If you ask any meat eating Mangalorean what their comfort food is, chances are this dish will be at the top of their list. 'Kori Rotti', also known as 'Kori Ghashi' is a traditional Mangalorean chicken dish that is loved all through the Konkan coast, and a staple in every household. 'Kori' is the Tulu word for chicken and rottis are a confusing addendum, because they have nothing to do with what people would normally think of as rotis. These 'rottis' are made of ground rice paste that is thinly spread and either dried or baked into crisp sheets. These sheets are then broken into pieces, and served with steaming hot chicken curry. The sauce softens the crisp rottis which are then messily devoured.
The origin of kori rotti has been lost to culinary history, with some claiming that it was a corruption of the spicier Kundapur chicken. Others claim that it originated in a hotel in the town of Udupi. It is usually associated with the 'Bunt' community in Mangalore, with their recipes being the most sought after.
Whatever the history of this dish, the essence of it is truly very coastal and South Indian with its light, flavourful notes of coconut, fresh cilantro and fragrant spices. Unusually for South Indian cuisine, its also very mild, and relies on its myriad spices for its delicate flavour and aroma. Its a staple at celebrations, and is truly a taste and texture sensation.
Unfortunately, the traditional accompaniment to this dish, the dry rice wafers or rotti is not very easy to find here in Canada. I usually source mine from Mangalore, and its the number one item that I beg anyone coming here to bring to me. This batch of rottis were brought to me by my cousin Crystal. Thank goodness for the great Indian trade network, eh?
The good news is that this curry can be eaten with pretty much any other accompaniment as well. I love having it as a Sunday lunch with soft sannas that soak up the light sauce, or just with some sweet, nutty pulao rice. I've even been known to gobble this curry up with pita bread or just plain white bread, its that addictive.
You can easily double or treble the spice mix, and store it in a dark place for future use. The onion mixture can also be made in larger quantities and frozen in ziplock bags, which makes it really easy to whip up this curry in a hurry. And like most Indian curries, it tastes fabulous the next day, and so you can also make this curry is large quantities and freeze in meal sized portions. Either way its a perfect introduction to the stunning cuisine of Mangalore.
1½ kilos chicken (I use thighs)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt
1½ tablespoons whole coriander seeds
¾ tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 inch piece of cassia bark or cinnamon
5 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 star anise
2 whole mild red chillies (ideally Kashmiri)
¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon mild chilli powder (if hot, reduce to ¼ teaspoon)
The Onion Mixture:
1 teaspoon unscented oil
1 large onion, chopped roughly
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped roughly
5 fat cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
The Rest of The Dish:
2 tablespoons unscented oil or ghee
1 medium onion, diced fine
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
800 ml coconut milk (2 cans)
1 cup (250 ml) hot chicken stock
Hot water, if required
Salt to taste
Trim the chicken thighs of any fat, then toss the pieces with the turmeric and salt. Refrigerate for at least 2 - 3 hours.
Make the spice mix. Toss each of the spices (except the chilli powder) separately in a hot pan for between 30 seconds - 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl. Let cool completely. Grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Stir in the chilli powder. Keep aside.
For the onion mixture, heat the oil in a small pan and add the chopped onion. Fry, stirring for about 5 minutes, until the raw smell disappears and the onion begins to soften. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and fry for an additional minute. Let cool. Transfer to a blender and blend to a fine paste. Keep aside.
When ready to make the curry, heat the 2 tablespoons oil or ghee in a pot. Add the diced onion and fry for 5 - 7 minutes, until the onion is just beginning to colour.
Add the turmeric marinated chicken pieces, and fry on a high heat, stirring, until the chicken is sealed, about 5 minutes.
Add the spice mix and the onion paste to this mixture, stirring to make sure the chicken is coated.
Cook for about 5 - 7 minutes, then add the tamarind paste, coconut milk and stock. Cover and simmer on a medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through, usually between 15 - 30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little salt/ extra tamarind paste if the curry needs it.
Keep an eye on the curry and top up with a splash of hot water if the mixture is getting too thick, as you want a thinner sauce for this dish.
When the chicken is cooked, take off the heat. Taste and reseason, if required.