Ultimate Chicken Curry
We Indians are very opinionated about everything. You mention a particular dish and chances are that someone's mother or grandmother has the best recipe and you can't argue with them on its validity, because they are defending the recipe of their nearest and dearest. Neither my mom nor my grandma could or would address this bird in their strict Brahmin vegetarian kitchen, so I took it upon myself to offer you a version that I think not only delivers a succulent dish but does so with few ingredients and some key cooking techniques. I trust it will leave you in that Oliver Twist predicament of asking for more. No worries, you will not be chastised, at least not at my table. Serve curries, such as this one, with some flatbread (either homemade All-Wheat Griddle Breads, page 84, or store-bought) and steamed rice (or a rice pilaf) to soak up all that creamy sauce vibrant with spices.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
4 medium-size cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 pieces fresh ginger (each about the size and thickness of a
25-cent coin; no need to peel the skin), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Raghavan's Blend (page 39) or store-bought Madras curry powder
1⁄2 cup canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1⁄2 cup half-and-half
11⁄2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the onion, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until the onion is light caramel brown around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Sprinkle the spice blend into the skillet and stir to mix. Let the spices roast in the onion medley until the aromas dramatically change, 10 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and stir once or twice. Lower the heat and simmer the chunky sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomato pieces soften, the excess moisture evaporates, and some of the oils in the spices start to dot the edge of the sauce, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Pour the half-and-half into the skillet and scrape the bottom once or twice to release any bits of onion, garlic, and ginger, effectively deglazing the skillet and releasing those flavors back into the sauce. Transfer the chunky curry to a blender. Holding the lid down, puree the curry until it is slightly curdled looking but smooth, and saffron orange-hued.
4. Return the sauce to the skillet and stir in the chicken and salt. Simmer the curry, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken, when cut with a fork or knife, is cooked through, no longer pinkishred, and its juices run clear, 12 to 15 minutes.
5. Sprinkle the cilantro on top of the chicken curry and serve.
1. Before starting, have ready the chicken cut into nice large 2-inch cubes, the onion, garlic, and ginger coarsely chopped, and the spices measured out.
2. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger to the oil once it's hot and shimmering.
3. Let the onions take on some color before adding the spice blend.
4. Add in the spice blend and stir till you smell their deepening aroma. This will only take about 10 seconds.
5. Once the spices release their warm aroma, add the tomatoes and let them cook down and soften for 5 minutes or so.
6. Once the tomatoes have softened, stir in the half-and-half.
7. Continue to stir, blending all the skillet ingredients together and scraping up any bits of onion or garlic that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
8. Puree the sauce in a blender, then add it back to the skillet.
9. Add the chicken cubes and salt to the sauce and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the chicken is cooked through. This will take 12 to 15 minutes.
10. Once cooked, the sauce will be creamy and fragrant and a deeper red, and the chicken will be moist and infused with luscious flavor.
The other "white" meat, pork, does work well as an alternative to chicken and so will beef, lamb, and turkey. Each meat will contribute its own distinct flavors and will cook to completion at a different time.
If you like bone-in pieces of chicken by all means use them as they will provide more succulence and a deeper flavor. Just be careful of the bones. Chicken thighs, cheaper in price but richer in taste, are an overlooked cut and will deliver a more complex gusto.
Yes, cubed tofu or potatoes will be fine instead of the chicken for the vegetarian at your table. Tofu will be done cooking in 10 minutes; potatoes in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.
Any leftover curry is also great when you spoon it over warm, flaky buttermilk biscuits the next morning for breakfast, giving ho-hum biscuits and gravy a run for their money.
Bund Gobhi Nu Shaak
Unless your mama is from western India, chances are this is not your mother's mayo-smothered, garlic powder-ridden coleslaw. Nutty, tart, with a citrus burst, these crunchy shreds of cabbage pack just the right amount of heat from the fairly benign serrano chiles. Serve the slaw as is for a salad course or as an accompaniment to your traditional picnic fare. For an elegant presentation, I often serve the slaw after the appetizer course mounded on top of leaves from a romaine heart with, when seasonal, an edible flower as garnish.
