Wednesday, 16 March 2011

J is for... Jalfrezi Chicken

There are very few ingredients actually beginning with the letter J, so it became clear early on in the planning that I would need to turn to a style of cuisine for inspiration rather than a list of ingredients. Indian food seemed to lend itself quite happily to the letter J and so it was to curry I turned for my menu. 

I am a big fan of Indian food and so a curry night would usually have been my idea of the perfect way to spend an evening, but I am no expert when it comes to Indian cookery. I felt that winging it and inventing the recipes as I cooked them (as is so often the case when I'm in the kitchen) would be a lie - what makes  jalfrezi chicken  "jalfrezi" chicken? I know enough to know that the sauce features green chillies and chicken, but beyond that it would be purely guess work and I might have ended up making a different kind of curry altogether. So, it was a different discipline that took me through the main course of this letter - recipe following. I must admit, I take little pleasure in following recipes to the letter, it always feels less creative and the result less mine. Sometimes it's necessary, particularly with weights for baking new breads or pastries, but for the most part, I find it just makes the experience of cooking less fun.

It's certainly no kind of arrogance that I find it less rewarding than free style cooking. I love to read recipes. I read recipes all the time - hundreds of them - allowing them to soak in and infuse my thoughts, which of course informs the way I cook and the way I put ingredients together. I am inspired and impressed by other people's recipes, and I certainly refer to the recipes of others when I cook (always crediting them when I do, of course) but following them to the letter feels like an effort. I suppose I'm just not very good at following instructions, but I found a recipe on BBC Good Food by Cath for an authentic jalfrezi chicken and the results were delicious, though much less hot than I have eaten elsewhere. The only real changes I made was to use all green chillies, fresh chicken stock instead of water, an extra clove of garlic, a smidge more turmeric and skinless chicken thighs instead of breasts. I find slow cooking chicken on the bone is more succulent and taking the skin off the thighs and slashing the flesh allowed the spices to penetrate right into the juicy meat. I also had to adjust the cooking times as I was using a different cut of meat. The jalfrezi chicken was melt in the mouth tender and the heat from the spice was deliciously warming and aromatic.

Jalfrezi Chicken

for the sauce

1/2 a large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1/2 pint fresh chicken stock
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp turmeric

for the chicken

8 skinless chicken thighs
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 a large onion, sliced into half moons
2 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
A large bunch of fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

Slash the chicken thighs with a sharp knife, pop them in a dish and rub them with the cumin, coriander and turmeric - you might want to use plastic gloves as the turmeric will stain your fingers yellow. Place a sheet of cling film over the top and pop in the fridge to marinate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, fry the roughly chopped onions with garlic and 1 green chilli in a small pan until soft and browned. Add the stock to the onions and simmer for around 20 minutes. While the onions are simmering, put the tomatoes in the food processor and blitz until smooth. Heat a frying pan and gently fry the the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric in a splash of sunflower/ vegetable oil for about a minute. Add the blitzed tomatoes and simmer for about ten minutes. Next give your onion mixture a blitz in the food processor and stir it into the spiced tomato sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.

Sear the chicken thighs in a large pan in a dash of oil. Add the sliced onion, red pepper and chillies and leave over a gentle heat, stirring every now and then until the the vegetables are soft and the onion is brown. Pour the sauce over the top and stir through. Leave to simmer, stirring every now and then, for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the garam masala and chopped fresh coriander (reserving a few whole leaves for garnish) and stir it over a gentle heat on the hob for a few minutes before transferring the jalfrezi chicken into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle the top with the reserved coriander leaves.

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