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Semolina crusted Karwari style fish (or barramundi!)

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

This week I want to share this simple, yet delicious, crusted fish dish.

The best ever crumbed fish dish I’ve eaten was in India where they used the kane fish (also called lady fish) but in downtown Sydney I use a local fish, barramundi, which serves its purpose just as well!

This fish has a very earthy flavour and can be very easily crumbed. I love to eat it served with a mint and coriander chatni!!

I use a fish garam masala in this recipe and to slice Spanish (red) onions properly, see here!

step 1

ingredients, clockwise: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala for fish, fresh chillies ground, tamarind extract, fresh chillies slit lengthways, fried kari leaves, red (Spanish) onions, sliced

step 2

2-inch squares of barramundi

step 3

fine to medium coarse semolina

step 4

oil for frying

step 5

to finish – lemon juice and chopped parsley

step 6

FOR THE MARINADE:

add salt

step 7

add

add turmeric and garam masala

step 8

add ground chillies

step 8

add tamarind extract

step 9

mix spices into a masala or marinade

step 10

coat each fish piece in the masala

step 11

apply masala on both sides, or just one if you prefer

step 12

dust fish in semolina

step 13

add oil to hot pan and heat until it starts smoking

step 14

carefully place each fish piece in the hot oil

step 15

cook till the semolina is golden

step 16

carefully turn fish over to cook both sides evenly, taking care not to damage semolina crust

step 17

keep frying

step 18

fry until fish crust turns a dark golden colour

step 19

drain each fish piece of oil

step 20

prepare bed of Spanish onion and chopped coriander, fried kari leaves with a dash of lemon juice, to serve

step 21

enjoy!

Let me know how you go with this dish!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Murgh kali mirch ……

murgh kali mirch served alongside steamed basmati rice

Happy New Year to you all, folks!

As my first blog for 2013 I want to share this recipe that, to this day, remains one of the most amazing dishes I have learnt to cook.

It is simple yet very technical as it uses black peppercorns, the king of spices, in three different ways.

First, the peppercorns are used whole to create an infusion in the hot oil; secondly, they are crushed or cracked; and thirdly, they’re ground with garlic and curry leaves to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish!!

the ingredients arranged before I cook

adding buttermilk to the chicken

mixing the buttermilk and chicken

adding oil or butter

adding peppercorns to the hot oil

adding cassia

adding the cardamon

adding cloves

adding asafoetida

adding onions and curry leaf to the oil

folding the spices and onions

the leaves will become translucent and the onions start to caramelize

add salt to taste and cook till onions are translucent

keep stirring whilst holding the pot firmly

add ground ginger and garlic one after the other, when the onions are golden

add the chilli powder

add turmeric powder

stir ingredients each time after adding a new one

add ground coriander

add chopped tomatoes

stir in the tomato

let the tomato cook till skin is soft

add marinaded chicken

fold in chicken

cook chicken

crush curry leaves and add to pot

add ground pepper

add a generous sprinkling of cracked pepper

cover the pot and simmer till chicken is cooked

add peppercorns to a mortar

add garlic flakes to mortar

crush leaves and add to mortar

add coriander leaves

crush ingredients with pestle working under a clean tea towel to prevent any mess, and smile please!!

add the crushed spices to the pot

sprinkle chopped coriander on top before serving

close up of dish

the dish is now ready!

plate the meal on a banana leaf and served with steamed rice

If you want quantities, here is the murgh kali mirch recipe.

And if you want the classic way to cook basmati rice, please watch this video!

Please let me know how you go with this dish.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Dhuyein ki machchi (smoked fish and tomato chutney)

sampling the wonderful dhuyein ki machchi smoked at home!

The dish I want to share this week is the easy-to-do-at-home, or on the barbie (great for the Aussies), dhuyein ki machchi!!

smoked fish and tomato chutney

ingredients for smoked fish from top, clockwise: ground garlic, ground ginger, chilli powder, turmeric powder, kebab garam masala (ground), oil, lemon wedges, salt; plate-sized NZ snapper (gutted and scaled); tea leaves for smoking

I like to serve this alongside a tomato chutney which you can prepare whilst your fish is smoking in the oven.

