Chicken 65 from my kitchen! I finally did it. After quite a few failed attempts, where I had got nothing close to the real taste, I am glad to proclaim that I attained the near perfection. I do deserve to celebrate.
For now you do not have to worry about the “65″ of the Chicken 65. The sensational taste, the tangy sauce hugging the crispy morsels of chicken, flavored generously with ginger, black pepper and light hint of fennel, has nothing to do with the “65″. I will come to that a bit later in the post.
Chicken 65 is something I got introduced quite late in my life. I never saw it cooked in my ma’s or grandama’s kitchen. I never even heard of it until I had stepped into this tiny restaurant specializing in “South Indian” food in USA. The moment I read “Chicken 65″ in the menu I was intrigued, more with the origin of the name than what it is. I could read that clearly in the description it had and it sounded lip smacking good. Ever since that day, I had been trying at home. Every single time, I was disappointed. I asked my friends who grew up in that region and have better idea about the recipe than I did. Everyone had a different version of the recipe. Some were deep fried some were not. Some used chicken with bones, others went without. Even the spices used were not the same. I was confused, frustrated and saddened by every unsuccessful trial.
I am not exactly sure if different regions in the southern parts of India have their own variation. Heck I do not even know the exact origin of this recipe. If you are interested in the “historical claims” to the name of this dish, you can whet your appetite in the Wikipedia…I think I would want to believe it was named after the year it was first cooked in the restaurant, rather than that it takes 65 days to cook this simple dish or even that it requires 65 spices. Because it does not require that many spices.
I have had Chicken 65 only in restaurants. I have had the good ones and the bad ones. But over all these years of experimenting and trials, I have realized all the “good” ones pretty much taste similar, with the same range of flavors and texture. So that is what had been my target.
I can get pretty obsessive about constructing that perfection in a recipe. If I have set my mind on to something, I will not rest until it happens, and happens right. So it happened with this one. Dismayed I was at the failed results repeatedly. What came out of the pan looked and tasted nothing like the Chicken 65 I am familiar with. But I don’t give up that easily and cannot ease off until I have had it in my grip.
So this weekend went into another trial and I am happy this was the final one.
deep fried with spices: ready to be coated with sauce.
I know this probably is not at all an authentic recipe. You have to trust me on this one. It does taste authentic or at least I can say it belongs to the “good” category.
The family had one word for it: “perfect“.
Ingredients: (serves 6-8 as appetizer)
- 2.5 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast, cut in 1-1.5 inch pieces
- oil to deep fry
- might need more salt to adjust to taste
- fresh cilantro, crushed red pepper, fresh lemon juice and raw onions for garnish (optional)
For the Marinade:
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red kashmiri chilli powder (use chilli powder which is less hot if you want less spicy)
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 3 tablespoons corn flour/corn starch (the powdered one, not the liquid)
- 6 tablespoon rice flour
- 1/4 cup packed ginger paste
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds/saunf – powdered
- a lot of freshly ground black pepper (adjust to taste: I used about 20 grinds)
- 1 tablepoon coriander powder
- 2 tablespoons thick plain yogurt
For the Sauce:
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered orange or red food color or a few drops of liquid food color (optional)
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 dry red chilli pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3/4 cup of thick plain yogurt
- 1/2 cup packed fresh curry leaves
- hot chilli peppers, julienned or chopped (remove seeds and membrane to reduce heat)
- 3 tablespoons oil
Clean, wash and cut chicken. Pat dry. Combine salt, vinegar and red chilli powder with the chicken pieces,toss to coat and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. Combine the rest of the ingredients in the “Marinade” list, including the rice and the corn flour and toss the chicken with it, so each piece of chicken is coated with the mix. Allow the chicken to sit in the marinade for at least a couple of hours; longer will not hurt. The ginger and yogurt act as meat tenderizer and softens the chicken.
When ready to cook, heat enough oil in a wok to deep fry. (The chicken can be shallow fried if you are concerned about using too much oil, but I have noticed that deep frying them gives them the crispy outside which remains that way after adding the cooked chicken to the sauce: the choice is yours). Fry the pieces of chicken in batches, a few at a time, drain and set aside. Make sure you separate them when you drop each piece in the oil, as they usually stick to one another forming a lump while marinating.
To prepare the sauce, whisk the well drained yogurt and food color (if you are using it) until smooth. Chop/slice or julienne the peppers. Heat 3 tablespoon of oil in a large enough pan or wok which will hold all the chicken. When the oil shimmers, add the red dry chilli peppers or the crushed peppers whatever you are using, and the mustard seeds. When the seeds start to pop and the peppers change to a shade of brown, add the fresh hot peppers and the fresh curry leaves. They moisture in them will make the oil splatter, so be careful. In medium heat, cook the peppers and the leaves for two minutes. The curry leaves will be very fragrant. Reduce heat and slowly add the whisked yogurt: keep stirring the yogurt in gentle moves. Keep the heat low otherwise the yogurt might split. It is okay if it splits, but it is better if it does not. The sauce coating the chicken pieces is going to be smooth instead of specks of curdled yogurt sticking to them. However, even after precautions the yogurt might split, and it is okay. There is no reason not to go ahead and finish the dish.
Cook for about 2-3 minutes. The yogurt will have coated the peppers and the leaves. Now add the fried chicken and quickly toss them so the yogurt starts coating the chicken pieces. Keep cooking for all the liquid needs to be gone and absorbed by the chicken. There will not be any leftover sauce. All of it should have coated the chicken and they will be glistening with the sauce and specks of pepper and curry leaves. Increase heat at this point, give it a good toss and remove from heat. Adjust salt. Add more crushed red pepper and black pepper if you feel the need for it.
Serve hot as appetizer with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, chopped fresh cilantro if you wish and raw onions on the side. We love it wrapped in a good flaky paratha or naan too, which of course makes a meal.
Preparation Time: 15-30 minutes + marination time
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6-8 as appetizer
Difficulty Level: Easy
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