Another recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation To Indian Cooking, and a daunting one with a huge list of ingredients. However, it’s really no more complicated than making a chicken dish and one of her stepped-up rice dishes. It’s incredibly delicious, on the sweeter, more aromatic Mughal/northern/Afghani/Persian tip.
The chicken is marinated for at least two hours in a mixture of about 10 spices blended with onions, garlic, ginger and yogurt. Oh, and fried onions. They are extremely important in this dish. For some time now, I’ve noticed that Jaffrey and her main competition, Julie Sahni, estimate different lengths of time for “brown-frying” onions (something you frequently need to do in Northern Indian cuisine). Jaffrey tends to think you need 10 minutes; Sahni thinks 35. Sahni is correct. You get your ghee very hot, then add the sliced onions, and then stir, constantly for the next half-hour plus. You cannot allow them to stick or burn. Sahni describes several “states” the onions pass through during this time. It’s fascinating from a molecular point of view, and you will need something to occupy your brain. First they sizzle, then they eject their water, then get shrink rapidly, and finally, at the very end, they brown.
Having squeezed them dry, decant two-thirds of the browned onions into the marinade. The other third goes on paper towels. You reserve the onion-flavored oil.
Now the rice. The recipe specifies “long grain,” but having been burned once by a rice recipe in this book, I knew that it probably required basmati. The basmati needs to be washed and soaked as usual, and then cooked for only 5 minutes so that it is not cooked through.
Once the marinated chicken comes out of the fridge, you boil the mixture, simmer for 15 minutes, remove the chicken pieces, and reduce the marinade to paste. Chicken goes into the pot (I used a heavy enamel Le Creuset) with the reduced marinade on top, and the parboiled rice on top of that. You decorate the rice with stripes of saffron that has been soaking in warm milk for an hour, producing lovely orangey-red striations. On top of this, you pour the reserved onion oil, and the whole spices that flavored that oil – bay leaves and black cardamom. This is covered and baked for an hour at 300 degrees.
When it comes out, you decorate with garnishes: the remainder of the fried onions, hard-boiled egg slices, golden raisins (sultanas) that have been fried in oil, and blanched slivered almonds. It is divine.
I accompanied this dish with masoor dal prepared to the recipe I used for moong dal. I don’t know much about dals, but moong is yellow and masoor is orange-red, and my masoor had more flavor. It might be because the pulses were fresher.
In addition, I prepared an aloo chat from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking. Sahni is nice to have as a counterpart to Jaffrey, and not just because she admits how long it takes to brown-fry onions. She is altogether more sober, if more boring, and gives more reasons why you should do the things you do. Some of her recipes are just not that exciting compared to Jaffrey’s, but this is still an essential reference work.
Aloo chat is potato salad – this one uses fresh mint. I was able to grab some from the garden as a final garnish to supplement the thick bunch I bought at the supermarket. My main interest in making this dish was because it uses BLACK SALT. I bought some a year ago, and have been looking for a way to use it. Be warned: it is extremely sulfurous! I didn’t read the package thoroughly and was amazed when I broke it open. I didn’t quite add the full half-teaspoonful. Fortunately, when combined with the other spices in the dish (roasted cumin seeds, chili pepper, black pepper, salt, mint, lemon juice, not to mention cucumber) and after marinating in the fridge, the sulfurousness had diminished to a slight, unidentifiable tang that definitely adds to the dish. This compares well to the aloo chat at my local taxicab favorite Curry & Curry, if not quite scaling the heights of the one at Lahore Deli near the old office in SoHo.
Finally, I whipped up a yogurt with peas as a cooling refreshment to all the spiciness. Not that this lacks spice – it’s an adaptation of yogurt with spinach from the Jaffrey book. The key is good yogurt. The presence of Arabic, Greek or Turkish on the label, or the words “home style” or “from the home country” is a good start. This one was Turkish. You mix in roasted ground cumin seeds, cayenne and black pepper, and then about a half-cup of cooked green peas per 8 oz of yogurt. The sourness of the yogurt is offset nicely by the sweetness of the peas.
I also served Jaffrey’s excellent tomato chutney.