Yet another Chicken Curry. This time the usual one, but redolent with the aroma of fennel. The tiny fennel seeds waved the wands and transformed an everyday chicken curry to something quite fascinating. As I write this post, the air in my home is still laden with the fragrance.
Now I am wondering what took me so many years to think of adding some fennel to this simple chicken curry. A perfect example of how just one spice is capable of making a repeated dish brand new.
I do not cook chicken as often as I used to. For some reasons, I have lost the fascination for meat, and can eat it only in rare occasions. The little one will not eat it anymore either and same goes for A. So it is only P who still loves it. When I cook chicken, it is mostly for her or when I have guests. While I feel reluctant to bite into the chicken, I love the flavors of the sauce and the potatoes coated with it.
Spiced and aromatic sauce, smooth melt in the mouth potatoes spooned over hot rice or simply scooped out with bits of flat bread is what is called a comfort food for most Indians.
This particular chicken curry is cooked habitually. There is not much to think about when I have done it for years. It had been a part of the childhood years. The taste and flavors have become a part of me as well, as much as the cooking process. So when I started making the curry, and I reached for the spices and then I had this impulse to add some fennel seeds. Fennel seeds are used in India to aid digestion. I always have a little jar of lightly toasted fennel on my kitchen counter to munch on in between and after our meals.
Not that using fennel in cooking one unique concept, for there are many curries which is flavored with this spice; but I had not used it by itself as a main spice to add flavor to a chicken curry the way I did today.
And I am glad I did. A big change with a little effort.
I cooked and posted this picture on the Facebook Page and within minutes I had emails to post the recipe. The recipe is almost the same as this Sunday Afternoon Chicken Curry – which happens to by my childhood favorite. Not just for the way it tastes but more for all the nostalgia that wraps around the name.
Here’s the recipe and to making new memories. Enjoy!
Fennel Flavored Chicken Curry
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
2.5 lbs chicken: skinned but with bones (I have used 3 medium sized drumsticks + thigh meat)
- 2 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon red chili powder/cayenne
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon thick yogurt
- 1/2 tablespoon mustard oil (or any other oil)
For the sauce/gravy/jhol:
- 6-7 tablespoon oil (using less oil will make the sauce taste different as it will not cook the onions and the spice mix as well) – I have used pure virgin mustard oil, but you can use any oil if you do not want to use mustard oil
- 2 small green cardamom
- 2 cloves
- 2″ stick cinnamon
- about 8 peppercorn
- 1 tejpatta/Indian bay leaf
- 3 cups chopped red onions (8oz cup size)
- 1.5 teaspoon sugar (to caramelize the sugar. The caramelized onions add flavor and color to the sauce)
- 2 tablespoon garlic paste
- 2.5 inch knob of fresh ginger, grated or made into a paste
- 1 cup fresh grated/ finely chopped tomatoes, or 1.5 tablespoon tomato paste combined with 1/2 cup water
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and divided into 4 each (or more if they are larger) – you may use as many potatoes as you want or may use none
- 1 tablespoon red chili powder/cayenne (or more or less to taste), preferably Kashmiri Red Chili Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds/jeera
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon saunf/ fennel seeds
- 4 hot green chili peppers or to taste
- 2-4 cups of water (adjust to how soupy you want it to be)
- lemon juice and fresh coriander/cilantro or mint to garnish and finish off (I like using mint in this as the refreshing flavors balances the strong flavors of fennel. However any fresh herb may be used)
~ The amount of oil seems to be a lot here, but please do not compromise on this. Along with the potatoes and a pot full of soupy sauce, it makes a pretty good amount and serves quite a few. So if that oil is divided between six servings, the oil is not really that much for a meal. And you do not have this everyday. If you are still thinking, you can remove the thin layer of oil it forms on the top after it is cooked.
~ If you want milder flavor of fennel, just reduce the amount of fennel seeds used.
Wash chicken well and pat dry. If the chicken comes in bigger pieces, make multiple slits into the flesh. Combine lemon juice, salt, turmeric and red chili powder and chicken in a zip lock bag (or in a non reactive bowl) and toss and rub well for the ingredients to settle on to the chicken pieces. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. Add the yogurt, and rub the yogurt in; allow to marinate for an hour or more. Overnight is better.
Lightly crush/smash/pound the peppercorn, clove, cardamom and cinnamon.
Pound 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds to coarsely break the seeds. Set aside
In a skillet separately toast the cumin and 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds. Toast them very lightly. You may heat the skillet and remove it from heat and add the seeds to the pan; stir for a little bit and as soon as they are fragrant remove them from the pan and allow them to cool. Do not let them turn dark in color. When cooled, you may pound/process them together to a coarse powder. Set aside.
Peel and slice the potatoes. Sprinkle half teaspoon turmeric and some salt on them. Add 1/2 tablespoon oil in a pan, heat and add fry the potatoes until they start browning (golden brown) in spots. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the rest of the oil in the pan. Add the sugar and allow the sugar to melt and start caramelize at medium to low heat. The sugar will slowly start to turn gold. Add the peppercorn, bay leaf, clove, cinnamon and cardamom. When they sizzle add the sliced/chopped onions. Cook the onions slowly while very frequently stirring until they start turning golden brown. This process will take a while, about 10-15 minutes. Be patient and watch that the onions do not burn.
Once the onions are caramelized to deep brown (not dark), remove the chicken from the marinade and add to the pan in a single layer if possible. I usually remove the onions and place them on the chicken pieces while the chicken browns. This way the onions do not further cook. Cook the chicken pieces on all sides until light brown to seal in the flavor.
Add the ginger paste/grated, garlic paste, salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder and toss everything and cook for a couple of minutes. Now add the coriander powder and the coarse cumin and fennel powder and cook while occasionally stirring, until the spice mix coats the chicken - about 5 minutes.
Now add the marinade and the tomatoes. Toss and stir well; this is the part that will take time, about 15 – 20 minutes. The chicken will be half cooked during this process and the spice mix will be cooked through (getting rid of the raw taste and smell). This process of slowly braising is called “Bhuna” in Hindi and “Koshano” in Bengali. Once you see the the oil separating from the sides of the pan and kind of rising up in bubbles on the top, you will know it is done.
Now if you are using a pressure cooker, transfer everything in the pan to the pressure cooker. Add the potatoes, green chili pepper and the water and close it. Cook for about 10-12 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked and the chicken should actually be falling off the bones. The cooking time will need to be adjusted as all cookers are different. My pressure cooker only hisses and I never time it. I just know when it is cooked. Call it the “gut feeling”. It might be bit of an experiment to get it right, but you will have to find the perfect time for it.
If you are not using a pressure cooker, add the water, green chili pepper and the potatoes in the same pan. Give it a good stir, cover it with a tight fitting lid and cook until potatoes are tender and the chicken is just about falling off the bones.
Drizzle some lemon/lime juice and garnish with fresh cilantro or mint just before serving. Keep the chicken curry covered until just ready to serve. It will keep the meat tender and prevent them for drying out.
Preparation Time: 2 hours or overnight (Included marinating time)
Cooking Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty level : Moderate
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