Christmas Recipe: Kerala Chicken Stew

Christmas came and went, and it was so much fun. My best friend came over with her friend, and I decided to make a South Indian dinner. That meant rice and lots of coconut! If you don’t know by now, then I should tell you: food from Kerala will almost always involve coconut. There’s either coconut oil, grated coconut, coconut milk or bits of roasted coconut. Kerala chicken stew uses coconut milk as a base, and I love it because it is uncomplicated and sits well on any palate.

Ideally, I would have liked to serve this with appams or hoppers, but for all my love of Kerala and it’s cuisine, I do not know how to make the batter for appams. I mean, I know how it’s done, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing it. (Note to self- must do so in 2012.) This chicken stew is rather like the fish moilee I made a while ago, the only difference being this does not use tomatoes. You can if you want to, I chose not to.

KERALA CHICKEN STEW

INGREDIENTS

  • 300 grams chicken, cubed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (I used Dabur, you can use anything you like or even better, zhuzh it up in the blender!)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (1 tablespoon for marination; 2 for frying)
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, chopped or cut into matchsticks (I’ll be honest, I did not really measure…it seemed like 2 teaspoons!)
  • 1 medium sized onion; chopped into quarters
  • 1 medium sized potato; chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 medium-sized sticks of cinnamon
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 pods of cardamom
  • A few whole black peppercorns
  • 1 carton (180 ml) coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 green chilli, slit

METHOD

  • First, combine the chicken, ginger-garlic paste and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a medium sized bowl and mix well so that the chicken is coated evenly. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least half an hour.
  • Next, get your spices on. Bring out a large wok, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and then add all your whole spice(cinnamon+cloves+cardamom+peppercorns,) and swish around till the flavours are released and you have a nice smell in your kitchen.
  • Next, add the ginger, garlic and onions and sautee till they become soft.
  • Now, add your chicken which has been marinating, and sautee some more. Add some salt to taste, and a slit green chilli.
  • Now, add the chopped potatoes and carrots and add some water (about a quarter of a cup cup should do,) and allow to simmer.
  • Once your chicken has been simmering for a few minutes, add the coconut milk,  stir around, and allow to cook on a low flame till the chicken is tender.

Most other recipes call for fennel and curry leaves, but I didn’t use either because (a) I did not have any fennel and (b) I was also making Thrissur Chicken, which anyway has a lot of curry leaves and I didn’t want everything to taste the same.

The trick is to use all your whole spices in proportion- cinnamon and cloves are pretty strong and can really overpower a dish. Small amounts, gentle flavours. This tastes great with rice, appams or plain bread.

I will post another Christmas recipe tomorrow soon!

Thrissur Chicken

I have been making a lot of sweet things lately. My husband likes sweets, but does not adore them and indulge like me, and he has been very patient all these days. But, I knew he was beginning to tire of cookie crumbs and stewed plums. (Yes, I did put that rhyme in there on purpose. On a different train of thought- I think cookie crumbs and stewed plums would actually work quite well together. Note to self- must make.) ANYWAY. I was getting a little bored of drizzling caramel sauce over everything, and I wanted something red, hot and spicy.

Chicken it would be. Once, when travelling with my family in Kerala, we stopped at a small highway eatery, where we came across a dish on the menu called Thrissur Chicken. (Thrissur is the name of a town in Kerala.) It was fried nuggets of chicken with lots of chilli powder and peanuts, served on a bed of fried curry leaves. It was a fiery red colour and very, very spicy. The spice rub had red chilli powder and coriander for sure, but I suspect the deep red colour came from a small dash of colouring.

I wanted to make a similar dish, but less spicy and a little sour, so I decided to use red chilli powder and lemon, and finish it off with fried curry leaves for extra flavor and crunch. I don’t know if there is actually a special kind of chicken dish in Thrissur named after the place, but I just took the name and made it my own.

This dish turned out great….sharp, spicy, and full of aroma. And the fried curry leaves added such great texture! That’s the thing about curry leaves…they do not get soggy as soon as they come into contact with air. So it remained crispy from mid-morning till 2pm, when we finally ate.

