The two most important things that inspire me to cook are the memories of my childhood, especially with my ma and dida and also that sudden intuitive attraction I feel towards a particular recipe. Each of these triggers work differently. The memories are calm, stable and continues. I know it is there deep inside, offering me companionship and guidance of those who are not with me in this physical world anymore.
The later one is quite different, in fact the opposite. It is unanticipated: where and when it will happen, I do not know. It could be a taste of a dish in a friend’s home, a swift whiff of a scent that leads to a creation or just a conversation. About food of course. Once I get that “tease” inside me, I cannot rest. The stimulation progresses every moment and I need to make it happen. To venture out, evaluate and give it at least one try. It is not always perfect or even right. It might turn out very different than the expectations I had set for myself. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I do not. But I am unable to ease up unless I have attempted it at least once.
The results predict the next course. To keep or to change.
Conversation is what initiated this recipe. I was talking to a friend’s mom. She is a delightful cook. I have not had many opportunities to really relish food cooked by her (not as many times as I would want to!), but from what I have, I know I can trust her on any recipe she talks about. One time she mentioned a simple chicken curry with milk. Not many steps, not many spices and the most unique recipe I ever heard. I came home and gave it a try. It was a disaster. The milk split and I had to dump the whole thing out. It was not the recipe that went wrong. It was something I did, or it was, as I would want to blame it on a “villain”, the milk. I am assuming the fresh milk used in India in full fat and creamy in its natural unadulterated form. The pasteurized milk in gallon jugs I get here, does not stand upto it. There was nothing creamy in the sauce. Instead it was the undesirable particles of the split milk.
Time to make change. I tried again, this time with a combination of milk and heavy cream. The spices and other ingredients went through some changes too. I worked with my intuitions. It was unexpectedly good. Maybe because I did not have any expectations this time. I never had anything similar to this. I thought it tastes closest to the Chicken Korma or maybe even the Murgh Badami, the flavors being mild but with distinctive aroma.
A few things to note on this recipe. It uses cream. Yes heavy cream. It is rich and indulgent. We do not serve this on the table everyday. Occasional treats deserve to be enjoyed as they are, without substitutions, to water down the taste and flavor. If you are planning to use only milk or thinking of yogurt, kindly make yourself another recipe, not this. The key to my lifestyle is moderation. I eat healthy meals full of fresh fruits and vegetables everyday. So does my family. But when we do indulge, we do it right. We do deserve to enjoy that unalloyed taste and flavor once in a while, without guilt. I would never make Butter Chicken with yogurt. I would never want to substitute the cream in this particular recipe with anything else. Just like if you wanted a bowl of ice cream and you would not be satiated if you were give a bowl of sugar free yogurt. Only ice cream will fulfil that want, even if it is a few tablespoons. The guilt or the “unhealthy” note comes in only if you are having it more frequently than you need to.
Of course it is a personal choice!
Give it a try, my way or yours. The flavors are fresh. The ginger imparts a zing, and mild and simple it might look, it is a regal dish fit for special occasions.
Chicken with Black Pepper and Cream
Ingredients: (serves 3)
- 3/4 lbs skinless chicken breast/tenderloins (cut into 1.5 inch cuts)*
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 teaspoon ginger paste
- 1 + 1.5 tablespoon ghee or oil
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds/methi
- 3/4 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 3/4 tablespoon julienned ginger (divide in half)
- packed one cup onion sliced in thin half moons
- 1-2 fresh green chilli pepper, slit
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 235 ml heavy whipping cream/double cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- about 30 turns of fresh ground black pepper (adjust amount to taste and how much heat you can take)
- salt to taste
- fresh coriander/cilantro for garnish
*Notes: Chicken with bones may be used. It is recommended that the pieces be cut in small sizes to cook them faster.
If you want this dish to have a pure white look (instead of the slight yellow hint here), do not use any red chilli powder. If you need extra spicy, use more green pepper and black pepper.
Wash pat dry the chicken pieces. Add 1 teaspoon salt, chilli powder and the ginger paste and rub everything on the chicken. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes (minimum. overnight will not hurt).
Heat a tablespoon of oil/ghee in a pan. add the fenugreek seeds/methi. When they sizzle, add the marinated chicken and cook at medium to high heat, tossing quickly and frequently so the marinade seals. When the chicken turns whitish on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside. The chicken need not cook completely here. If you are using larger pieces or bone in chicken, you might want to cook it for a little bit longer.
Heat the rest of the oil/ghee and add part of the green chilli pepper. When the pepper has brown spots on them, add the garlic and half of the julienned ginger. Cook for about a minute and a half in medium heat and then add the onions. Then add sugar, and toss everything together. Slowly cook the onions in low to medium heat. They should soften but not turn brown. After about three minutes, lower the heat and cover the pan and allow the contents in the pan to soften.
While the heat is still at the lowest, add the black pepper, rest of the green chillies, cream and the milk to the pan. Stir everything together and then add the chicken pieces. Cook in low heat for about eight to ten minutes. Then increase the heat to medium, add the rest of the ginger, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender. If you want more sauce you may add extra milk (or cream) and if you need less sauce, simmer it at low, uncovered for longer, until you have the desired consistency.
Garnish with more green chilli pepper and fresh coriander if you wish.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy