Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shahi Korma: Chicken curry in cashew cream

A particularly rich curry from northwest India and from Pakistan is Shahi Korma. "Shah" meant king or emperor, and thus this particular dish is "royal." Kormas, named for a Persian word for similar dishes, are asociated with Muslim cuisine, particularly "Mughlai" cuisine, food from the Mughal Empire.

A korma is a creamy, light-colored stew with little red color from either peppers or tomato. Although rich with aromatic spices, these dishes are typically not pepper hot. Ground cashews plus cream often finish the dish, but ground almonds or, in the south of India, coconut are also sometimes cooked into kormas.

Chicken korma is one of the more common versions of the dish and, other than the fish version, is the fastest cooking.

Coarsely cut cilantro is a frequent garnish.

Serves six with rice

Shahi Korma with Chicken and Cashew Cream

2 medium-large onions, diced
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/4 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, most seeds removed, minced
4 whole cardamoms
2 tablespoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup water
1 medium-large potato, peeled and in 1-inch cubes
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons ground cashews (cashew butter) whisked with 3/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy cream
Coarsely cut cilantro for garnish

Dice onions and begin frying them with the oil in large pot over medium heat. Stir often, scraping bottom of pot.

Prepare ginger, garlic and hot peppers, mincing them finely together. Measure ground spices into a small bowl. Peel and cube potatoes, and keep them in water.

Trim excess fat and tough parts from chicken. Cut chicken with the grain into 1-inch wide strips.

When onions are golden brown, reduce heat. Fry in the whole cardamoms plus the ginger-garlic-pepper mixture for 2 minutes. Add ground spices, and stir and fry gently for one minute. Stir in 1/2 cup water.

Add potatoes, and simmer, stirring them frequently, adding a little water to keep mixture moist, until becoming tender (test with toothpick).

Add chicken plus salt. Raise the heat to medium hot. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, until chicken has fully changed color. Add a little water as needed to keep mixture moist but not wet. Simmer covered, stirring frequently, 10 minutes.

Whisk cashews and water until smooth. Then stir mixture into chicken. Bring to a gentle boil.

Stir in cream and bring back just until hot. Taste and add salt as needed.

Dust generously with chopped cilantro when served.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pita Bread or Pizza Crust

For a "Book and Cook" program on Ancient Greece that my daughter Anna ran for my grandson August and several of his friends this summer, I had the kids make pita bread in one of the cook sessions.

I standardized a bread recipe based on what my Turkish friends at Decatur's Café Istanbul make as their flat bread. Their approach was, in turn, based on a pizza crust method. The method includes proofing in a refrigerator at least 24 hours.

The small pita breads were shaped by the kids from dough I had prepped the previous day. The breads were a success, other than not being as regular and round as they might be. The kids dipped them in olive oil that had been seasoned with minced garlic and herbs, and ate them along with Kalamata olives and feta cheese.

Several weeks later, I used the bread recipe for a "workshop" on pizza (and fresh pasta). It made an excellent crust. The pizza crust was then successfully made again, from mixing and kneading to proofing to shaping, topping and baking, by a teenage boy who had been part of the workshop.

Last week I prepared the pita bread dough again for shaping by a group of new University of Georgia students at a quasi-educational cultural class at our restaurant as part of their summer orientation program. They ate it with homemade hummus and tzadziki sauce, olives, feta cheese and grapes.

The method I'm showing is for pita. However, the same dough topped with tomato sauce, cheese and other toppings can be used for pizza.

Pita Bread (or Pizza Dough)

[Make the dough the day before cooking]

2-3/4 cups flour, half of it all-purpose flour, half bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rapid dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water

In large bowl (or in bowl of mixer fitted with bread hook) mix flour, salt and yeast.

Add oil and water. Mix with fork (or bread hook) around and around until moistened. With hand (or bread hook) continue to mix about five minutes, kneading dough in bowl. If sticky, dust with a little flour. Dough will pull away from bowl and form a ball that is not sticky.