ingredients for tomato chutney, clockwise: kari leaves, chilli powder, oil, black mustard seeds, dry red chillies, chick pea lentils, white lentils, salt, asafoetida powder, lemon juice, turmeric, tamarind paste, tomato purée, fresh coriander leaves

step 1

the fish can be red snapper (pictured), baby barramundi, flathead, in fact use any whole fish that can comfortably fill a plate. It’s always a good idea to keep the fish on ice when out of the fridge

step 2

What’s smoking? To infuse the fish with a smokey flavour, you need something to smoke. Pictured is black tea with some of the ground spices that make up the kebab garam masala…… You don’t have to use tea! If you have time, use the fibre husks from sweet corn, dry in the sun for a couple of days. You can also use shaved hickory (available at all good BBQ stores)

step 3

If you’re smoking the fish on a stove you’ll need: heavy-based pan, glass lid, mixing bowl, whisk and a metal rack

step 4

If you’re smoking the fish in an oven you’ll need: baking tray, mixing bowl, whisk, metal rack

step 5

click kebab garam masala for the ingredients

step 6

grind until garam masala resembles course sand

step 7

your fish should be scaled and gutted – clean the insides thoroughly

step 8

on a chopping board, score the fish, three slashes on each side, about 1/2 cm deep

step 9

this is the right cutting depth

step 10

After you have scored all the fish, discard the ice.

pat fish dry with a paper towel or the marinade won’t stick

step 11

pat dry the insides of the fish as well

step 12

place fish in tray and cover with paper towelling whilst preparing the marinade

step 13: Preparing the marinade.

add 1 tbsp salt to mixing bowl

step 14

add 1 tbsp garlic paste to mixing bowl

step 15

add 1 tbsp  ginger paste to mixing bowl

step 16

fold salt, garlic and ginger paste together

step 17

add 1 tsp chilli powder and fold

step 18

add 1/2 tsp turmeric and fold

step 19

add 2 tbsp ground kebab garam masala and fold, add any remaining garam masala to the tea leaves

step 20

add polyunsaturated vegetable oil and fold

step 21

your marinade is now ready and should look (more or less!) like this

step 22

smear marinade over fish and into scored cuts

step 23

smear marinade into fish cavity as well

step 24

this is how much marinade should be on the fish (both sides)

step 25

folding in remaining garam masala to the tea leaves

step 26

if cooking on the stove, add tea leaf mixture to pan – the tea leaves should be laid about 1-cm thick, covering about 60% of the base

step 27

place fish on rack, add more marinade if necessary

step 28

cover pan with lid – a glass lid is ideal as you can see when the fish is ready without having to take off the lid (which you don’t want to do as the smoke will escape). As the fish cooks, the gills will open up and the dorsal fin will rise. The fish is cooked when the scored cuts ‘weep’ (fill with moisture).

step 29

scored cuts ‘weeping’ (moisture will bead there) means the fish is cooked

step 30

If using oven: turn on temp. to 180-200 C and also turn on the grill (if your oven is able to do both), to medium heat. Place tea leaves on aluminium foil in a tray on top shelf of the oven (closest to the grill). Tea leaves should be laid about 2 cm thick. Keep fish on the rack and place on tray. Then place on shelf underneath the tea-leaf tray, as shown above!

step 31

A close-up of the tea leaves in the oven – they will start to smoke

step 32

The fish is ready when the gills are fully open and scored cuts are weeping

step 33

Making the chutney that goes alongside the fish (prepare whilst the fish is being smoked).

add 2 tbsp polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 34

when the oil is smoking, add 1 tsp black mustard seeds – if the oil is hot, they will immediately sizzle and pop

step 35

add whole chillies and fold

step 36

add 2 tbsp lentils and fold

step 37

add 2 tbsp white lentils and fold till caramelised

step 38

add 11/2 tsp salt and fold

step 39

add 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder and fold

step 40

add kari leaves and let crackle (this is pretty instantaneous)

step 41

add 1 tsp chilli powder and fold

step 42

add 1/2 tsp turmeric and fold

step 43

add 1 tbsp tamarind paste and fold

step 44

add 2 cups tomato purée and fold (or you may add chopped tomatoes or a combination of both), cook until the oil separates and appears on the surface

step 45

tear coriander, add to pan and fold

step 46

add 1 tbsp lemon juice, to taste, and fold

step 47

remove from stove – then serve chutney as it is, or if you prefer, blend it for a smoother texture

step 48

your chutney is now ready!

step 49

place fish and chutney on a serving dish and enjoy!

