Sunday, November 09, 2008

North Indian Chicken and Spinach Curry: Saag Murgh

Richly flavored but too hot characterizes the curries of northwestern India, notably the Punjab. These are probably the most popular curries among international enthusiasts of Indian cuisine. At our deli in Athens we make a vegetarian Punjabi dish of the fresh cheese 'paneer' in a thick, aromatic curry gravy with spinach. The recipe I'm showing below is the chicken version of this spinach-enhanced dish, saag murgh. Saag applies to a variety of greens, not just spinach; palak is a similar term used at Indian restaurants. Chicken is more readily available and less expensive than paneer. For our business in Athens, I have to buy paneer in Atlanta. But either way, this is a rich, wonderfully fragrant curry.

Chicken thigh is by far the superior cut for curries. The meat is richer in flavor and texture and does not dry out like chicken breast. In my experience and reading, no Indian cooking uses the skin on chicken. (If you buy chicken with skin, strip it off and simmer it up in water with any other trimmings or bones, skim off the grease, and you have chicken broth for freezing for other cooking.) The spinach for saag murgh is most simply frozen chopped spinach from the supermarket. If you can get fresh spinach, don't waste it on stewing. Wash it well to get all the sand out, and stir-fry it with a little butter or olive oil and salt, and enjoy it as a delicate vegetable.

This curry may seem more complicated to make than most people would wish. But to me it's worth it. I wanted to record it, since I'm pleased with the way my recipe, distilled from cooking over many years, worked out. Maybe one of my kids will make it when they want one of my curries. Or maybe someone else will try it who likes great curries you can usually only get at Indian restaurants.

The recipe serves six. It should be accompanied by unsalted basmati rice. Dust the rice, if desired, with a few whole cumin seeds toasted until fragrant in a dry frying pan. Serve yogurt, or 'raita' (my blog posting of 4/25/08), as a condiment.

While the majority of Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, abstain from alcoholic drink, good beer is made in India and can accompany curries. For me a not-too-expensive red wine, especially spicy ones like a Garnacha from Spain or a French Côtes du Rhône (same grape, but called 'Grenache' in French), goes well with hearty meat curries. But other people often go for slightly sweet fragrant white varieties, like Riesling.

Chicken Curry with Spinach, Saag Murgh Tim

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 pounds chicken thigh, boneless and skinless, or 3 pounds thigh with skin and bones
2 tablespoons lime juice or 5 teaspoons vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground tumeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapoon cayenne
2 medium-large onions
1 tablespoon butter plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 whole stick of cinnamon
4 whole cardamoms
4 whole cloves
1-inch length of thick ginger
2 large cloves garlic
5 teaspoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup (1 small can) evaporated (not sweetened) milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish

Thaw frozen spinach, out of its box and on a plate, either on the counter for several hours or defrosted in the microwave. When thawed, drain spinach in a colander.

If using boneless, skinless chicken, cut away tough parts and excess fat. Cut each thigh into 3 to 4 strips. For thigh with skin and bone, strip away skin, tough parts, and excess fat (simmer them with water to make broth for other use, skimming off the grease). Cut thigh across the bone using a heavy knife or cleaver. If pieces are large, cut into two through the flesh. Marinate chicken with lime juice or vinegar, 1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.

Peel and chop onions. Fry in heavy pot in butter and oil, adding whole spices. Stir frequently and fry until onion is golden. Meanwhile finely mince ginger and garlic, or pound them in a mortar. When onions are cooked, reduce heat and fry in ginger and garlic for 2 minutes. Add ground spices and fry 1 minute, stirring very frequently (the mixture is dry). Stir in tomato paste and fry 1 minute, mixing well.

Add marinated chicken, raise heat and, stirring frequently, fry until the color has changed on all sides. Squeeze the thawed spinach to get out part of the juices. Add spinach to chicken and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on cut. Stir in evaporated milk plus water. Bring back just to a simmer. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed to make it very slightly salty (spinach and chicken will soak up some more). Stir in half the chopped cilantro and remove from the heat.

The curry can be served now, or chilled and reheated for serving later. Before serving, taste and add salt if needed. Sprinkle with reserved chopped cilantro.


Blogger Mandira Pandey said...

Hey nice recipe, I liked it

9:50 PM  

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