For pita bread, divide dough into 8 equal pieces, for pizza only into 2 pieces. Roll each piece with hands into a ball and place it in its own zip-lock plastic bag.

Store overnight or longer in refrigerator to proof (rise).

When ready to bake, let bagged dough warm 15 minutes out of refrigerator.

Set oven for 400 degrees.

Remove dough from its bag onto floured work surface. Flatten dough with hands, dusting often with flour. Then either roll it or flatten it out till thin with hands, squeezing and stretching it gently to even out the edges and make it round.

Place on lightly floured baking sheet -- the best has small perforations to allow steam to escape . (For pizza, smear with sauce and sprinkle with cheese and desired toppings.)

Bake quickly on top shelf in oven, until browning lightly (darker golden for pizza).

Serve warm. For pita, brush with olive oil if desired.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Turning leftover beer into gourmet fare

Published Wednesday, May 25, 2011 in the Athens Banner-Herald

My nephew Russell, who recently moved to Athens, and who even more recently turned 21, fulfilled a fantasy at his birthday party - a small keg to moisten the palates of his family, friends and fellow musicians. Although he and his friends played Celtic and traditional music late into the night, the next morning found plenty of beer still in the keg.

Unrelatedly, while researching for a column on beer cookery (Athens Banner-Herald, March 2), I had encountered a traditional beer-based specialty from Alsace, the Germanic region of Eastern France across the Rhine from Germany. I then tasted that dish, "Poulet à la Bière" (literally, chicken in beer), at Café Alsace, a small, authentic restaurant in Decatur run by an Alsatian couple.

Now suddenly with plenty of beer available, Poulet la Bière reemerged in my consciousness as it, in turn, began to clear after the party.

Trying several approaches to reproducing the dish I had enjoyed, I settled on a boneless version rather than the more typical whole leg style. The result passed muster with family guinea pigs, including Russell. It also went quite well with a freshly tapped glass of leftover party beer.

The typical beer for cooking this dish would be a pale lager, fairly low on hops. In France, that would likely be "Kronenbourg 1664," which is brewed in the heart of Alsace. A workable Athens substitute would be Terrapin Golden Ale. The one I used, successfully, was Miller High Life, the beer from the party.

This dish typically would be served with buttered egg noodles, particularly homemade "spaetzle" noodles, a specialty of Alsace and the nearby regions of Germany and Switzerland.

While beer is considered the de rigueur drink for beer-based dishes, certain white wines also could serve with this one.

These include (dry) Riesling, Grüner Veltliner (from Austria), and Albariño, a Spanish wine whose ancestral grapes were introduced many centuries ago from the Rhine Valley, apparently by German or French monks. But those wines can be pricey. Beer is fine.

Chicken braised in Beer: Poulet a la Bière

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat or olive oil
1 medium-large onion, diced
2 large sticks celery, in 1/2-inch slices
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups (11/2 12-ounce bottles) low-hop lager-type beer
3 medium carrots, peeled, in 1/2-inch rounds
2-inch strip orange zest
3-inch sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
Minced parsley for garnish

Trim excess fat and tough parts from chicken. (Render fat in cooking pot for flavor; save 2 tablespoons and discard cracklings.)

Cut each chicken thigh into 3 roughly equal pieces. Sprinkle both sides with mixture of 1 teaspoon salt plus the pepper and nutmeg.

Fry chicken in rendered chicken fat or olive oil, turning frequently and scraping pot, until color fully changes. Add onions and celery, and stir and fry until onions soften. Add garlic and fry 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Add beer, carrots, orange zest, rosemary, bay leaves plus 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Simmer, uncovered, until chicken and carrots are tender, stirring from time to time. Add a little water if liquid begins drying down.

Taste, and add salt if needed. Remove whole seasonings.

Stir in cream. Bring back just to a bubble.

Serve dusted with minced parsley.

The recipe serves six. Accompany with buttered noodles or potatoes.