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Friday, July 29, 2005 

Secret Chicken Curry

I've taken my mother's recipe (which she will not give me) and changed it quite a bit. My version of chicken curry is a bit more like Irish Stew, but with French and Asian elements thrown in. Now just a recommendation: if you can, make your own curry powder, fresh, just before you cook. It beats the taste of prepackaged curry powder. Look for the posting "Make Your Own Curry Powder", elsewhere in this blog. And as with all cooking, follow the rule of "Mise en Place", pronounced "meez awn plass". It simply means have your ingredients prepared, cut, sliced, diced, or whatever, and ready to go. Don't turn the stove on until you do! This is especially important if you prefer to add your curry powder before the liquid, as it'll burn very quickly, make you cough uncontrollably, and set off your fire alarm. Not fun, but I do this every once in a while when I don't have one or more ingredients prepared.

Vegetable mixture:
  • Vegetable oil - preferably canola or even olive oil (However, olive burns faster)
  • Butter
  • Onion - slivers or large triangles. Choose an amount comfortable to you. Some people prefer large pieces of onion, a la Oriental stir fries. My mother does not add onions to the curry since they are already in her "Secret Garlic Ginger Paste", mentioned later in this posting.
  • Celery - diced. Large or small, it's up to you.
  • Carrot - small or medium dice. Again, up to you. Some restaurants serve curry chicken with carrots as large as 1.5 inches in length. I love Irish stew, and if I add carrots, I make them big chunks.
  • Green and/or red bell pepper - large dice. Large dice is better if you have diners that do not like bell pepper, as it's easier to remove.

  • 4-6 cups water or stock (vegetable or chicken), depending on how much broth you want
  • 1 large skinless chicken breast (bone-in or deboned), frozen or fresh.
  • Curry powder
  • Pre-boiled, extra-large-diced potatoes (any type, but preferably firm in texture)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Mom's Secret Garlic Ginger Paste (see blog posting of the same title)
  • 1 tbsp oriental black bean garlic sauce [optional]
  • Corn or tapioca starch, dissolved in an equal amount of water first to prevent lumps
  • Parsley or cilantro - whole or loosely chopped, larger stems removed

If you do not want a curry "stew", you can skip the celery, carrots, and bell peppers. Or you can make them a smaller dice. (Alternatively, you can make the celery, carrots, and bell peppers a small dice and prepare them with the steamed rice instead of the curry.) My mother does not like to add potatoes to her chicken curry. Instead, she prefers to make a simple potato curry (see posting elsewhere in this blog).

Start by adding oil and butter to a medium or large cookpot, depending on the desired quantity. When the pot is hot, add the vegetable ingredients indicated above and let them sautee for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Do not over cook the vegetables, as they'll have a mushy texture by the time the curry is finished.

Now work quickly, first by removing the vegetable mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl and set aside. Without turning off the stove, add all of the water or stock to the same cookpot. Add the chicken breast. If you will not be using the Oriental black bean garlic sauce (which is very salty), then add a pinch of salt if you want. You may need to add more later, but that's better then over-salting. (I prefer to add salt, if any, near the very end of the cooking process. Usually, I find that other flavours are far more palatable when they are not overwhelmed with salt.) You can cover the pot partially with a lid if you want to speed up the process.

This method poaches the chicken, which in turn infuses the water with chicken flavour. This will make your curry richer tasting. If your chicken is frozen, you only need to poach a bit longer. Know, too, that poached chicken is much healthier than frying in oil. When the chicken breast starts to float, it is ready.

You may need to skim some of the fats and foam that commercial, frozen chicken breasts tend to release. At the same time, remove the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for a minute or two. In the meantime, to the pot, add the vegetable mixture you set aside, plus the curry powder, potatoes, and Garlic Ginger paste. Stir the ingredients until they are well mixed. Cover the pot partially with a lid and leave for 2-3 minutes.

Now slice the chicken against the grain. For curries with a lot of broth, it's best to cut the chicken into small pieces, say no more than an inch in length. Small strips are even better. (If you dice the chicken too fine, however, the pieces will fall apart and may become unpalatable.) Add the chicken back to the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

In the last 5 minutes, you can add salt or the oriental black bean garlic sauce, if you have not already added salt. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Dissolve corn starch (preferable) or tapioca starch in an equal amount of water, using a fork to mix the two ingredients. Set aside. Remove the lid on the pot, increase the heat to high, and wait until the liquid starts to boil. Give the starch mixture one last stir with the fork, then slowly pour half of this liquid all around the pot. Set aside. Using your wooden spoon or a ladle, stir the starch mixture evenly throughout the pot until its whiteness disappears. When the curry broth thickens to the desired consistency, give it all another stir or two, then turn off the heat and remove the pot.