THRISSUR CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

  • 300 grams chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Coconut oil- 5 tablespoons for frying + 1 tablespoon for marination
  • Curry leaves- 20
  • Salt to taste

METHOD

  • Place the chicken in a large bowl. Add the dry ginger powder+chilli powder+coriander powder+1 tablespoon of coconut oil+juice if 1 lime. Grate 3 cloves of garlic into the chicken. Mix everything together with your hands so that the chicken is evenly coated.
  • Allow the chicken to rest in your fridge for at least one hour.
  • Once the chicken has rested, heat the coconut oil in a wok. Once the oil is hot, add the curry leaves and swirl around for approx 30-60 seconds till they are crisp. Remove from oil, drain and keep aside in a separate bowl or plate.
  • Into the same wok, add the marinated chicken pieces and stir-fry till cooked and crispy. You can add some sugar or a little ketchup to caramelize, if you wish.

I’ll be honest…this is not the healthiest dish, since it is shallow-fried, but it tastes great. We ate this with steamed rice and dal, but it would go great with rotis too. It would even taste nice rolled up in a roti with a dollop of hung curd.

Tangy Tamarind Fish Curry

Tangy Tamarind Fish Curry

For me, nothing beats rice, fish and a little salad for a lazy lunch on Sundays. I can’t help it, I’m from Kerala. Rice, seafood, coconut, plantains and mangoes are like the panchratnas of Kerala cuisine. I wanted to make it a Holy Trinity of ingredients, but realised that we Malayalees covet more than just rice and fish. And if I start ticking off more things in my head, even my panchratna-usage will become redundant.

Anyway. When I was in school, Sundays at home usually meant a huge spread, since that was the one day in the week when both my parents were off work and could cook together. So there would be fish curry or fish fry, vegetables, sambhar , rasam or a yoghurt-based curry (pulisherry.)

I only recently started cooking fish, and my repertoire consisted of fish moilee and Kerala-style fish fry with a very basic spice rub. Since my husband and I have eaten a year’s worth of moilee and fry, it was time to make something new!

I’ve always liked the combination of sweet and sour and have eaten all kinds of Oriental seafood dishes that incorporate those flavours. This dish has 2 sources of inspiration: Kylie Kwong’s steamed chicken with hot and sour dressing and steamed fish with chilli-lime sauce. I wanted to use Kylie’s method of pouring a hot, spicy dressing over steamed chicken strips and put a desi spin on it by using curry leaves and mustard seeds.

I bought some more basa fillets (I’m new at this, so de-boned fillets just work better for me,) and got out some tamarind paste, jaggery, mustard and methi (fenugreek) seeds and some curry leaves. I steamed the fish separately and just placed them in the bubbling curry for about 3-4 mins before finishing it off with some curry leaves on top.

I’ve been a little obsessed with cutting things into matchstick sizes these days, especially ginger and raw mangoes. So I went a little berserk and chopped a little bowlful! I wanted to avoid using chilli altogether; and allow the heat to come solely from freshly chopped ginger. But l had to add some crushed chilli to cut through the sourness of the tamarind. 

 
I love using cilantro as a garnish

INGREDIENTS

250 gms basa fish
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 1/2 tablespoons jaggery (you can use more if you like)
1/12 cups water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon methi (fenugreek) seeds
6-8 curry leaves
1 1/2 tablespoon of chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chilli flakes/chilli powder
Salt to taste
 

METHOD
In a large pot, heat 1 ½ cups water. Once the water starts bubbling, add the tamarind paste and stir it around so that there are no lumps. The add  the jaggery and dissolve. Stir the mixture around till it thickens a bit. Remove from heat and keep aside.

In the same pot, pour 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard and methi seeds, then the curry leaves and chopped ginger. Once the ginger browns a bit, add some crushed chilli flakes or chilli powder. Then pour in the tamarind-jaggery liquid and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Next, add the steamed fish fillets and a teaspoon of chopped coriander stems. Let the curry bubble for a few minutes more, so that the fish can absorb the flavours.

Turn off the heat, garnish with some cilantro and curry leaves and you’re ready to plate up 🙂

Rice and fish curry for lunch

And that was lunch 🙂
Mustard Seed