Cook up an Unforgettable Madras Chicken Curry…

The fame of Indian spices is older than recorded history.  Centuries before Greece and Rome had their birth, sailing ships carried Indian spices, perfumes, and silks to Mesopotamia, Arabia, and Egypt.  It was the lure of these exotic products that brought many seafarers to the shores of India.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the “New World.”  Five years later four tiny ships sailed southward from the port of Lisbon, Portugal, under the command of Vasco da Gama.  Like Columbus, da Gama was searching for a new route to the spice lands of Asia.  Columbus failed, da Gama succeeded and his successful voyages intensified an international power struggle for control over the spice trade.  For three centuries the nations of Western Europe – Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, and Great Britain – waged bloody sea wars over the spice-producing colonies.

The spices of the east were valuable in Vasco da Gama’s time, as they had been for centuries because they could be used to stretch Europe’s inadequate supply of food.  Spices could be used to preserve meat for a year or more.  During the Middle Ages a pound of ginger was worth a sheep, a pound of mace worth three sheep or half a cow.  Pepper, the most coveted spice of all, was counted in individual peppercorns, and a sack of pepper was said to be worth a man’s life!

These spices were used for centuries in India’s ancient medical system Ayurveda (science of life – body, mind, and spirit) to stimulate the taste buds and increase the flow of saliva, relieve gas, and reduce nausea, soothe the nervous system, increase internal body heat to relieve chills, and strengthen and promote digestion, absorption, metabolism, and circulation.  For example, India’s ancient yellow colored curcumin or turmeric (haldi) powder, used in many curry recipes ‘is arguably the most potent anti-cancer nutrient in existence.’  Today western research suggests that curcumin regulates inflammation that “plays a major role in most chronic illnesses, including neuro-degenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases and aids in healing by ameliorating the chronic inflammation associated with a multitude of ailments and illnesses, from toothaches to cardiovascular disease.”

The magic of curry is in the blending and sautéing of spices (masala) in hot oil as in this delicious healthy chicken curry!

Madras-Style Chicken Curry (Madrasi Murgh Korma)

Serves 6

1 4-pound chicken
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
¼  cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup water
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped
2 dried red chilies
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
½ cup freshly grated coconut
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped
6 cloves
½  teaspoon black peppercorns
6 black cardamom pods, pods removed and discarded
1 small cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces¼  cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 bay leaves
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine

Remove the skin and fat from the chicken.  Cut into 10-12 pieces and place in a large bowl.  Rub the turmeric, salt, and yogurt over the chicken and marinate for 1 hour.  Place the water, onions, garlic, ginger, red chilies, coriander, cumin, coconut, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and bay leaves in a blender and puree.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the pureed mixture, and fry over medium heat for 10  minutes.  When the oil separates from the masala, stir in the chicken and yogurt marinade and mix thoroughly.  bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, until the chicken is tender, occasionally stirring and checking to be sure the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with plain basmati rice,  fresh salad, and legumes.

 

Check out my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015) and India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016) at www.feastofindia.net.

 

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