Saturday, January 29, 2011

Classic Northern Chicken Curry

Whenever I'm in London I try and have Indian food. My friend, Meg, and I went to the Wallace Collection last week and we planned on going to a favorite Indian restaurant afterward. There are many choices of restaurants for Indian food in London, but somehow I usually end up at Noor Jahan in South Kensington. There are white tablecloths on the tables and Indian men serving, who wear white shirts and black bow ties. The food is always great and the staff efficient and accommodating. If you want a dish but don't want it hot or you want it problem. They'll even make a request that is not on the menu, if possible. The lighting in the restaurant was dim so I couldn't get any good pics of Meg's Chicken Curry and my Goan Chicken, but we devoured every last forkful. Last month in London, I bought the Indian cookbook, Indian Food Made Easy, by Anjum Anand. It is from her BBC cooking show by the same name. There are many recipes in it I want to make, including Goan Chicken, but I decided to try the Northern Chicken Curry recipe that looked like the one from Noor Jahan. Anand describes her chicken curry: "To Indians, a curry simply implies a gravied dish. The actual flavours will reflect the region in which you eat it. This recipe is from Punjab and for an Indian this would be enough of a description. We know to expect the robust flavours of onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and garam masala." If you don't have access to garam masala, you can mix your own from a recipe I found here. Once you make your own curry dish you'll look at that bottle of "curry powder" in your cupboard as a masquerader. I make my own chili powder for my chili and will never buy the pre-made kind again. I did make one change in the recipe by substituting crushed tomatoes for the fresh ones. In January, fresh tomatoes are a compromise and canned ones work better. This substitution made my curry appear more tomatoey than Anands, but very similar to Noor Jahans. The restaurant brought the curries to the table in small copper pots with fried white basmati rice topped with golden onion. I served mine in a copper pan with brown basmati rice. However you serve it, you'll be transported to faraway India by the exotic flavors....and that is a good thing in this cold and snowy January.

Classic Northern Chicken Curry
(Adapted from Indian Food Made Easy, by Anjum Anand)

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
7 whole cloves
3 shards of cinnamon stick
7 green cardamom pods
2 small-medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
9 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
salt, to taste
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 scant tablespoons coriander powder
4 medium cooking tomatoes, puréed
1 small chicken, about 1 1/2-2 pounds, skinned and cut up
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups water, or more if needed
1 teaspoon garam masala
handful of fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the cloves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods and fry for about 20 seconds until aromatic.
Be careful that the cardamom pods don't pop in the hot oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes until a rich golden brown, stirring often.

Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for about 40 seconds more before adding the salt, powdered spices and bay leaf and stir for another 10 seconds.
Pour in the tomatoes and cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes until the liquid in the pan has dried off.

Add the chicken and brown over moderate to high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add enough water to almost cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low-moderate until the chicken is cooked through. The slower it cooks, the better it tastes. This takes about 15-20 minutes for small pieces and 25-30 for larger ones.

Stir in the garam masala and coriander leaves just before serving.

Serves 6-8

Notes: Be very careful that the cardamom pods don't pop out of the hot oil, because they can burn you (I had a near miss!) I used split chicken breasts instead of a small whole chicken; that is the cut I prefer. If you substitute canned crushed tomatoes for the fresh, use 1 1/2 cups. I also added a whole bay leaf which wasn't called for in the original recipe.

Noor Jahan
2A Bina Gardens,
off Old Brompton Road
London SW5 OLA
Lunch: 12-2:30pm Dinner: 6:30pm-11:30pm

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