Chicken Curry 2.0: The sequel worth waiting for…May 18, 2007
Oftentimes when you’re waiting — probably impatiently — for some or other event to unfold, that wiseacre to your left will intone the stale adage, “Good things come to those who wait.”
It doesn’t help that it’s sometimes true. Take this curry, for example. I had become accustomed to working all day and coming home to find my house filled with the pleasant aromas of the dinner I was about to throw down my gullet. And, as if by magic, by the time I had settled in, said meal was sitting on the table, ready to eat. Not anymore.
Now that I am enjoying my maternity leave and caring for my son at home, I find that I am tortured by the process of my husband preparing dinner. Especially this curry. Instead of tucking into meals mere moments after walking in and being seduced by their aromas, I am now made to wait — impatiently — as the dish is built and lovingly prepared. Oh, the smells. Oh, the torture.
This meal includes a spate of marinating (which, thankfully doesn’t give off tempting odors), then grilling (which does), then roasting spices (which really, really does), and then building a gravy (yes, even more smells).
By the time this curry is ready to serve, yours truly is truly frantic. So, the only disadvantage to this dish is that when it’s ready, you — and any guests subjected to its preparation — may be too tempted to woof it down in ravenous delight, rather than savoring its subtle flavors.
Unfortunately, I myself find this to be true. That’s why I always determine to have two helpings: One to eat, and one to enjoy. I suggest you do the same.
I admit it. I’m obsessed. If you’ve had dinner with me in the past five years and got me talking about cooking, I’ve more than likely said something like, “There is something about Indian food… I just want to know what restaurants know that makes theirs so much better than mine.”
Another clear sign of an obsession: I wake up in the middle of the night craving good Indian food. To give you an idea how bad it is, this is the second version of this recipe we’ve posted. We did the earlier post, “Chicken Curry and Mind Control” on the same topic. Yet, I wanted to keep working on it.
Furthermore, I have a very small cookbook collection, 15 or so books. Of those, there are two books that deal just with Indian food. I’ve purused these books with a religious zealotry, only to discover that there is something lost between those pages and my results. Indeed, I’ve been compelled to look through the recipes of other Indian cookbooks trying to divine some secret I’ve missed.
In essence, I want culinary satisfaction now. I don’t want discussion about the things I missed, spices I don’t have, or rationalities in the cuisine. I want amazing curry. End of discussion.
The first breakthrough came last fall when we went to California to visit my wife’s paternal grandparents. They are fascinating people who love to eat. So when her grandfather offered to teach me his curry recipe, I was more than happy to learn. His recipe is actually a Malaysian-style curry, which he learned after he and his wife fled China during the Cultural Revolution. Focusing on coconut milk and good curry powder, the recipe is amazingly good and it’s reflected primarily in the earlier post.
And yet… there was something missing. The flavor was not developed the way I wanted. There was a lack of depth. There wasn’t that wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-start-cooking feeling that I wanted in my recipe.
The next breakthrough came not long after Jack was born. Both my wife and I were craving Indian food, but commiserating that there was no place nearby with great takeout. I drove out of my way to try a new place rumored to be good, but during the long car ride it clicked — the tandoor. For those who don’t know, a tandoor is a round oven in which food is cooked over charcoal and intense heat. The result gives Indian cuisine a signature flavor. I don’t have a tandoor (though you can add it to my list of things I want for my next kitchen), but I do have something that has intense heat — my grill.
This insight has changed everything. I started to realize that many dishes in Indian restaurants are not the one-pot cooking I presented in a previous post, but are two separate dishes — a protein and a gravy. They require separate construction and then unification.
Since changing my mindset, there has been a startling improvement. First, I focused on making the chicken delicious. And it is. The chicken is so good that I have a tough time not eating it before I’ve added to the gravy. Speaking of the gravy: It’s full of flavor and the complexity that I find so wonderful about curry. I also added new elements — cashews and golden raisins — to enhance the tropical flavors of the coconut milk. When these flavors blend, I feel they unite to become one of the most pleasing dishes I’ve posted here on the blog.
Unfortunately, this new approach means a serious stretching of the prep time. But, I want satisfaction, and sometimes I’m willing to go to the extra mile for it. The recipe has lots of ingredients, lots of steps, but it is so fundamentally satisfying that I have a tough time complaining while I’m cooking.
Finally, some notes on the recipe. I used chicken thighs. I prefer them because you can cook the heck out of them with little damage and I feel they have more flavor. If you have only breast meat, feel free to substitute. I would recommend Greek yogurt if you can get it. I think tangier yogurts, such as Greek yogurt, add more zing to the recipe versus the common stuff. I use serrano peppers because I like their flavor better for this sort of dish, but feel free to substitute jalapeños if you can’t find them. Lastly, I tend to use a white wine that has more of a fruity flavor profile. I think it adds another depth that enhances the sweetness in the coconut milk.
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 1/2 to 2 lbs . chicken thighs (boneless & skinless)
1/2 large onion (diced)
1 1/2 cups yogurt
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garam masala
3 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 tbsp. fresh ginger (minced)
1 serrano pepper (diced)
14 oz. can coconut milk
1 large onion (diced)
2 serrano peppers (diced)
1 cup cashews
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 bamboo skewers
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the yogurt marinade. Cut the thigh pieces into three to four larger than bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl and stir until all pieces are covered in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour to overnight. At this point, I place my bamboo skewers in water to soak to prevent burning on the grill later.
2. Light the grill and heat to medium high, if gas-powered. Remove the chicken from the bowl and skewer. Oil the grates with vegetable oil or oil spray and then add the chicken to the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes and then flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest while preparing the gravy.
3. Mix together the spice mix in a small dish.
4. In a large pot over medium high heat, add the butter and let it froth and bubble. Once it has stopped, add the olive oil and let heat for about 30 seconds. Add the spice mix and stir for 30 seconds. Turn down the heat to medium. Add the onions and ginger and then salt liberally. Cook for about 6 minutes stir or until the onions begin to soften. Add the cashews, peppers and garlic and cook for another 6 minutes.
5. Time to build up the gravy. Add the wine and stir, clearing the bottom of the pan of any baked-on bits (a.k.a. fond). Continue to cook for 4 minutes or until the wine has mostly reduced. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, raisins and cilantro and cover. At this point, I typically start my rice and let it cook while I let the dish finish off simmering together. Otherwise, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Serve hot over rice. Enjoy.