There are a few things I’d like you to remember when smoking fish:

1. Never add lemon juice to the marinade, this moistens the fish and will ‘break’ it up when smoked. Add lemon juice to the fish after it has been smoked and removed from the oven and whilst it is still hot.

2. Avoid small fillets of fish as they are too delicate, use whole fish, especially when the fish is ‘plate sized’.

3. If using fillets of a bigger fish, crust the skin side (making sure you do not skin the fish, dry the skin side and apply the marinade, the skin will get crisp after smoking) and cover the flesh side with aluminium foil to prevent the fillet from drying out.

4. You may use any wood chips as long as they are safe! Please check this before you use them. Also, try rose leaves mixed with tea leaves, it creates the most fabulous aroma and taste!!

5. Remember, never fry the fish before smoking it like they do on MasterChef, nothing is worse than this as the smokey flavour does not permeate through the fish.

So, happy cooking till the next one!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Mysore Chilli Chicken ….

This chilli chicken dish is simple yet skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced. So much intricacy in this dish!

Mysore chilli chicken dish

So, let’s get started and first make the masala:

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off, here are a few tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

A classic recipe from the land of the coconut……!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

vegetable ishtew

Folks, this week we are making a dish that my ‘mallu’ friends call ‘ishtew’. Generally made with beef or chicken, here is my version with vegies and yes it is a ‘VEGAN‘ dish !!

ingredients clockwise starting in the 2 o’clock position: coconut oil, chopped red onions, sliced green chillies, broccoli and cauliflower florettes, diced tomatoes, kari leaves, ginger juliennes. outer ring: diced beans, cassia bark, green cardamom, cloves, mace blade, black peppercorn, star anise, caramelised onions, coriander leaves, coconut cream (or whole coconut if you are really keen; otherwise use coconut cream), diced potatoes, diced carrots

If you want instructions on how to caramelise onions (or even slice them), check out my techniques page.

Blanching the vegetables

Step 1

prepare mixing bowl of iced water

Step 2

add salt to boiling water in a large pot

Step 3

add diced potato to boiling water

Step 4

cook the potatoes until they are al dente

Step 5

to check of the potatoes are al dente, remove one from the pot and cut it with a knife – it should slide through like ‘cutting’ butter

Step 6

when the potatoes are al dente, scoop from the pot and place in iced water to stop the potato cooking any more

Step 7

Repeat this process for beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower – cook each vegetable separately when blanching.

Cooking the spices, onion, fresh chilli, kari leaves and tomato

Step 1

In a large frying pan, heat pan and add coconut oil. When the oil smokes, add spices separately, folding between each addition. Start with the cassia (cinnamon sticks), then green cardamoms, cloves,black peppercorns and mace blades.

Step 2

Look for signs that the spices have cooked. Initially the cassia will be furled. When it has cooked, it will be open.

cassia (cinnamon stick) not ready since it hasn’t unfurled

unfurled, now it is perfectly cooked

cooked cardamon pods will swell, like this

cooked mace will only slightly unfurl, like this

Step 3

now the spices are cooked, add chopped onions and keep folding whilst the onions caramelise. n.b. the coconut oil will froth

Step 4

add salt and fold

Step 5

when your onions have caramelised like this, it’s time to add the thinly sliced (julienned) ginger

Step 6

add the ginger and fold

Step 7

add fresh green chillies and fold

Step 8

add half the kari leaves and fold. repeat this process with the remaining half

Step 9

when your mixture looks like this, it’s time to add caramelised onions

add caramelised onions and fold

Step 10

when your onions look like this, it’s time to remove a cup of them to be used as a garnish

Step 10

setting aside some of the garnish

Step 11

add chopped tomatoes to the frying pan and fold until their skins have almost separated from the flesh (as above!)

Step 12

when the tomato skins have almost split, add coconut cream and fold

Step 13

turn down the heat so the coconut does’t boil as it will split if it boils. Small sporadic bubbles are fine!

Step 14

drain blanched vegetables and keep discarded water

Step 15

add vegetables to pot and fold

Step 16

keep folding until all the vegetables are covered by the creamy sauce

Step 17

cover pot for ten minutes, remove lid: your vegetables will (should!) look like this

Step 18

check that your sauce isn’t too runny – dip a spoon into the sauce and remove; the sauce shouldn’t run off the spoon but drip off. If the sauce runs off, keep reducing the sauce

if the sauce doesn’t drip off your spoon, add a little water (use the water from the blanched vegetables)

only add a little water (kept aside from the strained vegetables) at a time (if you need to)

Step 19

sample your dish – add salt to taste, if needed

Step 20 – Plate the dish

serve the meal – maybe on a banana leaf and red rice noodles a.k.a. Idiappam!

red rice noodles can be purchased from an Indian grocery store all ready to heat and serve!!

