I’ve always liked spicy food, and even when I didn’t like it I wanted to. My brother was always daring me to try fiery dishes, and I would eat them, pretending to enjoy it while my mouth was on fire. Eventually, though, I came to crave the burn, which is probably why I am so fond of curries and chilli blends. This is a relatively simple, light curry that doesn’t involve as much chopping or long simmering as the lamb curry on page 217. Once you’ve made the curry blend, it’s really just a simple stew that cooks without supervision, filling the house with amazing smells. Cooking the chicken pieces whole gives the curry lots of flavour, but I shred the meat and discard the skin and bones before serving to make it easier to eat. I finish this with a blend of chamomile and salt. It’s not traditional, but the dried flowers have an earthiness similar to coriander seeds.
My Mother's Chicken Curry
Red curry paste:
- 3 fresh red chillies, depending on your taste for spice
- 1 small shallot
- Fresh ginger 4cm piece
- 5 garlic cloves
- Cumin seeds 2 tsp
- Fennel seeds 2 tsp
- Dried chamomile flowers 2 tbsp (from loose tea or tea bags)
- Sweet paprika 2 tsp
- Rapeseed oil 90ml, as needed
- Chicken legs, thighs, breasts and wings 1.4 to 1.8kg
- Salted butter 30g
- 4 medium onions
- Ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes 900g
- 4 tart green apples
- Sultanas 200g
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cucumber
- Fine sea salt 1/2 tsp
- Plain Greek yoghurt 450g
- 20 sprigs fresh mint
- Basmati rice 600g
- 40 sprigs fresh coriander
Make the curry paste: Halve the chillies and remove the ribs and seeds. Chop the chillies finely. Peel and coarsely chop the shallot and ginger. Crush the garlic cloves under the flat blade of a knife, then peel and coarsely chop. Crush the cumin and fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar. Add the chopped chillies, shallot, ginger, garlic and the crushed cumin and fennel seeds to a blender or food processor. Add the chamomile, paprika and 3 tablespoons of oil. Process until smooth, adding more oil if needed to make a smooth paste.
If you don’t have a pestle and mortar you can crush the spices on a chopping board under a heavy saucepan.
Heat a very large casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and heat it.
In batches, add the chicken and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a platter as they are browned.
Add the butter to the casserole dish and let it melt. Chop the onions, adding them to the pan as you go, and cook without stirring until they are browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Stir well. Stir in the curry paste and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the chicken and any juices on the platter to the pan. Add 720ml water. Reduce the heat to low.
Don’t fill the pot with water! The tomatoes in the next step will release plenty of juice.
To core the tomatoes easily, slice downwards next to but not through the stem. Make two angled cuts into the larger half to release the core and discard. Squeeze the tomatoes a little to get out most of the seeds and chop the tomatoes into 12mm pieces. Stir them into the pan. Peel, core and cut the apples into 2.5cm (chunks. Stir the apples and sultanas into the pan. Add a little more water, if needed, to barely cover the ingredients. Raise the heat to high and bring the curry to a boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan tightly and simmer the curry for about 2 hours, until the chicken is almost falling off the bones.
Stir the curry every now and then to keep the chicken and other ingredients from sticking.
While the curry cooks, make the raita: Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into strips about 6mm thick. Now cut them crosswise into 6mm pieces. Toss with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a colander. Let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry with a tea towel. Stir the cucumber, yoghurt and mint in a medium serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
About 30 minutes before you plan to serve, make the rice: Combine the rice and 1L water in a medium-large saucepan. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan and cook without disturbing until little air pockets appear on the top of the rice, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Don’t stir the rice once it is simmering, or it will become sticky and gluey.
Just before you serve the curry, use tongs to pick out the pieces of chicken and, when cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones. Return the meat to the pan, discarding the skin and bones, and use the tongs to shred the meat into the sauce. Give the curry a little stir and taste it, adjusting the seasonings. Taste again and see what you think. You might want to add even more spices.
If you feel you have gone overboard with spices, add a tablespoon of yoghurt.
Chop the coriander leaves and put them in a small bowl. Serve the curry on bowls of rice with the raita and coriander on the side.