pretty manky.

Thankfully there are now some brands that are sold not only pre-roasted but pre-cut into individually sealed portion controlled sizes. Trust me, that is a breath of fresh air for the fridge.

So why would we cook with something that smells as gross as this? Simply because it adds that indefinable but absolutely necessary pungency to Malaysian cooking. (It’s also used widely in Thai, Laotian, Indonesian, Singapore and other South East Asian cuisines). It’s the belacan that gives sambal its potency, and the taste that allows the finished product to take you back to that Hawker’s Market in Penang.

Galangal is similar to ginger, but has a different texture and is more citrusy in taste. If you can’t get it, use more ginger.

Last night I couldn’t be faffed jointing a whole chicken (and our supermarket doesn’t sell free-range pieces other than drumsticks), so we used skinless thighs. If you are doing this, I would recommend taking the chicken out after the initial cooking period so that you have the time to develop the sauce in the way it needs to be developed. Then simply toss the chicken pieces back in for the final 10 mins or so.

Anyways, here is the recipe. It will serve 4 people easily with leftovers dependent on appetites.

What you need

For the paste:
  • 8 red birds eye chillis, split & de-seeded. We like chilli so leave the seeds in a few of these.
  • 3 shallots, sometimes called French shallots. If you can’t get them, use red onions – 1 large one should be enough
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2.5cm each ginger, galangal, and turmeric (peeled & sliced). Galangal is similar to ginger, yet tastes very different.
  • 5 candlenuts (These are hard to source in Australia, but macadamias are a good substitute. They taste like a combination between a mac and a brazil nut)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (the white part)
  • 1 tsp belacan*

Smash this all with your mortar and pestle, or whack it into a food processor and whizz until it is a smooth paste.

You’ll also need:
  • 1 whole chicken jointed (or about 1.5kgs chicken pieces) – we prefer free range chooks that have clucked and scratched their way through their (short) lives.
  • 1 tbsp oil – we use rice bran or coconut oil
  • 5 eschalots (sliced)
  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • Fish sauce to taste
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded, to serve (optional)
  • Coriander to serve (optional)

Putting it all together:

  • Heat the oil in a large frypan or camp oven and fry the paste over medium heat until it is brown and fragrant. This will take about 5 minutes, but trust me, you’ll know.
  • Add the shallots and chicken pieces and coat in the paste before frying for another couple of minutes.
  • Add the coconut cream, 100ml water, and cover the pan with a lid. Bring it up to a boil before reducing to a simmer for 20 minutes. (If you’re cooking it on a stovetop you might not need the extra water).
  • Uncover and simmer for another 5-10minutes – or until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to a dunkable gravy.
  • Add fish sauce to taste, stir in the lime juice and scatter with kaffir lime leaves and (if using) coriander to serve.


Product Test: Cast Iron vs Spun Steel


I guess I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy when it comes to cooking over a fire or on coals. There is simply one tool of choice, and that is the cast iron pot – or so I thought.

During a recent conversation around a casual campfire a friend asked, ‘why do you continually persist to cook with – and carry around – a cast iron product when spun steel is now so readily available on the market?’

A good question – and one that I didn’t have the answer to.

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of spun steel, but even if I had, there’d be no way it could replace the already tried and tested cast iron pot right?…..or could it?

This prompted me to look online for a spun steel pot and being the impulsive person I am, to the joy of Mrs Clancy, it was on my doorstep four days later.

With the snip of the two securing straps around the cardboard packaging, my brand new shiny spun steel pot – along with some basic care and preparation instructions (more to come on this in an upcoming post on caring for your camp oven) – was released.


The first thing I noticed was just how light the pot was even though it was a 12qt in size compared to my 9qt cast iron. This is a definite “pro” straight off the bat for spun steel.

Let me literally weigh this up for you – the cast iron 9qt pot weighs in at 8.8kgs compared to the 12qt spun steel pot – which is less than half the weight at 4.1kgs.


Another big tick for spun steel is the strength and durability. Whilst not tested, I have no doubt the spun steel pot can be dropped, dinted, manhandled and thrown around without suffering any serious damage.  The cast iron, on the other hand, needs to be treated with a little more love and care. I know this too well having dropped my beloved and well-seasoned cast iron pot only to have it shatter into many pieces. Not good when I consider the meals and memories made from one single pot.


So how do they compare when cooking?

To start with, the spun steel gets up to temperature a lot faster than cast iron, however, it is difficult to maintain a constant temperature over a long cook. On the other hand, cast iron takes longer to get up to temperature, though seems to maintain a more even and constant heat even whilst away from the fire – making it idea for that low and slow cook.