Serve curry over steamed rice (see elsewhere in this blog for a recipe). You can either add the parsley or cilantro on top of the curry while it's in the pot, or wait until it is ladled over the rice.

(c) Copyright 2005 Raj Kumar Dash,


Make Your Own Curry Powder

Curry powder is one of those ingredients that every East Indian family has their own recipe for, and which some treasure like a family heirloom. The fact is, curry powder can have up to 22 different components. It is used in many countries besides India, and the ratios of various components changes by geography. In some countries such as Thailand where cuisine tends towards the "oriental", curries usually are in paste form and might have galangal, a cousin of ginger. In countries in Northern Africa, curry powders may have higher concentrations of ingredients such as cinnamon, cardamom or cloves. What I am presenting here is my own personal version of curry powder, which I made up completely from scratch. Now I really do not measure, so it's very difficult for me to give you an exact recipe, but I'll try. Note that this is a recipe for curry powder. A recipe for curry paste will be provided in some future posting.

Mini electric coffee/spice grinder. Most department stores will have these for $10-20. Or, you can use a mortar and pestle, in which case you will need to add some coarse salt to the ingredients list. Because I like to make between 2-5 tbsp of curry powder at a time, I use the grinder. Using a mortar and pestle is tiresome and you cannot get a fine ground powder. If you do use a mortar and pestle, make smaller quantities and cut back on the amount of whole black pepper. Too much partially cracked black pepper is usually too hot and unpalatable for most western tastes.

+1 tbsp whole black pepper - this is really what makes curry hot, along with crushed red pepper flake, if you use it. Reduce this to 1/2 tsp if you want a mild curry powder.
+1 tsp crushed red pepper flake [optional]
+2-3 tbsp whole cumin seeds - Because ground cumin is a common ingredient of Mexican food, some Indian dishes smell and taste like Mexican food. This is what gives basic curry powders their flavour.
+2-3 tbsp of coriander seeds - Fresh ground coriander adds incredible flavour.
+2-5 tbsp haldi, more commonly called turmeric. Turmeric adds a yellowish colour to curry. Some people prefer to add it separately to a dish, but I prefer to mix it into my curry powder. Turmeric has preservative properties which allow curry dishes to last a few days longer in the fridge than most meals. In fact, because of turmeric, you can leave meat curries outside of the fridge for a few hours longer than any non-curry meat dish. [But I still don't recommend it.] Turmeric does not really add much in the way of taste. Besides the preservative properties, I use it for color. You can also use it for filler to cut the flavour of cumin and coriander if you want a really mild curry.

The above ingredients make a very basic curry powder, which is a good starting point. For richer curry flavours, add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and other ingredients as listed below. There are other ingredients you can add, but I usually add them to my dishes at a later point. Be warned that turmeric stains everything it touches yellow, including your spice grinder, pots and pans, plates, and clothes, if you spill any. I've ruined many shirts due to curries with lots of turmeric. If you don't want to stain your grinder, you can add turmeric while you are making your curry dishes instead of now.

Additional ingredients:
+Cardamom seed, with the leathery skin removed [optional]
+Cloves - just two or three [optional]
+Cinnamon [optional]
+Dried garlic [optional] - I buy this from Oriental groceries. But you can add garlic later. See the posting "Mom's Secret Garlic Ginger Paste".
+Sesame seeds [optional] - This is not normally a part of curry powder, but I like to add it.

If you are making a curry powder, do not add any wet ingredients. However, if you prefer a curry paste, one way to make it is to combine this recipe, after grinding, with that of "Mom's Secret Garlic Ginger Paste".

Put all the ingredients into your spice/coffee grinder until you get your desired texture. I prefer a fine grind. If you've never made curry before, I recommend you do this, too. If you make more powder than you need, store the excess in an air-tight bottle or other container. As with all powdered spices, use them within 3-6 months, preferably much sooner.

Just as there are many ways to make curry powder, there are different ways to use it. If you want dry curry dishes, known as "bhaji" or "bhaja" in Indian restaurants, you would typically add curry powder early in the cooking process. For wet curry dishes, I like to the curry powder after I've added the liquid (water or stock).

(c) Copyright 2005 Raj Kumar Dash,


Mom's Secret Garlic Ginger Paste

This sauce is the the real secret "ingredient" that makes my mother's chicken curry in such high demand. I co-opted it for my own "secret chicken curry" (recipe to be available in the near future in a blog posting entitled "Secret Chicken Curry").

Food processor or blender. I use a mini food processor that I picked up in a department store for about $14.

  • Peeled and sliced ginger - 1-2 tsps

  • Peeled and diced garlic - 1-3 buds as desired

  • Peeled and diced onion - 1 cup [Use white, yellow, or spanish onion for best results. You can use Vidalia, but the paste will already be on the sweetish side.]

