Chicken curry: flavours of my childhood

Since I don’t each much meat, this dish is a bit of a treat in my house. I buy an organic whole chicken about once a week and will either roast or make it into a curry. Most times, it ends up being a roast, though. So my husband gets really excited when there’s a homemade meat curry in the house!

I make it a point of buying a chicken that’s been reared how it should be – without hormones and antibiotics, and in spacious green pastures so it can forage for food naturally. In Fiji, where I’m from, this is the norm. In fact, many families still do things the traditional way: if they haven’t reared their own, they buy a live chicken from a small, family farm – and then slaughter the chicken at home when they are ready to cook it.

Over 20 years ago, we were one of those families. Dad would do ‘the deed’ and then submerge the slaughtered chicken in a huge pot of boiling water so that the feathers could be easily removed. He’d then expertly chop up meat – a skill, I feel, few of us have these days – before mum made it into a wholesome meal. She’d used the whole chicken, including the bones, not just the breast or thighs. It’d be delicious every single time. Sometimes, mum would fry the liver and skin, which we had as the appetiser before the main event.

Now, whenever I eat this dish, my taste buds take me back to the carefree days of my childhood – and I can feel the nourishment, warmth and love I had while growing up.

Recipe

chicken-curry-640x360I always keep the meat ‘on the bone’, as bones intensify the flavour and keep the meat moist. Bones also contain gelatine – which strengthens the immune system and helps with digestion – as well as valuable minerals. Vinegar is used to draw out the minerals from the bones.

Ingredients

  • Whole chicken, size 16 (1.6 kg)
  • 3 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 8 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1½ cinnamon quills (my quills were about 5 cm in length), broken into pieces
  • 1 sprig fresh curry leaves* (about 10–12 leaves)
  • 1 brown onion
  • 30 g piece of fresh ginger
  • 6–8 cloves of garlic
  • 2–3 fresh red chillies (alter quantity to suit your taste)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp (40 mL) olive oil
  • 2 large or 3 small tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (20 mL) good quality apple cider vinegar
  • salt to taste

*You can buy fresh curry leaves and pungent mustard seed oil from Indian grocery stores. If you can’t get your hands on these ingredients, you can make the curry without them. Just remember to increase the olive oil quantity to 2 tablespoons (40 mL).

Method

Skin and chop the chicken into pieces – smaller than you would for a casserole (about 5cm). Keep the chopped meat aside and prepare the spices. Heat a fry pan over medium heat and dry roast the whole spices for about 3 minutes until they’re fragrant. You will need to shake the pan constantly so the spices don’t burn – otherwise, they’ll taste bitter.  Once spices are ready, grind them in a spice grinder or marble mortar and pestle, until finely ground. (You’ll need some serious pounding action if you’re using the latter option.) Next, peel the onion and cut in half before slicing thinly. After that, peel and crush the garlic and ginger, and chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Your preparation work is done.

In a heavy-based pot (about 3–4 litre capacity), heat the oils over a medium flame. When heated, add the curry leaves (be careful, the oil will splatter). Then add the sliced onions and sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the crushed garlic and ginger, and the chopped chillies. Sauté for another 2 minutes and then add the turmeric powder and ground spices. Stir constantly for another minute. The chopped tomatoes will go in next. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally so the mixture doesn’t catch at the bottom of the pot. Now mix in the chicken, making sure each piece gets coated with the spices. You can turn up the heat a bit here, and when it starts to sizzle, add the vinegar. Stir the chicken again and cover with the lid.

Cook over medium heat for about 10–15 minutes, and then add a teaspoon of salt. You will still need to keep an eye on the curry and stir occasionally. If you notice that a lot of liquid has drawn out of the chicken, cover the pot partially and turn up the heat a little so the liquid can evaporate. Stop cooking once the meat is cooked and the sauce is to the consistency of your liking. Check for salt, and add more if needed.

Enjoy with steamed rice or roti. I love having fresh tomato chutney with this curry, too. Oh, and a curry always tastes better the next day – if you’re lucky to have any leftovers!

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