Introduction: Spicy Chicken Curry
First Prize in the
Scanpan Family Recipes Challenge
I lived in the San Francisco bay area for a few years when I was a younger adult. I worked at a couple tech startups and had a fair number of coworkers from India. We'd sometimes have lunch at small curry places, and I got hooked.
My best friend Kripa is from Nepal (a small country right next to India) and her husband's family is from India. She helped me develop this curry recipe.
I no longer measure the spices and I usually make a HUGE batch of the sauce. It freezes really well. I usually simmer the meat in the sauce to cook it after I've prepared the curry sauce because I like to first remove half of it to freeze for another meal later on.
The pictures show a much larger amount of the ingredients listed because I'm making a huge batch.
Please don't ask me how to make a good curry that uses curry powder you bought at the grocery store or I'll smack you. Okay, maybe not, but I'll sure roll my eyes.
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
You will need:
5 T clarified butter or ghee (but I use regular butter because I like the flavor of the milk solids and I'm too lazy to clarify)
1-3 lb lean meat, cut into bite sized pieces (I used chicken, but you could also use beef or lamb)
1 T brown mustard seeds (whole seeds, and not the yellow kind)
1 T whole fenugreek seeds
3-4 fresh green chiles, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 T crushed cayenne if you forgot to buy chiles)
2 thumb sized pieces fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
4 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 T ancho chile powder
1 t turmeric
2 t whole cumin seed
2 t whole coriander
6 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped, or a cup or two of tomato puree
13 or 14 ounce can coconut milk
salt, to taste
You might not be able to find all the spices you need at your grocery store. You probably shouldn't buy them there, anyway; they've likely been sitting on a shelf for a long time. They'll be fresher and taste better if you buy them online, either from Penzeys.com or thespicehouse.com.
You'll also need something on which to serve the curry. Rice is typical, but it's also good on rice noodles. We usually have it on basmati rice. I love that stuff.
Step 2: Prepare the Vegetables
If you haven't yet peeled the onions or chopped them into large chunks, do that now. You might want to wear goggles for this part if your onions are particularly mean. Puree the chopped onion.
Peel the skin from the ginger with a sharp paring knife. Grate the ginger. Make sure you chop up any long ginger fibers; they're not fun when they get stuck in your teeth.
If you're using whole regular tomatoes, stick the paring knife in next to the stem end and cut out a cone of tomato to remove the core. Shove your fingers into the gooey tomato pockets (you might want to do this over the sink) and squish out the seeds. Puree the tomato. If you're using tomato puree instead, open the can.
Step 3: Add Stuff and Cook It
Melt butter or ghee in a pan. Let it get pretty hot (without scorching it), and then add the brown mustard seeds and quickly cover them. You'll want to pop the seeds, but be aware that they can sometimes go flying (and hot brown mustard seeds down the shirt isn't nearly as fun as it sounds). Carefully lift the cover and stir every once in awhile. I love the texture of the brown mustard seeds, so I add a lot.
After a couple minutes of popping, dump in the onion puree and ginger. Keep stirring, letting some of the water cook off. Add the thai green chiles if you remembered to get them. Otherwise, add the crushed cayenne whenever.
Add your fenugreek seeds (they'll smell a bit like maple syrup).
Add the cumin and coriander that you crushed or ground yourself.
There's no hurry here; add stuff at your leisure, stir a bit, and keep cooking. Each new spice is a guest at a party and should have some time to meet and mingle the others before a new one arrives and changes the group dynamic once again.
Add the tomato puree. You can see here that the pureed cherry tomatoes weren't enough, so I also added puree from a can.
Add the turmeric (which should turn it a lovely orangey yellow), cayenne if using, and ancho chile. Okay, it's true ancho chile is from an entirely different region of the world. I couldn't figure out what mild, complex chile to use here that was native to India, but I'm sure whatever kind it is probably tastes really similar to ancho.
Your sauce should be rather thick now, as the onions and tomatoes have had a fair amount of their water cooked off. It should also be darker than you think it should look. That's okay. Now it's time to pour in the coconut milk. If it's from a can, it'll likely be separated with the cream at the top and watery stuff at the bottom. Just stir it all in.
After it's all stirred together and all the party guests have had a chance to exchange preliminary hellos and some small talk, taste the curry. It probably needs a little salt. Add some. Stir it in and taste again. The flavors might still be a little dissonant. Give them time to relax. If it's still too thick, add a little water or more coconut milk.
This is the point where I scoop half the sauce into a container to cool, then freeze that portion. If you haven't started making your rice yet, you should probably start now. Rice takes longer to cook than rice noodles.
Step 4: Simmer Meat in the Curry
I'm lazy. I add the chicken strip portions to the curry while they're still frozen. If you're using beef or lamb, it'd probably benefit from a quick sear in a hot pan. Searing doesn't seal in the juices, but it does add another layer of flavor through the browning.
Cover the curry and cook over low heat until the meat is cooked through. If your meat is in slightly large pieces, use a spatula to chop it smaller. You'll want bite sized pieces for this. Chopping it into pieces is also a good way to check to see if the meat is cooked through. Sometimes I add pureed chickpeas. They don't change the flavor, but they add a little more protein and fiber.
Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, taste the curry. If the flavors are too dissonant, you can mellow them a bit by adding a little butter or ghee. Curry is great as a leftover, and some people prefer it after it's had time to mellow in the fridge overnight.
Serve your curry over rice or rice noodles.
Thanks for reading!
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