Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Brightly Flavored Chicken Curry

Way back, when I was single and before I lived in Asia, an Indian colleague, Pravan, invited me frequently to dinner with his family. Indu, his wife, was a brilliant cook.

Her seasonings were amazing, even when she made a chicken curry. She was a strict vegetarian, but would cook chicken for her family. That meant getting her Thai neighbor to cut the bird -- she couldn't face it -- and estimating her spices and salt right because she would not taste something with meat in it.

She taught me to make my first real curry, from scratch, with no premixed spice powders. I've since had fairly extensive exposure to Indian cooking, in Southeast Asia, in India and Pakistan, and in North America.

My seasonings have become more intense than Indu's, who being Gujarati had a delicate hand with aromatic spices and chilies. But other than the more Punjabi style of seasoning, the dish below is what I first enjoyed at those friends' home.

Split chicken breast halves are often on sale at the supermarket, and are generally economical. Spices are cheapest at natural food stores.

The recipe makes enough for six, probably with leftovers.

I serve this with rice. Indu made her own chapatis, which require considerable skill and experience.

Chicken Curry, North Indian Style

3 pounds split chicken breasts, with skin and bone
2 medium onions, chopped
1/4 cup canola oil -- not olive
8 whole cardamoms
8 whole cloves
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled, sliced thin, stacked and shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup part-skim yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

Cut off excess fat and part of skin from chicken. With sharp heavy knife or cleaver, cut chicken through the bone into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.

In heavy pan, gently fry onion, cardamoms and cloves in oil, stirring frequently, until onion starts to turn golden.

Add ginger and garlic. Fry 1 minute, stirring. Add dry spices. Fry gently, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Add yogurt, water and salt. Mix and simmer a minute.

Add chicken. Over low heat, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, cook until chicken loses raw color. The gravy will be thick, but will thin as the chicken cooks further. Simmer, covered, stirring every few minutes, until chicken is tender, 30-35 minutes.

Like all curries, this dish is richer if made in advance and reheated to serve.

Serve with unsalted, or very lightly salted basmati rice. If desired, sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

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