Fiddly Curry

I’d had a craving for a curry on the weekend, so I nipped into my Untried Recipes File in search of something to fit the bill.  A clipping from the Toronto Star about a local lady, Smita Chandra, cookbook author, food writer and cooking instructor, piqued my interest.  The article included recipes for six different chicken curries, and I selected a contender after a brief consideration of the ingredients lists.

I was happily spooning up the long list of spices into the yoghurt and savouring the aroma of the increasingly fragrant concoction when a kick glance at the recipe sheet stopped me dead in my tracks.  My eyes scanned down further, and my heart sank in tandem.  Ahhh.  It was a *marinade* that I was stirring up and not a sauce.  This deliciously scented proto-curry was revealing itself to be a bit of a diva.  Overnight marination?  Crikey.  The next thing you know, it’ll be asking for 400 thread count bedlinen and bowls of M&Ms with all of the brown ones taken out.  Needless to say, there was to be no curry for ol’ Nin that night.  Ruefully covering the chicken breasts in their blanket of sauce, I tucked them into their icebox bed and began scrounging around for something to drown out the bitter taste of disappointment.

Do you ever do that?  Plunge headlong into a recipe, recklessly disregarding time constraints or ingredient or equipment requirements, only to discover yourself kneedeep in a pile of flummox with a half-baked pie in the oven and five minutes to get across town?  Please say it’s not just me.  Him Indoors has a word for it, and I recoil from the very injustice of it.  He even has a face for it, so I know exactly what he’s thinking without him even having to draw breath.  There are plenty of good, descriptive words that he could have chosen – madcap, impetuous, or passionate – but no, he has me dubbed as….scatty.

Granted, I can’t count the number of times that engagements have been postponed or that the hapless H.I. has been forced to wait, car keys in hand and an eye firmly on the clock, while a pan of muffins finished in the oven or a pot of rice that needed just a few minutes more bubbled away on the hob.  Then, of course, there *was* that time that we had to break all land speed records, roaring up the M25 like Crowley in his demonic Bentley, in order to avert a raging inferno because a loaf of bread, henceforth known as the Fireball Seed, had been left to its own devices by yours truly in a hot oven while we went out larking for an afternoon.  Perhaps I ought to be thankful that that’s *all* he calls me!

This curry, therefore, had a strike against its record from the outset.  I realise that it was a strike not of its own creation, and I fully accept that my disappointment was born of my flagrant disregard for the clearly stated method of preparation. However, you know how it is – you just can’t reason with these scatty types.

Running countercurrent to my impetuousity is my inherent laziness; like water, I will quite often follow the path of least resistance.  In this instance, the path had already been beaten and well-worn by Madjur Jaffrey.  Her recipe for “Oven Baked Chicken” from her BBC series, which has been in my rotation for quite a while now, tasted remarkably like this Kashmiri Curry, without the requirement of marination.  If you’re looking for a “curry-in-a-hurry,”  you’d best look in pastures new, for this dish is not something that can be knocked out of the kitchen on a whim.  If you do have the time, patience and inclination, however, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed by this dish.  The chicken was tender, and the sauce, whilst thicker and drier than I was expecting, was bursting with flavour.  I know that, if I hadn’t already been spoiled by MJ, I would have been warbling this recipe’s praises from the highest rooftops and etching it into my Firm Favourites File.  As it happens, I won’t be carrying this one forward, but I do look forward to trying various others once I get my paws on a copy of the good lady Chandra’s cookbook.

Chicken breast cooked in the Kashmiri curry style on a bed of broad bean pilau.

Smita and Sanjeev Chandra’s Kashmiri Chicken Curry

Adapted from a recipe published in the Toronto Star, January 2007.

The marinade:

1 cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt (not low-fat)
3/4 tbsp cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp whole blanched almonds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4  tsp ground black pepper
Several strands saffron
Salt to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
4 skinless chicken breasts (the recipe originally called for 8 thighs)

1/2-inch piece ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 onion, quartered
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 plum tomatoes, puréed (I used fresh ones, peeled but the original called for tinned toms)
Dash lemon juice (optional)

1.  Spoon yogurt into a large mixing bowl.

2.  In a spice or coffee grinder, grind the cardamom, fennel and almonds into powder.  Add to yogurt along with the coriander, ground cumin, crushed cumin, garam masala, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, saffron, salt, cilantro and mint.  Mix the spices and yoghurt together well.  Add the chicken, coating it liberally.  Cover the chicken mixture and refrigerate overnight.

3.  In food processor, mince ginger, garlic and onion.  The blended mixture will be fragrant and foamy.  Set aside until the next step.  (I had to add a tbsp or two of water to get things moving in my machine.)

4.  In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high.  Add the cumin seeds and fry until they sputter – about 30 seconds.  Add the foamy ginger mixture and cook, stirring, for 7 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.  Reduce heat to medium, and then add tomatoes.  Cook, stirring, for another 4 to 5 minutes until moisture has evaporated and the sauce has started to thicken.  Add the chicken along with its marinade and mix well.  Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until the chicken is tender.  Add lemon juice if desired, and adjust seasonings to personal preference.

Serves four.

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