We love entertaining. Somehow or other, wherever we are, our house quickly becomes the usual place for friends and family to congregate, and we love having people over (not least for the fact that they usually bring lots of alcohol, wink wink) Both Kay and I are very social people, and we are happiest when we are chattering away to friends and family. When we entertain, I like to have some quick and easy dishes on the go, as I can then spend time with my guests, instead of beavering away like a house elf in the kitchen. If I am cooking Indian food, and lets face it, most of our guests kinda expect it now (ha ha), then I also tend to make several dishes in advance as they can then be reheated quickly, and served.
A while ago, when my mum was visiting us in Hoylake, she made this chicken dish when we had some friends over. It was a huge success, and my friends and I absolutely loved it. I had been meaning to ask mum for the recipe for a while, but never got around to it, as travelling, moving continents and houses, and all sorts got in the way.
I never forgot the taste of that chicken though, and last week when Kay was away, I decided I was finally going to make it. I had chicken thighs that I had bought and frozen from Four Whistle Farm a few weeks ago, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity to make it. I called mum and asked her for the recipe. Mum, as usual, was vague about the measurements, but I think I have got the measure of her recipes now (no pun intended) :-) I was quite surprised at how quick and easy this dish was to make, and double checked with mum to make sure she was giving me the right recipe. After all Indian food does have the reputation of being quite complex (its not, really, it just tastes that way), and I had to be sure she was giving me the right recipe.
This chicken turned out to be an intensely aromatic, unbelievably flavourful, yet very-easy-to-throw-together dish and I was so happy when I tasted it and realised that it tasted just like my mum's. No greater compliment with food, methinks. The smell of the fennel and star anise is amazing, as it wafts through the house. All the other spices are just a stunning counterpoint to these two flavours. I found this quite unusual in a way, as the only other chicken dish that has such quantities of star anise is Chicken Chettinad. This leads me to believe that this dish may be a regional variation of that famous South Indian curry.
Surprisingly, for Keralan meat cuisine, this chicken is not super hot. Instead it just fills your house with the fragrance of spices, and pungency of the curry leaves. The curry leaves really add to the flavour of the chicken, so do try not to leave them out, if you can. I have called this curry Kerala Style, but to be honest, I have no idea if it is originally Keralite or not. My mum said that she was given the recipe by someone she knows, who is Keralan, so it may well be from there. I love these kind of recipes, no one knows where they came from, as its all word of mouth, yet everyone had their own way of making it. That is where the great traditions of cooking are from, though, and long may these traditions live.
3/4 kilo chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (I use chicken thighs, bone in)
For the Spice Mix
5 long mild red chillies
1/2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp whole fennel seeds
2 inch stick of cinnamon
4 - 5 whole cloves
1 star anise
3 - 4 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp poppy seeds (opt)
1/4 whole nutmeg, grated
For the rest of the dish:
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ghee (optional, replace with oil, if you wish)
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
3 flakes garlic, grated
10 - 15 curry leaves
Salt to taste
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
Make the spice mix - toss together all the whole spices, except the nutmeg, in a hot and heavy pan, stirring continuously for about 1 minute. The spices will start turning golden, and will smell delicious.
Place the toasted spices, along with the grated nutmeg in a heavy duty spice grinder or a coffee grinder, and powder to a fine powder. Keep aside.
Heat the oil + ghee in a pot on a medium heat, then add the curry leaves. Stir together for a minute, then add the ginger and garlic. Stir for another 30 seconds, then add the prepared spice mix. Fry together for about 3 minutes. This mixture will be very dry.
Turn the heat to low, then add the chicken and salt to taste. I use around 1 tsp. Stir together to coat the chicken with the masala. Then cover the pot and simmer on a low heat for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Don't add any water, as the chicken will release water as it cooks. If you want the dish drier, then once the chicken is cooked, turn up the heat and reduce the gravy down a bit. The chicken does taste better with gravy though.
As with most Indian food, this dish will taste much better the next day, once the meat has had a chance to absorb the spices. The spices also mellow out quite a bit.
*Note: Make sure that the pan is on low heat when you add the chicken, as you don't want to seal the chicken, and want the juices released to make a aromatic, spicy gravy for the dish.
**Note: You can make a larger quantity of the spice mix, and it will keep quite well in an airtight tin, and in a cool, darkish place.
Serve with rice or Indian bread and a bottle of this ↓