Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recipe of the week: Genuine Howondaland Curry

I chose this as recipe of the week because I love curries and I liked the look of this one even more than Mrs. Colon’s Klatchian Curry. The recipe is presented here in the proportions I used, which is approximately equal to half a recipe from the book, with some tweaks. I have put my notes on alterations and some comments into the recipe and instructions.

Attributed to: Ponce da Quirm.

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Serves 2.

2 chicken breasts, skinless and cut into small bite-sized cubes
100 ml plain yogurt
1 tbs grated fresh ginger root (the recipes calls for a 1 cm piece, but this can mean 1/4 tsp or 1 tbs, all depending on how thick the root is. I obviously chose the larger size)
8 cloves of garlic (this is as much as a whole recipe calls for, but in my opinion it is impossible to have too much garlic in a dish)
Large dash of olive oil, enough to thinly coat the bottom of my frying pan
1/2 a large onion, coarsely chopped
1 fresh green chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped (this is half of what it should be, but I thought it would be enough as I don’t like the heat of chillies to overpower all other flavours in a dish. It wasn’t enough, but the supermarket down the street doesn’t sell fresh chillies and I didn’t want to drive to another market just for one pepper. I also completely forgot that I have some powdered cayenne pepper)

Here is where things began to go wrong. I misread the instructions in the book as 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, when in fact it was 1/2 tablespoon, which is equal to 1 1/2 teaspoon. On with the recipe:

1/4 tsp ground cumin (should have been 3/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp ground coriander (ditto)
1/2 tsp turmeric
200 ml coconut milk
150 ml water (I will reduce this to 100 ml if I make this dish again)
Salt to taste
Fresh coriander leaves

The recipe suggests that a can of tomatoes or some liquidised cashew nuts could be used instead of the coconut milk. It also allows the addition of lemon juice and a pinch of sugar when the chicken is added to the sauce. I did none of these things.

Put the chicken cubes in a bowl with the yogurt, half the ginger and half the garlic, stir to coat and let marinade for a minimum of 30 minutes, preferably overnight (I compromised and marinated it for 3 hours).

In a large pan, heat the oil and fry the chopped onion for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is browned (this means caramelised, not burned). Add half the chopped chilli pepper and the remaining ginger, plus the cumin, coriander and turmeric. You should now have a paste (how a paste is possible with crushed garlic (not to mention the onions which should have been finely chopped) is beyond me, but I trudged on and simply mashed everything together with the cooking spatula when the sauce was cooked). Add the coconut milk, blend well and cook for about 8-10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until you have a thick sauce. (If it gets very thick and dry looking and the oil starts to separate from the sauce, you have either cooked it for too long or at too high a temperature. I didn’t).

Add the chicken and yogurt mix, the water and some salt and mix well. Simmer very slowly (this means just enough heat to keep it simmering but not boiling). Cook for 15-20 minutes (I cooked it for 30 minutes).

Here is where the next thing went wrong:
I am informed that if cooked at such a low temperature, the yogurt should not curdle and a creamy, thick sauce should form, but I have never been able to cook a yogurt sauce without having it curdle. I know I am not cooking it at too high a temperature because the sauce was just barely simmering, so I must assume the yogurt I use is different from the yogurt you’re supposed to use in these sauces. (I’ll try home-made next time). I got the usual curdled sauce*, which, when it was reduced to the right thickness for a curry, would separate into curds and broth as soon as I had finished stirring it together.

When about 5 minutes remain of the cooking time, add the other half of the chilli pepper.

When the curry is on the plates, sprinkle some fresh chopped cilantro (coriander leaves) on top (I used frozen) before serving.

Serve with nan bread.
I think spicy chutney and a fresh yogurt-based raita would go down nicely with it as well.

* Just because a yogurt sauce curdles, that is no reason not to eat it. It tastes just as good. The texture is just not as creamy as it should be and it looks a bit soggy with the broth separating from the curds. The trick is to reduce it enough that there is little or no broth left. However, in my case I used too much water by about a third, and as I didn’t want the chicken to go dry from overcooking, I didn’t reduce the sauce that much, as may be seen in the accompanying photos. I definitely would not have got good marks for presentation in a cooking contest.

As I used too little chilli, cumin and coriander, the sauce was very mild, so mild in fact that I ended up adding some powdered garlic and a little bit of Aromat flavour enhancer to pep up the taste. Somehow it never occurred to me to add more cumin and coriander or some cayenne powder (a sure case of “out of sight, out of mind”), but I will try it with the leftovers tomorrow. In spite of too little spice, the sauce was good, and as it was so mild, I could actually taste the coconut. I think it could definitely be made better by the addition of cashew nuts as suggested in the original recipe, not to replace the coconut milk but to complement it.

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