Step 21 Add garnishes and enjoy!

add chopped coriander

add caramelised onion/spice mixture you had set aside earlier

So folks, as promised, we are on a journey!! Not only am I ‘touring’ the vast land of India and showing you the great variety of its food, I’m also focusing on vegan dishes! Don’t, my dear meat-eating friends, be ‘put off’ by this. Make some of these as a side dish, if you want, with some kebabs (remember?) or lamb cutlets that take minutes to cook. And as for my vegan friends, well yes, I know, this is more than enough as a good meal in itself.

Until then, happy VEG(AN)TARIAN cooking and remember Indian food is NO DAMN CURRY IN…..!!! When I show this dish to people they say, “Is it Thai, Italian, Macrobiotic . . . etc. etc. etc.” and never bl–dy Indian. And on that merry note.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

Crab with black pepper, kali mirch and milagu !!!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

This week, folks, I wanted to share with you a very special dish.

Yes, the title may have given you a clue and yes again, it’s crab chettinad!

This dish is so special as it uses black peppercorns in three different ways. So, let’s get cracking!

STEP 1

Apply ground turmeric to the mud crabs.

apply 1/2 tsp turmeric to cleaned and cut crab. This recipe uses about 2 kgs mud crabs. [Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant and reduces any bacteria that might be in the crabs.]

Put cleaned crabs in the fridge whilst you prepare the sauce.

STEP 2

To make the sauce:

heat oil until it just starts smoking, then add 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns; let peppercorns crackle [heating peppercorns this way creates an infusion].

STEP 3

add 3 chopped onions and salt to pepper-infused oil [salt prevents the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan]. Reduce heat to medium and let onions caramelise.

STEP 4

when onions are almost golden, add 2 sprigs fresh kari leaves and let crackle.

STEP 5

add 1 tbsp crushed garlic to onions, fold until garlic is caramelised.

STEP 6

then add 1 tbsp crushed ginger and fold until mixture is golden.

STEP 7

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns, to give the sauce ‘bite’, and fold.

STEP 8

add 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped and cook well.

STEP 9

cook till tomatoes are soft and oil leaves the side of the pan.

STEP 10

It’s now time to remove the crab pieces from the fridge.

add crabs and fold gently.

STEP 11

cover pan and cook until crabs become red [approx. 15-20 minutes].

STEP 12

the crabs are now cooking, yum!!

STEP 13

remove crabs from pot and then finish preparing the sauce.

STEP 14

set crabs aside whilst preparing sauce.

STEP 15

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns and kari leaves to sauce for that extra ‘oomph’!

STEP 16

add juice of 1/4 lemon and season to taste.

STEP 17

add crabs to finished sauce, replace lid and cook for a few minutes.

STEP 18

to plate, remove crabs and arrange on serving dish.

STEP 19

pour sauce on top of crabs.

STEP 20

add a few fresh coriander leaves, to serve.

STEP 21

ready, set, go, attack!

STEP 22

voilà! the easiest and best crab chettinad!!

So, all we need to go along with this dish is some soft steamed Basmati rice. (Click Basmati rice to see how to prepare this delicious accompaniment.)

And there you have it. A most versatile spice used in three different ways in the same recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

Anna’s Mysore Chilli Chicken

Well, the name says it all.

But it might not be the name you expect.

Anyway, this is a chicken dish with, yes, you guessed it, chilli and it comes from the “royal” (well, I added the regal bit to it!!) kitchens of Mysore.

Anna’s Mysore chilli chicken

But what is not evident from the name, ‘Mysore chilli chicken’, is the process of creating this dish.

It is simple yet very skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced.

This dish is ‘Carnatic’ music at its best, that is, to the taste buds!!

The dish is a creation of Vardarajan, who out of respect (or fear!!) was called “Anna” which means “big brother”. See, some of you won’t have expected that name to belong to a bloke!

Anna was a chef at the Chola Hotel in Madras, way back in the 70s and 80s, and what a chef he was.

But don’t let me do all the talking, folks.

