Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Spicy Chicken Curry

Cooking,to me, is a weekend luxury, and an integral part of that grand narrative, often described as the "grad student experience". As a rule, I never take the trouble to go through the detailed rituals of Bengali cooking, in weekdays. Weekend evenings, however, are filled with th fragrance of exotic spices, and the smoke alarm lies in the table, its batteries stripped off.
What do I call it, the "chicken kalia", the "chicken bharta", the "chicken korma"? It matters little to a novice like me. Also, not being a "food blogger" technically, I will take the liberty of not classifying the dish into a specialized compartment.
I shall only say, that in this big wide world, I differentiate the tastes of Bengali chicken, into two subclasses. In one class is the "jhol", chicken pieces floating in an enticing watery soup, one that used to be the staple of elaborate Sunday lunches, back in my childhood. Bengali food bloggers often use the name "Robbarer chicken"(The Sunday chicken), which I find immensely nostalgic, and can identify myself readily with the origins of the name. The Sunday chicken is a delicacy, that I have never ever eaten outside, and is actually, an extremely tough dish to make, though you may think on the contrary. It is the simplicity of the dish, and the lack of spices, that makes it tough for a novice cook, who attempts to hide his lack of intution behind the mystifying effect of a concoction of spices, that might entice the indian food novice.
The second, is the chicken with a spicy gravy, one that is relished with a "Roti" or a "Naan" (Indian bread), one which I have ordered in restaurants without fail, since the time I have started eating out.
Still today, the perfect dinner for me, is spicy chicken curry, with Bread.
Hence, the Saturday aventure.Without more ado, let me present to you, my version of the spicy chicken curry. A bachelor, as I am, the quantities are meant for 1 person. Of course, I must caution you, in cooking, the multiplication of spices,does not proceed in a simple linear fashion.


1. Mustard Oil: Chicken needs lots of oil (My weekend cooking is exempt from the general principles of healthy food that I attempt to adhere to)

2. Whole Garam Masala (This is a mixture of spices that my mother used to make at home, but you can find the mixture at any Indian Grocery Store)

3. Onion: 1 (Assuming onions in your kitchen are as big as the ones that abound the supermarkets in Pittsburgh)

4. Ginger Paste

5. Plain Yougurt

6. Minced Garlic (I used the readymade one)

7. Salt

8. Two Split Chicken Breasts

9. Ground Garam Masala (another Indian Store specialty, unless your mom put it in your suitcase while leaving home)

10. Salt

11. Sugar

13. Bay Leaves

14. Green Chilli :1

15. Ground chilli
  • Cut the onion into half. Put half of the onion into the mixer with a little water. Make a paste of the onion.
  • Cut the chicken into medium sized pieces
  • Put the chicken pieces in a bowl. Pour the onion paste into it. Add 2-3 spoons of ginger paste, about half a spoonful of minced garlic (I am not so sure about the garlic, as I have grown up in a non-garlic household. However, I just add a pinch, influenced by the bengali cooking experts on the internet). Add about 4-5 Spoons of Yogurt. 1-1.5 spoon ground Garam Masala and about 1/2 a spoon of turmeric.Add about 1/2 a spoon of ground chilli (Depends on how spicy it is). Cover the chicken and let it marinate for a couple of hours. The more, the merrier. When I plan in advance for guests, I would generally do this process the day before, and let the chicken marinade overnight. However, the bachelors own eating plans are never made days in advance, and hence a couple of hours is the standard advice. In my scant experience, I have found marination to be an extremely useful tip in the chicken cook's bag of tricks. The more you marinade the chicken, the more the juices go into it, it becomes softer, and the less you have to cook it.However, you need not worry if you want to skip the marination part also. If you are in a real hurry, just leave it for 5-10 minutes, while you are arranging the other stuff, and getting the oil to heat up.
  • Okay, part One is over. Come back after two hours. Put 4-5 spoons of mustard oil in the pan and heat.
  • While the oil is heating, slice the other halkf of the onion that is left.
  • Once the oil is smoking hot,Put the bayleaves.
  • Now put the onions into the hot oil. Be careful to stir the onion continously, otherwise the hot oil will cause the onion to burn black. This is one of the most common mistakes of the novice cook. You must cook the onions only till they are transparent. Never let them turn dark brown.
  • Put 1 spoon of sugar. The sugar in US really does not do anything to the taste. In this case,it is advantageous, because I want the sugar only for the color. If its the Indian sugar, add less.
  • As the onion starts turning transparent, add the whole Garam Masala. I just add it with my hand. It is difficult to give an exact estimate, but lets say 1 spoon. Keep stirring it in this whole process. Otherwise, the masala will get burnt spoiling the whole effort.
  • When the onion starts turning brown, add the marinated chicken.I add 1-2 more tablespoons of oil at this point. Since most of the initial oil is now spent in frying the onions and whole garam masala..Voila! you are done. thats it to the "adding ingridients" process. The rest is the painful task of stirring it throughout the cooking procedure.
  • Make sure, throughout the process, the gas is set at high. Now, keep stirring it, coating the chicken with the masalas. I cannot overemphasize the importance of continously stirring the whole concoction, for otherwise, the oil will burn the masala, which will stick to the bottom of the pan, and this will spoil the whole taste ( I have burned it a number of times, and hence, the advice, even at the cost of repetition).
  • Add about 2 spoons of salt (or as per your own estimate).
  • Add one sliced green chilli.
  • The gas should be high, and the pan uncovered, so that the water evaporates. Then, the masala, as well as the chicken will get fried in the oil. The process should continue for a painful 20-25 minutes (Trust me you will get more than compensated when you start eating!). As you keep stirring it continously, you will find the oil is seperating from the spices. This process is called "koshano" and is an integral part of the art of bengali cooking.Its also one of the cook's "Nirvana" moments, when he finds that he has learnt the art to perfection, and without burning the spices, he has managed to get the separation.
  • Keep adding little water when you feel the spices are sticking to the pan. Add water, and let it evaporate, then add a little more water. You should do this a couple of times.
  • If you have not had the chance to marinade the chicken, you can cover it cook for about 10 minutes, so that the chicken gets cooked properly.
  • Then remove the cover, and let the water evaporate, so that you are left only with a thick gravy.
  • Remove the pan from the stove.
  • The best way to eat the dish, as I said, is with Naan, or Roti.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Issues and Non Issues

So is this a new trend in this year's elections?
Or is it my memory turning rusty?

First there was Varun Gandhi, the neglected stepson of the Gandhi family, playing hard to make it to the frontpages. Then there was the non descript journalist from some mediocre Hindi daily, hurling shoes at Chidambaram in the Bush way. There's Narendra Modi discussing some shit about "Budiyas" and "Gudiyas", which I have not even cared to listen to.

Elections in India, just as in other parts of the world, have always been fought over fancy issues, over utter non issues. But, this, somehow, is carrying politics beyond levels of ridicule.

The country has a lot on its plate. There is an Indian economy that is fighting its own battles over an inclusive model of development, and is being further tested by the recession, that is shaking the very foundations of the free market. Then, there is the issue of security, one which the BJP, one would have thought, would aggressively campaign about.
However, these campaigns have been a damp squib. What has taken centerstage, rather, is the Advani-Manmohan battle of words, or the shoe throwing tantrum.

One wonders, what happened to serious democracy?
When cricket has reduced itself to IPL, has the election also reduced itself to a few fast food'esqe news bytes on the front page?