Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Indian Royal Chicken with Yogurt, Almonds & Sultanas

Dehli born cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey is regarded by many as a world authority on Indian food. Famed both for her bestselling Indian cookbooks and respected acting career, Madhur Jaffrey's recipes have inspired me for years — many of them so familiar to me that they've become a part of my standard culinary repertoire. This regal Rajasthani recipe for Shahi Murg, or Royal Chicken, is from Madhur Jaffrey's cookbook, Quick & Easy Indian Cooking.

Madhur Jaffrey

With more than 70,000 copies sold since it was originally published in 1996, this bestselling cookbook features a tantalizing array of over 70 delicious recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, with dishes like Lamb Vindaloo and Red Lentil Tarka Daal to Gingery Cauliflower Soup, Onion Fritters and of course Madhur's silken Royal Chicken Cooked in Yogurt.

Quick & Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

In 2006 she published her memoir of childhood, Climbing the Mango Trees. Part biography, part food memoir, this wonderful book contains black and white family photographs and tells of Madhur Jaffrey’s childhood in India around the time of Partition, and shares many stories of the wonderful foods the family enjoyed. Many anecdotes in the book centre on the smells and flavours that take Jaffrey back to her childhood, such as the tart but spicy flavour of unripe mango, eaten straight from the tree and dipped in salt, pepper, red chillies or roasted cumin. 

Part biography, part food memoir, 
Climbing the Mango Trees, by Madhur Jaffrey

At the back of the book are 32 treasured family recipes such as Potatoes with Tomatoes, Lamb with Spinach, Maya’s Meat with Potatoes, Bimla’s Chicken Curry, Everyday Cauliflower, Carrots with Fenugreek Greens, Savoury Biscuits Studded with Cumin Seeds and Fresh Limeade. A wonderful book, this memoir is both an enormously appealing account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to prompt memory, vividly bringing to life a lost time and place. Ironically, Jaffrey didn't cook at all as a child growing up in Delhi and only became interested when she moved to London as a young woman, studying to become a classically trained actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She first won acclaim playing a diva-esque Bollywood star in the 1965 Merchant Ivory movie Shakespeare Wallah. In the film, Jaffrey played Manjula, who was a beautiful, haughty and glamorous movie queen. 

Merchant Ivory's 1965 'Shakespeare Wallah' featuring Madhur Jaffrey, 
who plays an arrogant Indian movie queen to perfection

It was at this time that homesick for her mother's home cooking, Jaffrey began a sort of culinary correspondence, writing letters to her mother in Delhi asking for cooking advice, and receiving recipes in return. In 1966, the New York Times ran a story by Craig Claiborne, called 'Indian Actress is a Star in the Kitchen Too.' The piece discussed Jaffrey's work as both cook and food writer, achievements that she'd never expected. "I've had trouble taking it seriously," she says. "But I consider both of them to be my professions now. One was the one I sought and studied for, and the other dropped from heaven." And thank goodness it did, for in 1966, Jaffrey got a book contract to publish her first cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, and has never looked back.

Madhur's Royal Chicken with Yogurt

Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey

2 1/2 cups plain Greek yoghurt (use full fat yogurt as low fat will curdle)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder, or to taste
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 lb chicken, cut into serving portions, or just breasts and/or thighs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
16 cardamom pods
12 cloves
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
6 bay leaves
5 tbsp blanched, slivered almonds
5 tbsp sultanas
basmati rice, optional as accompaniment

Put the yoghurt into a bowl and beat it lightly until it is smooth and creamy. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some black pepper, cumin, coriander, chilli powder and cilantro. Mix and set aside.
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces on both sides using the remaining salt. Pour the oil in a wide non-stick pan and set over medium–high heat. When hot, put in the cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Stir once and then add some of the chicken pieces, but only as many as the pan will hold easily in a single layer. Brown on both sides and remove to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Put the almonds and sultanas into the same hot oil, and stir quickly. The almonds should turn golden and the sultanas should plump up, which will happen very fast. Now return the chicken and its accumulated juices to the pan. Stir in the seasoned yoghurt and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice during this time. Remove the cover, turn the heat up a bit and reduce the sauce until it becomes thick and just clings to the chicken pieces, turning the chicken pieces over gently as you do this. Remove the cardamom pods, whole cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaves before serving. 

Ladle the Royal Chicken into a large bowl and garnish with the almonds, sultanas and some some sprigs of cilantro and serve with Basmati Rice.