Week Night Yum Yum: Chicken Curry NOT In A Hurry Because Great Things Take Time

Monday, May 3, 2010

One of my favorite dishes of all time is a good, savory chicken curry. This fragrant and spicy stew-like dish is so comforting and at the same time invigorating. And the combination of spices is literally addicting.

When we hear "curry" we immediately think Indian or Thai. And when we hear "chicken curry" we think Indian, right? WRONG! It's actually an English dish that developed in post-colonial England when the English people had great access to Indian spices and curries and married them with English methods of cooking. The end result: a cream (not coconut) based sauce infused with all sorts of exotic spices ranging on the spectrum from heat to sweet, that is not quite as thick as an English stew but not as thin as an Indian masala either. Whatever it is, it's wonderful.

I've had many curries, both here in the states and abroad. They can range from super sweet using raisins and mango chutney in the sauce to more savory that uses more garlic and herbs and spices. My personal favorite curries are on the savory end, so I developed this recipe right after our trip to England a few years ago. Again I use African birds eye pepper for a real shot of heat in this dish (actually, I use around 3/4 tsp of the stuff for an atomic 9.5 level on a 10 scale) but if it's too much for you or you can't find it, feel free to substitute with cayenne or stay away from it all together.

I used to make this dish all the time, but let's be honest - with all that cream and rice and naan, it's not that good for you. So now it's a special occasion treat on a cold rainy night. And call me crazy, that makes it even better.

Chicken Curry with Basmati Rice
3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and washed
1 Tbsp butter + 2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced (or combo garlic-ginger ratio)
2 Tbsp tomato paste (or 1/3 cup diced tomatoes with juice)
kosher salt
1/4 tsp birds eye african pepper
3 Tbsp good quality curry powder + more to taste
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken broth
heavy cream
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
white basmati rice
Take chicken and pat dry well with paper towels. Cut chicken into 1.5-inch cubes and place in a small mixing bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of curry powder and salt to taste, and toss well making sure the chicken is evenly coated by the curry powder. Let stand a half an hour at room temperature. This can be done a day in advance.
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the butter and oil. Crank the heat up to high and add the chicken cubes. Brown on all sides about 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium-high and remove chicken to a plate or bowl using a slotted spoon. Don't worry if the chicken isn't fully cooked; it will go back into the sauce and finish cooking soon.
Add the onion and bell pepper to the pan, sprinkle with some salt to taste, and saute on medium-high heat until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. If the onions and peppers start to burn, lower your heat to medium (cooking time and heat will depend on how thinly or thickly you slice them!). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomato paste and mix to combine. Next add the african pepper, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, bay leaf, and remaining curry powder (to taste) all at once and mix to incorporate. Cook on low-medium heat about 3 minutes, until spices become fragrant. Add the chicken broth and using a wooden spoon, scrape up any "brown bits" that formed at the bottom of the pan. Stir until the tomato paste has dissolved in the broth and add the chicken back in. Bring to a simmer. Cook sauce until liquid has reduced and chicken is very tender, about 30 minutes uncovered.
Once liquid has reduced, it will leave a very concentrated sauce. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper or curry as needed. Don't worry if the spices seem very pungent; the cream will dilute the intensity and even out the flavor. Add the cream to your desired consistency, about a 1/4 cup depending on how thin or thick you like your curry sauce. Mix in and cook on low heat for about 3 minutes so cream can heat through. Taste and adjust with seasoning again if necessary. Top with chopped cilantro.
Remove the bay leaf, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods if you can find any and serve over a bowl of hot basmati rice and with some naan on the side.
My Notes:
For spice you can also always substitute fresh hot peppers, like jalepeno or serrano or Thai chiles. Chop them up fine to your desired level of heat and add them in with the onions and bell peppers.
If you like, you can do a combination minced garlic and ginger as well. Or add a 1/2 tsp of ground ginger if you've got it in your pantry.
This dish can be easily made with shrimp as well. Marinade the raw shrimp in the curry powder as well. No need to sear them first as you don't need to lock in any juices; in fact you'll end up overcooking them. Just begin the sauce with the fresh butter/oil and saute the onions and peppers, building the flavors of the sauce, then go ahead and add your shrimp at the end of cooking once the sauce has reduced. This will ensure sweet and tender shrimp, not disintegrated shadows of their former selves.
Want it vegetarian style? I used to make this dish during Lent all the time. Just add some mushrooms, squash, zucchini and even carrots to the onions-pepper mixture and proceed as normal, substituting with vegetable broth.
Enjoy it!

1 comment:

Amanda Ebner said...

Fabulous - I also love to throw in some okra for gooey yumminess.