Spicy Chicken Fry


South Indian food continues to be identified in the US—and to be fair, in North India as well—with vegetarian food of the idli-dosa-sambhar variety. The notion that South India is largely vegetarian is a hard one to shake—it showed up last year in a New York Times feature on Kerala as well (it’s hard to understand how anyone could spend a lot of time in Kerala and believe that it is a “a land where vegetarianism is the predominant eating style”). In fact, the southern states are far more non-vegetarian than most of the rest of India—if you want to meet a lot of vegetarians, it’s actually to the north that you have to go. Whether it’s in Kerala or Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, fish and meat are everywhere. And these dishes are often pretty spicy indeed. In fact, the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is up there with some of the hottest cuisines in the world. One of the Andhra dishes that I particularly like to seek out when I am in India is the chicken fry or kodi vepudu. In its flavours and textures it is very unlike most North Indian chicken dishes. The recipe I have today is an attempt to approximate the flavours of some of the versions I’ve eaten, in restaurants and friends’ homes in India. It is not canonical, but the results are quite tasty. Give it a go. 

One of the things you will see below, is that the recipe involves three different kinds of dried chillies. One kind is used for heat, one for colour and smokiness, and one largely for a more dramatic presentation. Three different kinds of chillies may seem like a lot for you to contemplate if you’re not Indian, but please do consider how many types of dried herbs you probably also have in jars in your kitchen that you don’t use every day or every week. If you have a South Asian grocery within reach, do go take a look: these days South Asian groceries in most major metros in the US have a wide range of esoteric ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 lbs boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into small pieces
  • One medium onion, sliced
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • A handful of dried round/mundu chillies
  • 1 tspn ginger, grated
  • 1 tspn garlic, grated
  • The following ground into a coarse powder: 3/4 tspn cumin seeds, 3/4 tspn coriander seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tspn black peppercorns, 2-3 hot dried red chillies, 2-3 dried Byadgi or Kashmiri chillies
  • 1/2 tspn ground turmeric
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tblspns vegetable oil
  • Salt

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a wok or similar and add the sliced onions, curry leaves and round chillies. Saute till the onions begin to brown, taking care not to let the chillies scorch (keep everything moving continuously).
  2. Add the ginger and garlic and saute till the raw smell disappears.
  3. Add the ground spice mix and turmeric and saute for a minute or so.
  4. Add the chicken and salt, mix and stir-fry for 5-7minutes or so.
  5. Add the tomato, mix and keep stir-frying till the tomatoes have completely broken down.
  6. Cover and cook over medium-low heat till the chicken is done. (Uncover from time to time to stir and make sure nothing is scorching on the bottom.)
  7. Serve with steamed rice or parathas.

Notes

  1. This is a pretty hot dish—if you make it as above, it will be comparable with pretty hot Sichuan dishes. You could make it less hot but it’s not going to be as good if it’s mild. Maybe reduce the hot red chillies in the powder to 1-2 if you’re nervous
  2. Remember the Byadgi or Kashmiri chillies only really add colour and a slightly smoky flavour; and the round chillies are not particularly spicy either.
  3. All these chillies can be found in any well-stocked Indian grocery. Unsurprisingly, Amazon has the Byadgi too, if you don’t have a well-stocked Indian grocery within reach.
  4. The curry leaves are a must, in my opinion, but if that’s the only ingredient you can’t find, leave ’em out and garnish with a little chopped cilantro at the end.
  5. If you want to make it hotter still, and more canonical, leave out the tomatoes.

 

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