There is no coconut milk in your chicken curry if you are Bengali. There is no curry paste or any other amalgamation of ingredients someone else deems necessary for your comfort-in-a-bowl chicken curry. There is only your mother, your childhood, the pieces of white meat that no one ever wanted, the potatoes that you cared for only on some days, the jhol (broth) that was literally chicken soup for your soul (but only the first day, after that it just got too cardamom-y), and the leftover bones that you LOVED to chew on as you churned out every last drop of flavor but NEVER admitted to doing outside of bengali circles.
Of course this is my childhood we are recollecting and thus my mother’s recipe. There is very little room for improvement…though one could probably use chicken stock (even better, homemade chicken stock) in lieu of the water. Let’s leave that for another day, another post. For now, amidst the pristine image laid out for you of a little girl enjoying every minute of being elbow deep in her favorite food, there are some hidden perils that threaten. Hear me out: have you ever, during the course of your meal ever landed on a “flavor bomb” ? One of those whole peppercorns, cloves or worse, entire cardamom pod?? It’s disgusting! It’s painful! It’s downright heinous. Takes half the joy out of the meal. I just thought of taking the extra step of pouring the jhol through a sieve and voila! Flavor. Bomb. Out.
I hope this recipe takes you back to your childhood!
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 1 heaping tsp cumin power
- 1 heaping tsp coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp chili powder (use more or less depending on the potency of your chili powder and how spicy you like it)
- 1 3 lb chicken cut into curry pieces (either 10 or 12 pieces in total)
- 1 tsp garlic paste (or minced garlic)
- 1 tsp ginger paste (or minced ginger)
- 1 – 1.5 cups of water (water should come about 2/3 of the way up the sides, not covering the meat)
- 1.5 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 whole cloves
- 4 whole cardamom pods or 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 5-6 whole peppercorns
- Heat the oil over medium high heat in a saucepan or any medium sized pot (about 4 qts) with high sides. Add the onion and let soften for 4-5 min. While onion cooks, prep your garlic and ginger, if necessary, and combine the ground spices in a bowl.
- Add spices to the onions, mixing well. Add the chicken pieces, turning to coat with as much of the masala mixture as possible. Let the chicken and spices cook for 4-5 minutes, taking care not to burn the spices (reduce the heat if necessary). Add garlic, ginger, water, salt, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns. Stir, then increase the heat to bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 20-25 minutes, removing the lid during the last 10 minutes if there is too much liquid.
- Check for seasoning. Add more salt or spice as needed.
- Optional: Transfer chicken pieces to a serving bowl. Pour the broth through a sieve to catch all the whole spices and push through all the last bits of curry through the sieve using a spoon.
For a bigger (4 to 5 lb chicken)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1.5 to 2 small yellow onions, sliced
- 1.5 heaping tsp cumin power
- 1.5 heaping tsp coriander
- 1.5 tsp turmeric
- 3/4 tsp chili powder (use more of less depending on the potency of your chili powder and how spicy you like it)
- 1 4 to 5 lb chicken cut into curry pieces (about 12 in total)
- 1.5 tsp garlic paste (or minced garlic)
- 1.5 tsp ginger paste (or minced ginger)
- about 2 cups of water
- 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5-6 whole cloves
- 5-6 whole cardamom pods
- 7-8 whole peppercorns
Increase cooking time by 2-3 minutes, testing the thickest part of the thigh to check for doneness.
To give it a refresh
Try sautéing some tomatoes into a large fry pan or wok and add the leftover chicken curry. When thoroughly heated through, remove from heat and add some chopped fresh cilantro.