I am tempted to name this recipe “Better Than Butter Chicken” in a shameless attempt to go viral. This would be generically appropriate—it too is a creamy chicken curry involving tomatoes and dairy. It would also be accurate—it is better than butter chicken. Big talk? In a world that identifies Indian food with butter chicken, yes. But make it and apologize for doubting me.
As I noted on Twitter a few days ago, this was the first dish I learned to make really well when I started cooking in earnest in the early-mid 1990s after starting graduate school in the US. The original dish is a chicken curry that was part of my mother’s dinner party repertoire. She’d packed me off to the US with a collection of hand-written recipes and sent me many more over the years but this was never one of them. I recreated the first versions of this from memory before finally arriving at the broad contours within which it now resides. By which I mean that home cooking is never exact or nailed down. Recipes, when written down, seem more fixed than they usually are in practice but there’s always at least a bit of variation when you make dishes over and over again. My own version of this curry is now different from both my first iterations in the 1990s and from my mother’s but it’s very much in the same family (in fact, when she visits she always asks me to make it for her and my father). I encourage you to add your own twists to it after first trying it as outlined below. Continue reading
“Red curry chicken” is my children’s name for the chicken curry that has been my gateway to slowly Indianizing their palates for the last few years. It is one of their absolute favourites of all the things I cook for them (though Marcella Hazan’s pesto is in unassailable first place). The “it” however is not a stable referent. By which I mean that this is a recipe that has been subtly, progressively tweaked to bring them along into an appreciation of spicy/spicier food without their quite realizing it’s been happening. Please note that when I say “spicy/spicier” I am not referring to capsaicin heat but to a fuller flavour via the use of a greater body of spices: cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom etc. And, yes, also increasing amounts of red chilli powder. That said, though they eat hotter food than most of their Minnesotan peers, the current iteration of this curry is not very hot either. But over the last four or five years it’s gone from being a fairly bland chicken stew with tomatoes to becoming something that the missus and I enjoy eating alongside them. Here is the current iteration for your enjoyment as well. Continue reading
I made a somewhat involved chicken curry for a dinner party last week. Made in a Hyderabadi style it involved roasting and then making a paste of sesame and peanuts and various spices. It turned out very well and as we were eating I began to think of a simpler version I could make for more everyday cooking and which might be a little more kid-friendly. This recipe was the result of that thinking. It sits somewhere between that more complex Hyderabadi prep and a “white” chicken prep that one of my aunts is famous for (and which I’ve hybridized before). It involves very few ingredients and only whole spices. And if you have a good not-too chunky peanut butter at hand you’re well past the starting line. Give it a go. It’s very tasty and goes well with rice or parathas—or for that matter you could sop it up with dinner rolls. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Most years I do a traditional roast turkey for Thanksgiving (though I spatchcock/butterfly it to cook it very quickly at high heat). No matter the size of the bird or how many guests we have, we usually have enough turkey left that we get sick of it after the first day of leftovers. Or at least that used to be the case until I started recycling most of it into a down and dirty version of tinga de pavo/pollo. Tinga de pollo is one of the signature dishes at our local Mexican restaurant, El Triunfo, but it’s very easy to make at home. Leftover roast turkey is perfect for this dish which calls for pre-cooked chicken (pollo) or turkey (pavo) breast, shredded and added to a simple sauce made with onions, garlic, tomatoes and chipotle chillies en adobo. Provided you have everything on hand, this is as easy a dish as you can hope to make with leftover turkey. Continue reading
Chicken cooked with spinach (palak) is a popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US, though as with seemingly almost all dishes in Indian restaurants the sauce is usually heavily laden with cream. This is a heartier home-style preparation that let the flavour of the spinach shine and uses chicken on the bone to develop denser flavour. This is, broadly speaking, a Punjabi recipe, made with both mutton (goat) and chicken, and, frankly, I far prefer it with mutton—perhaps because that’s the version we ate most of the time when I was growing up. I don’t want to suggest that my recipe is a classic Punjabi recipe, however (though it may well be close); my version is a take on my mother’s version—we are Bengalis but as we lived all over India during my childhood my mother’s repertoire included recipes from various regions, hybridized by and hybridizing her Bengali instincts. My major departure from my mother is in using copious amounts of kasoori methi. Kasoori methi refers to dried fenugreek leaves. It can be found easily in any South Asian grocery: crumbled in with the spinach it adds a smoky, umami’ish depth to the dish. Continue reading
Tandoori chicken is made in a tandoor. I do not have a tandoor. This is, therefore, simply grilled chicken with Indian spices. But let me keep talking about tandoori chicken for a little bit longer anyway.
Tandoori chicken has come to be identified, both outside and inside India, with a particular look (red: usually achieved with food colouring) but all it literally means is “chicken cooked in a tandoor”. Some of the best tandoori chicken I’ve had has not looked anything like what we usually think of when we think of tandoori chicken. This un-tandoori chicken, on the other hand, does. I’ve not used red food colouring (now banned in Delhi and environs) to achieve this resemblance: I’ve instead used copious amounts of deggi/Kashmiri chilli powder, which is very mild and generally used to impart colour; it does also have a mildly smoky flavour (I’m not entirely shallow).
A while ago I posted a recipe for a “hybrid” chicken curry that I more or less improvised. Today I have a recipe for the basic chicken curry that is eaten in homes all across north India. I don’t mean to suggest that there is (only) one identical chicken curry eaten in homes all across north India, only that these curries (and this one) are members of the same closely related family, with a bit of ingredient variation in different regions, and proportions of spices (or even the exact ones used) varying in homes. But basically this is a familiar template for most north Indian home cooks: you heat up oil, add some whole garam masala to give it fragrance; saute onions and then ginger-garlic paste; then add ground spices; then add the meat; then a souring agent (tomatoes, usually); then water; cover and cook till done; serve with rice or parathasa/chapatis. And that is what I am doing here.
“Indian Home Cooking Week” rolls on.
For why I’ve put “curry” in quotes in the title of this recipe see my prefatory comments in this post. And if you’re wondering about the “hybrid” part, it’s not in reference to the ancestry of the chicken I used (though it was probably a hybrid too); it’s in reference to the origins of this recipe. Like yesterday’s salmon recipe this one is also not a regional recipe. It is, however, a very conscious mixing of two approaches, one Bengali and one Malayali. The recipe gets underway more or less as in the style of an excellent recipe from one of my aunts, and is finished in a manner very common in Malayali cooking (Malayali= (of) the Malayalam speaking peoples of Kerala). I don’t usually go about trying to create hybrid or Indo-fusion dishes like this one but this one just works because there’s a strong crossover to begin with.
Let’s get to it.