It’s August 5th, 2019: my mom’s birthday. It also means that in 29 days, I’ll be in DC attending my Pre-Departure Orientation before spending nine months in Morocco. Every year, on August 5th, it’s a family tradition to celebrate my mother’s birthday with goat curry. My grandparents visit us each summer, and as much as I look forward to delicious food each year, this is the first year I’ve had some time to learn how to make my favorite dishes. Although goat curry is definitely advanced for me, this summer I learned how to make chicken curry, which is another family favorite, and I wanted to share this special recipe.
It’s starting to occur to me that I won’t just miss my home and family while abroad, but I’ll also miss the small things I take for granted as part of my Indian-American life. Things like speaking in Hindi every day, blasting Punjabi music in the car, nodding my head from side to side in a way that only Desis can understand (according to Wikipedia, it’s called a “Head Bobble” ??), laughing about Desi memes with brown friends, and of course, the food. The FOOD. As much as I can’t wait to learn about Moroccan cuisine, I know that nine months will leave me deprived of my favorite dishes such as curry, biryani, and aloo tikki, and will make me long for comfort foods like daal, and even sabzi.
The recipe I’d like to share for my mom’s birthday is my grandmother’s genius method of cooking chicken curry, and I’m so lucky to have learned it from her. I spent a July afternoon following her instructions carefully, writing everything down, and taking pictures of (almost) every step, because this is something I definitely don’t want to forget. Not only did I learn how to make a delicious dish, I also forced my grandmother to speak to me in Punjabi for part of the time, so I picked up some new words as well! My grandmother has what we call “haat main swaad” or “flavor in her hands.” Even though my curry won’t nearly be as good as hers any time soon, I’m so happy I finally know her secrets, and I’m excited to share them today.
So without further ado, here is a chicken curry recipe, in honor of my mother, my grandmother, my family, and my Desi culture. ❤
Begin by washing 2.5 pounds of chicken and leaving it in a colander to drain. We got skinless chicken thigh pieces with bones from a local Indian supermarket.
Place all the required spices on a plate for later use: turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin, garam masala, kasoori methi, some cinnamon sticks, a few black peppercorns, four black cardamoms, two cloves, and a bay leaf.
Chop two red onions into large pieces, just small enough that they can be blended.
Blend the onion pieces so that they have the consistency of a chunky paste. If you blend too much, it will become too watery, making the cooking process difficult.
Set the onion paste aside, and chop one tomato, along with five cloves of garlic, an inch of ginger, and a green chili, although the spice can be adjusted to taste. Once again, chop the tomato so that they can be blended with ease.
Blend the previous vegetables along with two tablespoons of tomato puree, which helps with the consistency, color, and taste. Set aside the paste once blended.
Using paper towels, pat the chicken pieces dry to get rid of any extra water.
At this point, we will lightly fry the chicken pieces, so that they maintain their structure and don’t disintegrate later in the process. Heat up approximately half a cup of cooking oil with a teaspoon of salt. Before adding all the chicken, dip a small piece in the oil to see if it is hot enough. The oil will bubble if the heat is sufficient.
Fry the chicken for a few minutes until the soft, pink outside turns white and harder. It will still be uncooked from the inside, but it will be cooked in later stages of the recipe.
After removing the chicken and placing it in a separate container, make sure to keep the oil and water released by the chicken in the frying process. It has a nice flavor that will enhance the curry.
Place the oil and water from the previous step in a saucepan and add the onion puree. Fry the mixture and stir occasionally (so that it doesn’t stick to the pan), until the purple onion mix becomes brown.
Add in all the spices that were set aside at the beginning of the process, except for the kasoori methi, which will be included later.
Continue frying the contents of the pan until the oil begins to separate. You will be able to see the oil being released at the edges of the onion/spice mix.
Slowly add the pureed tomato mixture to the saucepan, and continue frying. Once again, fry until oil is released from the mixture, and when the mixture falls off of the spoon easily.
Add in the chicken pieces and fry for some time. Then, add two cups of water and continue the cooking process. Make sure to scrape the sides periodically so that you are not losing any of the masala on the edges of the pan.
Boil the curry for two to three minutes, until the oil starts separating. As usual, this is the sign you should look for before moving on to the next step. After this, crush the kasoori methi with your hands and mix it in. Add salt to taste, and fry for a few more minutes until the oil separates and the chicken is a brown-yellow color. The salt can be readjusted before serving the curry.
Before serving, top the curry with cilantro. On the side, slice some green chili and onion sprinkled with lemon juice and salt; this really brings out the flavor of the curry. Enjoy with your favorite naan! Bon appétit, or as they say in Jordan, “sa7tein: may your health double!”