What I have today is a recipe inspired by the memory of my aunt – a skillet roasted chicken, stuffed with fried onions and made rich with lovely caramelized hue and flavors. There is nostalgia, fun times and also a bucket full of somberness all nestled together. All these feelings are each a component of this recipe as much as it a part of our lives.
My Mamoni who was only second to my Maa, is no more. We lost her a few months back and I like to believe that she is probably happier along with my Maa and our grandma and grandpa. Mamoni is my Maa‘s sister. It feels like an era has been erased off physically; what remains is not tangible but eternal. Memories, photographs, smiles, family get together and laughter - and all of them are slowly fading away. This is probably one of my ways to keep up with it, to write down and then turn the pages and read of what I might forget a few years later. It feels like our generation is the last link to all those years and we need to keep them alive.
A couple of days back, all of a sudden I was weighed down by the thoughts of long back with a sudden urge to pick up the phone and call… only I did not know who to call. Just that thought made it go downhill. The memories of Maa, Mamoni and everyone else whom I miss so much, came flooding back. I wished my cousin sisters were here. As I was sorting through the days of a particular time of my life, I remembered this recipe. Suddenly. Now I am unable to trace back my thoughts. I just had to make this. There is no written recipe. I regret why I never asked, why I never wrote down.
All I had was the memories, like a crumpled up screenplay - of how it looked and how it tasted. I also remembered one particular day when I sat by the door of the kitchen and talked to her as she had the chicken out of the pressure cooker and was getting it ready to brown and crisp the outside. That was the very special part. I loved the scrapings that came out from the bottom of the wok.
I have no siblings, but I was surrounded by my cousins and never missed anything. Cousin sisters who were close and comfortable like old clothes. We grew up together, we shared our childhood and our secrets. We still do. One of my cousins mentioned that there used to be no soy sauce in this recipe. The browning happened only by slowly turning and cooking with the aid of some sugar which caramelized and added to the color. Mamoni is her mom, she would know better. But I remember the flavor of soy sauce; it was different for me as Maa never made anything like this. Not that it matters. Another one told me that this recipe was probably our grandma’s which got changed over time…Sometimes I doubt if I remember things the right way, or do my imaginations feel so real that I start believing in them?
This also happens to be a recipe which is a reminder that we were capable of being mean; kids who threw a terrible fit one day when this had to be shared. I can not imagine ourselves to be such devils, but we were. We got to be really ashamed of ourselves.
Cooking large, whole chicken intimidates me. I have used tiny Cornish hen here. If you are using anything larger than the Cornish hen, the cooking time will vary. I have also taken the liberty to stuff the chicken with fried onions. Mamoni did nothing like it, but it enhances the flavors a lot! I could not remember if she cooked the potatoes on the side or stuffed them. I cooked them on the side. There is nothing like a “must do” for the recipe, except for the marination and the browning technique towards the end. After all it is a recipe which I made up trying to satiate a craving and connect two different times of my life. I cooked it in a skillet as I saw Mamoni do it; she would cook the chicken partially in the pressure cooker and them brown it in a kadai/wok. Since the Cornish hen is really small, it cooked right in the pan and in very little time. The ginger and soy adds a subtle flavor, but feel free to use any spice or herbs you would like.
Skillet Roasted Chicken with Ginger and Soy
Ingredients: (serves 1 – it is a Cornish hen))
- 1 Cornish hen, skin removed and the inside cleaned
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon
Chili Garlic Paste
- 2.5 – 3 tablespoon ginger paste (or fresh ginger grated)
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce/or tamari /or gluten free tamari (use a little less than half if using the soy concentrate)**
- 5 tablespoon oil
- 4 cups onion, sliced in thin half moons
- 4-5 hot green chili pepper
- red chili powder/cayenne – optional, use as per taste
- 2-3 medium potatoes, if you want to cook them with the chicken
- a teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- herbs of your choice to garnish, or you may use green onion
**the soy sauce in India are more like the soy sauce concentrates that we get in the Asian stores here. When I say soy sauce, I mean the light watery kind that we get in the grocery stores here. You will have to use less if you are using the other kind.
If you have frozen chicken, defrost it first. Remove skin of the chicken and trim off the fat. Wash and pat dry. Make deep incisions on the flesh of the chicken; this will help the marinade soften the chicken and moisten the flesh.
Rub in the vinegar and salt on all sides of the chicken and allow it to sit for about 15-30 minutes.
In the mean time, combine ginger paste, garlic paste, soy sauce, salt, chili powder, black pepper and half the amount of sugar in a bowl or a ziploc bag. After the first marination with vinegar and salt, marinate the whole chicken in this marinade. Place the chicken in the bowl or the bag and rub the marinade in to the chicken, especially inside the cuts you have made. Allow it to marinate for at least 2 hours. Overnight would be even better.
Heat 1.5 – 2 tablespoon of oil in a pan/skillet (a cast iron skillet works best), large enough to hold the chicken; add half of the onions and hot chili peppers. Sprinkle some salt and slowly cook them at medium heat until they start to caramelize and turn deep brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside. This will be stuffed inside the chicken.
Remove chicken from the marinade and stuff the chicken with the cooked onions and hot peppers.
Heat the rest of the oil in same pan. Turn down the heat to medium. Add the rest of the sugar and a couple of tablespoon of the sliced onions and cook slowly while stirring constantly until the oil has a deep golden color. This is the sugar caramelized. Make sure the heat is low or else the sugar will burn. You will see the onions turn golden too.
Now place the stuffed chicken in the pan (I usually do it belly side down), pour the rest of the marinade over it and cover and cook at low to medium heat until the chicken is almost done, about 20 minutes (cooking time will vary with the size of the chicken and also the time of marination). If you are adding the potatoes, you have to add it mid way or towards the end of the cooking, so they are cooked when the chicken is done. They will be have to be browned with the chicken too. When done, the chicken should be cooked through but not falling apart.
Now is the tricky and which imparts the crisp outside along with the dark brown color. Uncover and start browning the chicken. The liquid will slowly evaporate. Add the rest of the onions and the herbs. Slowly cook each side of the chicken until all sides are deep brown. You might have to loosen it with a spatula so it does not stick to the pan and get burned.
The potatoes will brown too. Or if you do not want them browned, remove them and set aside and add them back to the pan when ready to serve.
Continue cooking until the chicken is browned in the way you want it. There should be no sauce.
Serve with the potatoes and onions already in the pan and serve it hot!
Preparation Time: 30 minutes + marination time
Cooking Time: 45 minutes – 60 minutes
Difficulty Level: Intermediate