Makes 6 cups
1⁄2 small head of green cabbage (about 1 pound) or 1 bag
(14 ounces) coleslaw mix
Handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)
1 to 2 fresh green serrano chiles, stems discarded
1⁄4 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1⁄4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1⁄4 cup dried unsweetened coconut shreds (see Extra Credit)
1⁄4 cup fi nely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
11⁄2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
Juice from 1 medium-size lime
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1⁄4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1. If you are using a half cabbage, remove the tough rib from the bottom by making diagonal cuts on either side and lifting it out in a V-shaped wedge. You will end up with a V-shaped opening at the base. Cut the cabbage half in half lengthwise. Slice both halves into shreds, as thin as you can. Place the green and red (if using) cabbage shreds in a large bowl. If you are using a preshredded coleslaw mix (which usually has a few shreds of carrots and red cabbage in it for color), empty the contents of the bag into a large bowl.
2. Slice the chiles lengthwise and then cut them into thin slices, crosswise, to form half moons of chiles that still have the rib and seeds within. Do not discard the seeds. Add the chiles to the cabbage along with the bell pepper.
3. Place the peanuts in a spice grinder (you can also use a coffee grinder), food processor or mini chopper and pulse the nuts to the consistency of coarse bread crumbs. Letting the machine run constantly will create a gummy result the consistency of peanut butter. Add the coconut, cilantro, salt, and lime juice. Sprinkle the ground peanuts over the cabbage mixture.
4. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds.
5. Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle in the turmeric, which will instantly bathe the oil with its yellow hue; the heat from the skillet will be just right to cook the turmeric without burning it. Pour the mustard-turmeric mixture over the cabbage. I often grab some of the cabbage from the bowl and add it to the skillet, wiping it clean with the shreds to make sure I get every last bit of spice and oil. Using tongs, spoons, or my favorite, a clean hand, thoroughly combine the slaw in the large bowl to ensure every shred of cabbage is evenly coated.
6. Serve the slaw either at room temperature (my preference) or chilled.
1. Place the cabbage half on a cutting board and remove the core using a V-shaped cut. I like to add a little red cabbage for color. Since I often make cabbage dishes, the unused portions won't go to waste in my household.
2. Cut the cabbage half in half again. Lay one of the cabbage pieces cutside down on a flat surface and cut it into thin shreds. If you wish, add some red cabbage shreds as well.
3. Place the shredded cabbage in a large bowl and add the chiles, bell pepper strips, coconut, cilantro, and salt. Sprinkle in the peanuts over all and squeeze in the lime juice.
4. Roast the mustard seeds in the hot oil. If you have a lid or protective screen, place it over the skillet so none of the popping seeds escape. Once they stop popping, add the turmeric.
5. You want to be sure to get every drop of the spice mixture, so use some of the slaw to wipe out the skillet.
6. Toss the slaw with the spice mixture. I like to use my hands to make sure it's well mixed.
7. Serve the slaw at room temperature-it's the best for enjoying the burst of flavors.
A decent-size supermarket, worth its weight in gold, should stock dried unsweetened coconut either on the health foods aisle or in the baking section. If they don't, grab that bag of highly sweetened coconut shreds on the baking shelf, the one that is often a key ingredient in coconut cream pies and other coconut-based desserts like macaroons (my weakness).
To use sweetened coconut in this recipe, place 1⁄2 cup of the sugary shreds in a medium-size bowl. Cover them with water and run your fingers through the coconut to rinse off some of the sugar. Transfer the coconut to a fine-meshed colander. Return the coconut to the bowl and repeat with the rinsing and straining. You may need to do this 3 or 4 times to make sure that all of the sugar is gone. An underlying sweetness is fine since freshly shredded coconut does have an inherent sweet taste.
I am a sucker for cooked cabbage. Oftentimes if I have leftover slaw I will add it to a skillet along with a little water to cover the bottom of the skillet and heat the cabbage until it warms through. A little extra kick from a liberal sprinkling of ground red pepper (cayenne) takes care of my addiction for nutty, hot, crisp-tender cabbage until the next fix.
Peanut allergy sufferers, if it is safe for you to eat other nuts, use an equal amount of a favorite as an alternative to the peanuts.
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