  • Olive or canola oil - 2+ tbsp, as necessary

Place the first three ingredients into the food processor. (Make in 2 batches if your food processor is small.) Now add 2 tbsps of oil to the processor. Pulse the mixture until it starts to form a paste. If your processor blade starts to stick, stop and add another 1-2 tbsp of oil, as necessary, then pulse again. Repeat as necessary until you have a smooth, slightly foamy, thick white paste with no lumps. For safety, use a rubber spatula to remove the processor or blender.

This paste has many uses. Besides adding a very rich flavour to food, it thickens broths. Ginger and garlic are also reputed to clean up your blood stream by thinning your blood out a bit. My mother and I use this paste in our versions of chicken curry, but it can also be used in stir fries, stews, or even thick, creamy-textured soups. It's very easy to make, but when you do use it, add it later in the cooking process or it may burn. But add it early enough that its flavours distribute well through the dish. This works best if you add it to a large quanity of liquid, such as water or broth. Keep in mind that because of the sugars in the onion, the paste will give a sweetish taste to whatever you add it to.

(c) Copyright 2005 Raj Kumar Dash,


Recipes: To Measure or Not To Measure

Despite my having lived in Canada and the US for nearly 40 years, I come from an East Indian background and I cook that way. We're like Italians and many other cultures in that we don't really measure ingredients when we cook. And we only really follow recipes when a dish is new to us, and maybe not even then.

That said, the recipes in this blog and my other cooking blogs will have measurements, but they are only approximations. Feel free to follow them, or get wild and change things around a bit to suit your tastes. The truth is that because I love to experiment with new food ingredients from around the world, I don't always have a lot of experience with the more exotic items and tend to be rather conservative in their use. So feel free to try different amounts until you find something you like. With new, original recipes, I may try up to ten variations before I settle on something. The downside with not measuring, though, is that I sometimes have trouble repeating the variation I liked best. Overall, though, my recipes are a guideline and hopefully a starting point for you to find a version that you like best.

(c) Copyright 2005 Raj Kumar Dash,


The Connection Between Food and Health and Illness

For the longest time, I was always quite healthy. But shortly after leaving Toronto after my hazy, crazy punk days of hard work and harder play, I went back home to my parents, broke both emotionally and financially. Very shortly after I moved home, I developed numerous allergies to food and environment. Over the next 14 years, I slowly developed a number of other illnesses culminating in the terrible symptoms of diabetes and hypothyroidism. They've affected my ability to hold down full-time work.

There are always all manner of explanations for these illnesses. First and foremost, stress from finances, work, family, and other relationships affects your health. Second, bad diet aggravates your stressed health. Third, for me, poor sleep habits make things even worse. I am of the opinion that if I didn't have to sleep, I wouldn't. For me, there isn't enough time in the world to learn and do everything I want to do. Layer these factors together and you have serious health problems. So what to do?

I experimented with a number of variations of diet, as well as trying many natural ingredients and remedies. I am not a big fan of Allopathic Medicine (aka "Western" Medicine). I come from a very long line of "natural" doctors, who practiced naturopathy, homeopathy, and ayurveda. (However, my maternal grandfather WAS an Allopathic Doctor.) These practices are far older than Western Medicine, and I have very little respect for doctors and powerful, wealthy pharmaceutical companies who tell you that Western Medicine is and always will be better. What they will never tell you is that many of the modern medicines of today were in fact derived from natural remedies. But unless they can mass produce the remedy, they can't make a cent.

Now, I strongly discourage you to do what I did without consulting both your physician and a Homeopathic/ Naturopathic expert, but I tried a number of homeopathic remedies (after consulting an expert myself). My results have been spotty at best, but then, there are so many factors affecting my illness. I spent eight years trying to be a vegetarian. And after I managed to be fully vegetarian for three years, one business trip to Atlanta, Georgia changed everything. I went back to being a meat-eater. But I struggled with trying to balance my allergies to most meats with my (then unknown) diabetic symptoms which caused me to fall alseep if I had too much starch and not enough protein.

Ultimately, I've found the best results with a balanced diet, free-range meats and eggs, minimal starches, and some naturopathic remedies. Now, I know that us North Americans typically are uncomfortable with with discussions of alternate medical practices. So rest assured that this will probably be the only such discussion in this blog. However, whenever possible, the recipes you find here will be geared towards health.

(c) Copyright 2005 Raj Kumar Dash,

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 

Elvis Parsley Brings You Fusion Cooking From Around the World

Watch this space for fusion recipes, general discussions of food, and a few philosophical meanderings from the "Curry Elvis".


About me

  • I'm blogslinger
  • From Canada
  • Writer, author, former magazine editor and publisher, amateur photog, amateur composer, online writer/ blogger, online publisher, freelancer

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