Chickening out

Chicken is simple to cook. If you put your mind to it then a delicious, genuinely Indian chicken dish is not that tough. Of course, there are some basics to cooking chicken Indian style. First, boneless chicken does not work - lose the bones and you'll have a weak tasteless gravy. Second, the skin has a lot of flavor so dont throw it away before cooking - pick it out after the dish is done and throw it away (you need just a little skin though, too much will just make it greasy). Third, dont go to a supermarket chain for your chicken - those look great, cook beautifully but taste of nothing. Shell out twice the money, but its worth getting non-frozen free-range chicken.

The simplest chicken dish I know is a Raj-era dish called Shikari Murgh, or Hunters Chicken. I don't remember how I came by it, and the name - I guess it was cooked by shikaris when on a hunt because it's really quite simple to make. Take some large pieces of chicken, make a few slits in them to let the flavors in deeper, rub with lime juice and chilli powder. Heat a generous quantity of ghee in a wok, put the chickens and some salt in and toss around on medium heat. Then add a little water (maybe a half cup per pound) and cover till the chicken is almost done. Then put on high heat till any released water is nearly dry. Takes about 10 minutes or so depending on the size of the pieces. There are some simple variants of Shikari Murgh take come out pretty good too. One, use pepper instead of chilli powder, but in that case the pepper is added at the end - coarse fresh-ground is the best. A little dried kasoori methi - crushed and added at start - is also a great flavor twist. So is a touch of powdered cinnamon, added at the end.

Thats the simplest chicken dish I know. Very tasty, but it has no gravy and is therefore not really ideal with rice or bread. The next dish is a notch up from Shikari Murgh, and one of my favorite ways to make chicken - its a Bengali variant called Kosha Chicken or chicken slow-cooked without water. It's the cousin of Kosha Mangsho - which uses goat instead of chicken.

Kosha Chicken starts life with some dried red chillies, some cloves, a little cinnamon and a few green cardamoms in the wok in hot oil on a low flame. Be generous with the chilly - its supposed to be spicy. Then add fine-chopped onions, about a cupful per pound. Once the onions are done - transparent, maybe just a little browned - add a generous dollop of ginger garlic paste (about a tablespoon per pound) and toss the thing around till the water from the paste is gone. Then the tomato stage - optional but nice - chopped tomatoes added and the whole thing cooked while stirring till the tomatoes have become mushy jelly - this takes a little time. Finally the chicken - with bone and skin - salt, sugar (bongs always add sugar but you can chicken out) and leave covered for about 30 minutes on a low flame just above a simmer. And the magic ingredient - two medium potatoes cut into halves added along with the chicken. The chicken is done when the potatoes are done - and there should be a thick gravy left that clings to the meat. Thats it!

Ok there are some things you can do to juice it up even more. Jeera and Dhania - the two workhorse condiments of Indian food. Put about half tablespoon of each into hot oil (ghee) in another wok or tarka pan, and keep on low heat till the oil visibly separates out. Then pour it into the chicken, preferably when about two thirds done. Another good touch is a bit of powdered garam masala added at the end.


1 comment:

  1. shikari chicken sounds nice - even for a cooking neophyte (like me). whilst on the subject any idea of how to get the odours of jeera-haldi out of carpeted amreekan homes??? the only prob after such amazing things have been cooked in my house (obviously not by moi) is that I tend to smell like a shikari chicken myself



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