I have pulled out a page from the ‘diary’ of Raman Natrajan who was a trainee in that hotel around the same time as Anna and he describes brilliantly what it was like working in the kitchens of the Chola Hotel and then he describes the dish itself!!

So, without further ado, let’s see what he wrote:

My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Chola Sheraton in Madras. I took a part-time job to work on the weekends. On my first day Chef Ramesh Babu walked me over to the Main Kitchen. I was to work in the prep kitchen next to the Indian kitchen. This was where you served your indenture in order to become an apprentice worthy of working in the main kitchen.

There was a never-ending procession of goods requisitioned out on numerous trolleys from the main storeroom that came into the prep kitchen first, for initial processing. For 12 hours a day, I stood there with my hands red and sore, peeling onions by the bagful and slicing them. My feet and back ached constantly and I was unable to answer back to any one who wanted to test my patience during those first few days. After two weeks I was moved to the Indian Kitchen.

In this small world of the Indian section, there was a smaller god, Chef Varadarajan, who by now must be in the great white kitchen in the sky. Everyone called him Anna (brother). Anna was a ‘Tamizhkaaran’ from Mysore (which means a Tamil from Mysore). He had about ten cooks and five apprentices and yes, I was again at the mercy of the whole team. It was here that I watched in wonder as Anna prepared a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, all day long, for the restaurant and banquets.

No one told you, showed you, or gave you handouts; you learnt by sight, taste, and smell to become proficient by doing a task over and over again and getting better and faster every time. We had thousands of marinated tandoori chicken pieces to put on seekhs (skewers). After this we stood in front of four hot tandoori ovens, soaked in sweat and we handed over these seekhs to the tandoori cooks who were experts on the tandoor. This was my first experience of real heat. I was aware that in 99 percent of the iterations of tandoori chickens out there, the light or dark red color was supplied by food dye. I was curious and asked Anna if he used food color in all the food that has some color added to it. Anna told me that he was going to show me something later.

In the Indian kitchen they made different gravies in large pots big enough to have a bath in!  Still, as far as I was concerned, I was now being treated like a human being, at last, largely thanks to Anna who took me under his wing. When you work in the hotel you go to the staff kitchen for a meal, for you would not dare eat in the kitchen, at least not while the chef or sous-chefs were around. But most afternoons, after the meal service was done at around 2 p.m., the executive chef and his sous-chef would take a break. This is when the senior cooks make a special lunch for themselves. These were gems that one cannot find on any menu. The dishes were made with pure love and every day each chef outdid the other with his special dish.

One day Anna made a dish for the afternoon meal from his native Mysore. This was the day that Anna had said he’d show me something. And he did as promised; he showed me how to make a spectacular dish which he called “Mysore chilli chicken”. And what was even more amazing is that he was going to make it without adding any food color. Till today, I have searched online for this recipe and I have never found one that looked anything like his. It was bright orange/red and tasted divine. It came served with steamed rice. It was spicy, it was hot and it was pure Carnatic music on a plate!!

I will never forget Anna who showed me his mastery of cooking.

Food is like music. It should be relaxing, refreshing, and nourishing. Just like the music you love, it should inspire and move, exhilarate and excite. Flavors, colors, and smells should intermingle on your palate and raise the senses. For Anna the master, everything was easy, he was a smooth conductor and I learnt from him that cooking is like playing an instrument. It requires practice and respect; patience and a willingness to learn. You make mistakes, you try again, and you master your performance.

Thank you Anna for being one of my early Aachiriyars!!
VANAIKKAM ANNA!!!

Well folks, there you have it. Men after my own heart. Food cooked with skill, endless practise and passion.

So, what do we know about our friend Raman Natrajan?

 Raman Natrajan

Well, he started his career in Madras in the early 80s at the Chola Sheraton. I guess I was somewhere there around that time and that is how we met.

Time went by, as it tends to do . . . Raman joined the ITDC, I joined the Taj group of hotels.

Raman went to America to further his career in the hotel industry and I moved ‘Down Under’ to become a DESI cook. . .!

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Raman went on to work for the Sheraton Hotel as their Executive Chef in New Orleans, followed by a stint at the Renaissance Stanford in San Francisco, until 2004.

Today he heads the hotel operations of the Marriott Hotels in the US. This is no mean feat for someone who was groomed in the ‘hot’ kitchens of Madras under the tutelage of the great Anna!!

And without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, mouth-watering recipe itself.

Mysore Chilli Chicken

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off folks, here are a few of Anna’s tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

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