Added Extras

One nifty advantage with the spun steel pot is its lid – which doubles as a handy frypan over the fire source.


Both pots serve a purpose. Quick simple meals will be best catered for in the spun steel pot, however, for a long and slow cook, I’d still much prefer to use cast iron – I can relax around the fire trusting a steady cook rather than continually checking that my pot’s heat is correct.

So it will definitely come down to use and preference next time you are planning a trip away. For me, the 4kg weight difference isn’t a big enough persuader to put me off my trusty cast iron – although it has me thinking twice…I may just have to find the room to pack both.

How not to cook a stew…

The first time us Clancy’s went “camping” together things didn’t go exactly according to plan. We were staying at a family member’s property near Eucumbene – in the south of NSW near the Snowy Mountains. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Cooma and the same from Jindabyne and in the winter that means it’s cold.

We were staying in what used to be worker’s cabins from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We sleep in sleeping bags so, in a way, it feels like camping – or at least glamping – so that’s what we call it.  There’s a bathroom inside as well as an outside dunny with no door and a view to the bush and any passing kangaroo. We have a television for DVDs – there’s no TV reception -and aside from one point just outside the kitchen window, there’s no mobile reception.

The plan was simple. Even though there is a kitchen inside, we weren’t going to use it. No inside cooking. Unless it could be cooked outside- either on the barbecue or in the “camp” fire, we wouldn’t eat it.  How hard could it be?

Part of the plan was inspired by pure laziness – if we didn’t use the stove/oven we wouldn’t need to clean it before we left. Part of the plan was inspired by the thrill of the great outdoors. Just how cool would it be to cook as if we were really camping and not just pretend camping?

Clancy was cooking his world famous lamb roast. Ok, it wasn’t world famous yet – after all, it was the first time he had tried this particular recipe – but it soon would be. His previous camp oven roasts had been spectacular. Apparently.

The fire had been built that morning and fed during the day. The pit for the camp oven had been dug and the coals carefully selected. We all sat around in thousands of layers of clothes, muffled by scarves and beanies, protected by gloves and jackets. The kids roasted marshmallows on the ends of sticks. The adults poured tumblers of red wine or fetched fresh beers and nibbled on cocktail hour.

When we finally decided our “oven” had been pre-heated to the guesstimated temperature of exactly 180C, Clancy heaved the cast iron camp oven into place. Then we waited. The kids went inside to watch DVDs.

The sun went down and the stars came out. More stars than I have ever seen. But still, the roast wasn’t cooking. We changed coals and sat back to wait. Obviously, the pit had a faulty temperature gauge.

Finally, it was sizzling and as the wind whirled around the fire pit, so too did the smells- lamb, rosemary and garlic. Our mouths watered. So we drank more (now chilled) wine.

The lamb that first night took almost 2 hours to cook. My brother declared that it normally took around an hour. It tasted as good as it smelled, although was a tad underdone for second-day sammies.

Sunday was our turn. Bacon and eggs on the barbie had to be finished inside when the gas bottle was found to be empty.  Not a good start. At least my world famous (I was convinced it would be spectacular) slow cooked beef stew would save the day.

Gravy beef, veggies, a few tins of tomato, a bottle of wine and enough garlic to scare away the kangaroos was thrown into the camp oven. Last night had made us cautious – we didn’t want this to cook as quickly as the lamb so contemplated using a tripod and hanging the camp oven from it. A strong, blustery westerly put paid to that idea.

So, it was back to the pit. The coals weren’t as good and it had been a struggle to maintain the fire. At 3pm it was sleeting and the wind chill had brought the ambient temperature to around minus a lot.

We persisted. We estimated our oven to be at the perfect slow cooking temperature of 150C and oohed and aahed over the smells.

At the 20 minute mark, we checked it. Disaster. Not only had the camp oven boiled dry, but it had left a nasty charred mess where succulent beef was meant to be. And with the nearest shops 40kms away in Jindabyne…

Perhaps the coals had been closer to 500C? No problems, we could still make damper…

…which also burned to a crisp.

The kids toasted marshmallows.

In true invention test style, we cobbled together some pizza muffins for the kids and baked cheesy potato skins with a rough guacamole for us adults. Combined with cheeses, dips and some anti pasta veggies from a jar we had a feast. We prepared it using the stovetop and oven…which then had to be cleaned.

The lesson?

  • When the nearest shops are 40 clicks away it pays to over cater and have a back-up
  • no matter how well you plan it, you’re gonna be stuck cleaning a kitchen
  • Coals are tricky buggers
  • Cooking in a fire pit is not an exact science – who would have thought it?
  • As long as there are marshmallows to toast, all is not lost