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via The Daily News Transcript Food and Dining RSS by Christopher Kimball/Daily News correspondent on 9/24/08
One might argue that chicken curry is a dish best left to restaurants, because the ingredient list is rather long. It is hardly a Food Network four-ingredient supper.
The prep work aside, however, it is one of the most complex flavors that a home cook can create, and the good news is this dish is not dependent on perfect technique.
Given all the flavor that goes into a curry dish, it is difficult not to come out the other side with anything less than "good" and, in most cases, it actually turns out great. Best of all, this is a dish that recent cookbooks seemed to have overlooked in favor of more "authentic" regional dishes. But for most of us who cook at home, this is a classic part of our repertoire, one whose time has come again.
We tried using boneless chicken pieces, bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs in our curry, and definitely preferred the thighs. They had more flavor and also were more moist and tender once cooked. For our usual four to six servings, we went with eight thighs. Usually we would season and brown the chicken before adding it to a recipe, but Indian cooks believe that this step prevents the protein from absorbing curry flavor. While we weren't sure about the validity of such a premise, we did find the curry had a much cleaner flavor if the chicken was not browned and much preferred it that way.
Curry is most often a combination of garlic, ginger, cumin and coriander, among other spices. Some recipes tended to have a heavy hand with the spices, while others were much lighter. We eventually settled on five cloves of garlic, a 2-inch piece of ginger and 2 teaspoons each ground coriander and cumin. In order to have a smooth curry with even flavor, we adopted a method of pureeing the garlic and ginger with a bit of water. This also prevents them from burning when adding them to our pan.
Indians usually fry their herbs and spices to bring out maximum flavor and, as after we tested this method, it turned out to be true. By frying the paste, the curry flavor was much more pronounced, whereas a version made without this step produced a curry that tasted almost raw. To round out the curry flavor, we also added a teaspoon of garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric and cayenne to taste.
Although satisfied with our curry paste, Indian dishes often begin with a supplementary mixture of spices that are usually fried whole. We tried incorporating this step into our recipe and loved the underlying flavor it provided. After a few rounds of tests, we concluded with one cinnamon stick about 3 inches long, four whole cloves, four cardamom pods and eight to 10 black peppercorns. These spices were fried in vegetable oil until they popped and became fragrant.
Other ingredients included onion, 1/2 cup of yogurt, some diced tomato and water instead of broth for a cleaner flavor. We also added a bit of cauliflower after testing various vegetables, and finished the dish off with salt, cilantro, jalapeno and some raisins for a touch of sweetness.
This dish can be made well ahead of time and reheated on the stovetop just before serving. You may substitute broccoli for the cauliflower, if you prefer. Serve it over basmati rice.
5 medium cloves garlic
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
1 cup diced tomato with their juices
1/2 medium-sized jalapeno pepper, finely chopped, or to taste
1/2 cup raisins
3 cups cauliflower florettes
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Place the garlic and ginger and 1/4 cup water in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside. Place a large saute pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns and fry until they pop and are very aromatic, about 20 seconds. Add the onion and saute, stirring often, until well softened and golden brown, about five minutes. Add the ginger/garlic paste, ground spices, salt, cayenne to taste, and yogurt and saute, stirring constantly, until oil turns orange and begins to separate, most of the liquid evaporates and the color darkens, about five minutes longer.
Lay the chicken in the pan. Add the tomato, jalapeno, raisins and 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a lively simmer, cover and cook 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain the simmer. Add the cauliflower, turn the chicken pieces and continue to simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 15 minutes longer.
Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.