Ajay had pre-chopped everything so we were able to get straight to the main event. Armed with pen, paper and camera, I tried to get as much information on Indian cooking as possible. In addition to a fabulous meal, I picked up some useful general tips of which my favourite is to pre-grate ginger and freeze it. Instead of going into a grating frenzy when cooking, you grate up as much ginger as you want, spread it out (the easiest way is probably in a baking sheet) into the thickness of a stock cube, cut into cubes and freeze. When needed, grab a few cubes from the freezer and chuck straight in. The smell and texture of it wasn’t affected like I thought it would be- I was really surprised. The other ‘revelation’ is rather than finely chop all of the fresh ingredients, use the small container of a hand held blender to finely chop everything from the onions to the chiles and save yourself some time. Nothing new but any other time I have made a curry, I painstakingly chop every little bit.
As with any stew-like dish, long and slow cooking is key. If you put the time into it, your efforts are well rewarded. This dish than can easily be doubled or tripled if you have lots of people coming round; in this case, the proportions below will feed 12-16 people. I have written this as we prepared it and in the quantity we prepared. If making this at home and not for a small army I would use a third of the ingredients.
I warn you ahead of time that there was no real exact precision to this recipe. Ajay says that it is a recipe of trial and error- even for him. Measurements are guesstimates- there is a base that you start with but you build the flavours up as it simmers away using smell and taste as your guide but remember that no one flavour should overpower the rest. You should be able to smell elements of all the spices used- they should work together not against one another. Make it a day early if need be- the flavours get better the next day. It is fragrant, it is fresh, it is warming and it is better than anything you could ever get out of a jar. Most of all though, it isn’t as difficult as you would expect.
We also had a side dish of Raita (a cucumber and yogurt condiment) that you can eat between mouthfuls of curry to break up some of the heat and cool the mouth down. The only recipe I don’t have is for the side of Dal (lentils) we ate. That was an amazing dish too. It was leftover from Ajay's brother's wedding a couple of months ago and the extras had been frozen. There are as many Dal recipes as there are kinds of lentils. I really hope that I can find a recipe for it to pass it on to everyone (hint, hint). I guarantee it will convert anyone who thinks they don’t like lentils.
One last thing. Although rice is what you would normally expect to have with this, try it with white bread instead. The Boy and I had the same reaction. Serve it up with a slice or two of plain old sliced white on the side to dip and scoop up sauce with. It works, it really does. When you think about it, it is no different to having naan with a balti or tortillas with carne asada; it is just something to soak up the juices. It just shows what a global staple white bread really is and how it ain’t just for sandwiches.
Ajay’s Chicken Curry
As with any recipe, it is always a good idea to have a read through and ingredients prepped before you start. This is one of those times where it really matters to have everything sliced and diced ahead of time.
Spices for the sauce-
(Remember that all measurements are approximate)
Oil or butter
Cumin Seeds – 2 tsp.
Black Peppercorns – 20
Cinnamon Stick – 1 (broken into pieces)
Whole Cloves – 10
Green Cardamom Pods – 15 (crush slightly)
Fresh Ginger – 4 frozen cubes (if grating fresh, use 4 heaping teaspoons)
Garlic – 4 heaping teaspoons (finely chopped)
Small Green Chile – 2 tsp (de-seed first if you don’t want a spicy dish)
White Onions – 2 whole ones, finely chopped
3 tins of plum tomatoes – pureed
3 Beefsteak tomatoes – chopped (or use 6 normal size)
Turmeric - 2 tsp
Ground Coriander (Cilantro) – 1/2 tsp
Ground Cumin – 1/2 tsp
Ground Cloves – 1 tsp
Ground Cinnamon – 1 tsp
Lemon – 1 (juiced)
Fresh Coriander (Cilantro) – 1 roughly chopped handful plus an extra handful for garnish
Salt – to taste
For the meat-
Cumin Seeds – 4 pinches
Fresh Ginger – 1 tsp grated (or 1 cube frozen)
Garlic – 1 tsp (finely chopped)
To make the sauce-
Over medium heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, deep stockpot. To test the heat, drop a couple of cumin seeds in the oil and turn the heat down low when the seeds begin to sizzle.
Add the rest of the cumin seeds as well as the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and make sure that the spices do not burn. Add more oil if necessary.
Add the onion and stir to coat in the spices. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger and chile.
Turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. The onions will be ready when they have cooked down and have a translucent green tint to them (caused by the green chile).
Stir in the pureed plum tomatoes and the beefsteak tomatoes.
Add 1 tsp of the turmeric (more can be added later) as well as the ground clove, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, ground coriander and 1 ½ tsp of salt. Stir. If needed, you can add more garlic, ginger and/or green chile. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
For the chicken-
In a pot deep enough to fit the chicken pieces, heat enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, ginger, garlic and chicken. Cook for 20 minutes- the goal is to get rid of the excess water in the chicken and to speed up the overall process by partially cooking the meat. The chicken will go from one pot to another to finish cooking as the curry simmers.
Back to the curry-
Add half the lemon juice. After the 20 minutes of cooking the chicken, add the entire contents of pot (chicken, spices and juices) into the curry pot and stir. Add the cilantro. Cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Remove the lid and turn heat to medium-high for 10 minutes to thicken up the sauce.
Add the remaining lemon juice and garnish with fresh cilantro. Add fresh green chile to increase the spiciness. Serve with rice (try adding a pinch of cumin and ½ tsp of turmeric during cooking) or white bread and some raita (recipe below) on the side.
500g plain yogurt
Pinch of Colman’s Mustard Powder
Pinch of red chile powder
1 small cucumber, diced
2 carrots, diced
Small handful of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
½ tsp salt
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and keep chilled until ready to serve.