the master plan

I’ve had a number of requests for my curried chicken recipe, but I’ve been hesitating to put it up because I wasn’t getting consistent results. Finally though, I’ve got a recipe that I’ve used three times in a row with great success, so I think I’m ready to share. 🙂 It’s a combination of the basic recipe in my encyclopedic Indian cookbook and my mom’s method of making it. Enjoy!!

Curried Chicken

3-4 tbsps vegetable oil
4 cloves
3 whole star anise
8 curry leaves (These have to be fresh! Look for them at an Asian market. They shouldn’t run more than a few dollars for a whole bag of them.)
4 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1 large onion, chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and smashed (Use a meat mallet. If you whack it gently for a while, it’ll flatten out beautifully. The more you smash it, the more it will cook to nothing in the sauce, which is good if you don’t like biting into chunks of ginger.)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (Meat mallet!)
4 tbsps hot curry paste (This is sold in the Asian aisle at most supermarkets.)
1 tbsp tumeric
2.5-3 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken pieces (I use dark meat, but you can use white if you really must. Just be careful not to overcook. White gets stringy really easily when cooked in sauce like this.)
1.5-2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 lb bell peppers, chopped (A bag of frozen chopped peppers works beautifully here.)
coconut cream (from 1 can of coconut milk – do not shake the can!)
salt (to taste)
cilantro, chopped (to taste)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (a Dutch oven type pot is ideal here), heat the oil, cloves, star anise, curry leaves, cardamom and cinnamon over medium heat until the cardamom pods swell and the curry leaves are nearly (but not quite) burnt. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger; cook until the onions are lightly browned. Stir in the curry paste and tumeric, and cook until the oil starts to separate. This will take only a minute or two and requires watching to prevent burning. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat. If the spices are starting to burn to the bottom of the pan, deglaze with a small amount of water. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, cover, and continue cooking until the chicken is nearly done (10-15 more minutes). If you like a thicker sauce, leave the lid partially open at this point to reduce the sauce. Add the diced tomatoes and the peppers and bring back up to temperature. Taste and salt as needed. Don’t worry if the sauce seems too spicy at this point; the coconut cream will absorb a great deal of the heat, so you really want the sauce to have a good strong bite to it at this point. Skim the coconut cream off the top of the can of coconut milk and add to the sauce. Heat gently and stir once or twice until the coconut cream melts into the sauce. Taste and salt again as needed. Fold in the chopped cilantro (if using) and serve hot over rice.

Notes:

This is a medium spice version. It’s far too bland for a “real” Indian, but it’s probably too spicy for your average meat ‘n potatoes kind of guy. You can adjust the spice by changing the heat or amount of the curry paste that you use (look for one labelled “mild”) or by adding chilies. If you add chilies, fry them in the oil with the other spices at the beginning to bring out the flavor.

The fresh spices at the beginning are really the only way to develop the layers of flavor that need to be in a good curry, so don’t skip them. They’ll keep for about a year (except for the curry leaves, of course). Look for them at an upscale food market (Earth Fare, Fresh Market, Whole Foods) where you’ll be more likely to find them in small quantities.

The coconut cream makes a lovely smooth sauce, but you can substitute sour cream or plain yogurt in a pinch, although you’ll need to use more of it since it’s not as thick. Sour cream will make a tangy sauce which is also very good but is not as smooth since the sour cream tends to curdle if it’s not heated very, very gently. It still tastes great, but it doesn’t look as pretty.

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