Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chicken Curry: Time-Life's 'Cooking of India'

I recall sifting through my parent's library as I was growing up, and discovering the Time-Life 'Foods of the World', a fabulous collection of cookbooks that provided an extensive overview of many of the world's major cuisines, written by some of the most celebrated food writers of the time. I adored going through the editions, which ranged from The Cooking of Provincial France by M.F.K. Fisher, Michael Field and Julia Child, The Cooking of Italy by Waverley Root and The Cooking of the British Isles by Adrian Bailey.

Each edition came in two parts: a large full-colour hardcover edition that provided a historical/cultural overview of each region, and a smaller spiral bound booklet full of wonderful recipes. The volumes were inspiring, and still are. I often refer to my little recipe books, but my favourite cookbook of the series was The Cooking of India, by Santha Rama Rau. Although I generally turn to Madhur Jaffrey when I cook Indian cuisine, this recipe for Chicken Curry from Time-Life, is a keeper. Simple, easy to prepare and absolutely delicious this dish is intoxicatingly fragrant with just touch of heat, and one of my core recipes for anytime of the year. 

Although I generally use chicken breasts for this Chicken Curry recipe, you can use chicken thighs or simply cut up a whole chicken, whatever is most convenient. Onions, garlic and ginger are sautéed in olive oil until golden brown, then an aromatic mixture of cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne and fennel seed are added, producing an enticing and intoxicating aroma as they cook. 

Diced onions, garlic and ginger sautéed in olive oil with an aromatic mixture of 
cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne and fennel seeds

Chopped tomatoes, yogurt and cilantro are then added to the sauce, producing a rich fragrant gravy into which the chicken pieces are braised until cooked. Served with basmati rice, this Chicken Curry is without a doubt one of my favourite curries — easy, delicious and it smells amazing!

Chicken Curry (Murg Kari)
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy of Time-Life 'The Cooking of India'

2 1/2 lb chicken breasts, boned and skinned
2 1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp vegetable, or olive oil
6 oz. finely chopped onions
2 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
6 tbsp water
1 lb can tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
6 tbsp plain yogurt

Cut up the chicken breasts into smaller pieces, pat dry and sprinkle with salt. Then heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet, until water  flicked into it splutters instantly. Add the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until each piece is white and fairly firm. Transfer the chicken to plate.

Add the onions, garlic and ginger to the oil remaining in the pan and sauté for about 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions are soft and golden brown. Reduce the heat to low, add the cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, fennel and 1 tablespoon of water, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Stir in the tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro, the yogurt and the remaining teaspoon of salt.

Increase the heat to medium and add the chicken plus any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Pour in the rest of the water. Bring to a boil, turning the chicken over in the sauce to coat the pieces evenly. Sprinkle the top with garam masala and the rest of the fresh cilantro.. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is tender but not falling apart.

To serve, arrange the chicken attractively on a heated dish, pour the remaining sauce over top, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. I usually accompany the Chicken Curry with steamed basmati rice and papadums.