I’ve posted about this dish before, but it’s my habit to keep cooking dishes I enjoy until I really understand them. Plus no pictures last time.
This is another recipe from my favorite Indian food region, Kerala. More specifically, it comes from the centuries-old Jewish community in Cochin, a religiously tolerant city that was an independent “princely state” under the British and only joined the rest of India in 1947. Not many Cochin Jews still live there, apparently, since they’ve migrated to Israel. This was a Sabbath dish, and was collected by Madhur Jaffrey from the Kodar family for her 1985 cookbook, A Taste Of India (which is her best so far as I’m concerned).
I said this chicken wasn’t spicy when I made it before; since then, I’ve kicked up both the cayenne and the green chiles and it’s far superior. The basic flavor is bitter from the chiles, then sour from the tamarind, and finally sweet/salty from the chicken… with the herbal aromas of the curry leaves.
As with many Keralan dishes, you start by sizzling the curry leaves (highly aromatic, slightly bitter leaves of the kari tree, nothing to do with Indian “curries”) in hot oil. You then stir and fry shallots, garlic, ginger and green chiles in the curry-leaf flavored oil until browned (above).
You then take a swig of a modish, Eric Asimov-approved Loire non-classified red such as Le Cousin.
You then add tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes! I used crappy off-the-vine ones from the supermarket – you know, the ones that look good and have zero taste. I would have done better with canned San Marzano. Though I think the main role of the tomatoes in this dish is to add color and acidity, so it’s not a big deal.
Now add the chicken. Good chicken is a must! In this part of this country, your best bet is Murray’s. Far superior to Bell & Evans. Of course, if you live near a farm or a good green market, you may be able to better still. For Indian food, chicken is always skinned, so that the meat absorbs the flavors of the sauce better. The bone is always left in, which of course adds depth and intensity to the flavor. You do have to hack the unboned pieces up so that they’re about half a thigh (as above), and a cleaver would be ideal for that, but I don’t have a cleaver so I use my chef’s knife. I need to get a cleaver.
You saute the chicken briefly with the shallot-chili-tomato mixture, plus salt, turmeric and cayenne pepper, add water, cover tightly, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once during that time. The picture above is from the stirring once, so about halfway through. Click on the picture to peer deeply into the pot.
Finally, you add some MORE slivers of green chile, cover again, cook for 5 minutes, and then add some tamarind which you have earlier marinated and strained… this is the sour element. You then cook, uncovered, for another 10 minutes to reduce. I serve it with basmati rice and a pungent vegetable dish.