Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not Chicken Kurma

Last night I had two thawed chicken breasts sitting in the fridge, waiting to be used before they went bad. You can't refreeze meat after it's already been thawed of course. Why? Because every time you freeze meat, it forms ice crystals inside the cell walls. When you refreeze it, the ice crystals get bigger. And the bigger the ice crystals, the more damage they do the cell walls. The more damaged cell walls are, the worse the texture of the meat.

So I had to use these things, or lose them. I was so impressed by the chicken kurma I had at Bombay House last week, I decided to give it a try. Now, a lot of people would look up a recipe first, maybe online using this whole "Internet" thing we have laying around. I'm not most people. Other than chicken, I remembered the dish having curry, golden raisins and cashews. I knew nothing else about it. I assessed the items in my pantry and found that I had all of these ingredients. I also discovered that I had a few small cans of coconut milk left. I've used coconut milk in a lot of Thai curries, but something told me that it probably wasn't nearly as common in India. My tastebuds argued that it didn't matter, so long as it tasted good. My stomach argued that it didn't matter, so long as it was full.

First, I needed rice. Fortunately, rice is an easy dish that you can just start and ignore while it cooks. Since the curry would offer plenty of flavor, I didn't need much out of the rice. I really just needed it to be there, as a vehicle for the curry. I decided to go with plain white rice. Then something inside of me said, "wait! Didn't the Bombay House rice have little green bits of something in it?" I couldn't for the life of me think of what that might be, but I did think that adding a little bit of color would make it a little more interesting. So I measured out a cup of rice, minus one tablespoon. Then I added to it a tablespoon of Bhutanese red rice, which according to the package, cooks in about the same amount of time. I browned the rice in about a tablespoon of peanut oil, and since I knew I wasn't going to be using a salty liquid this time around, I added a pinch of salt. When it was ready, I added two cups of water, brought it to a boil, slapped the lid on, and let it sit on low for twenty minutes. When the timer went off, I moved it off the heat and gave it another twenty minutes. I would later discover that a little of the red color from the Bhutanese rice would color the white rice ever so slightly. It still ended up looking pretty keen, though.

With the rice out of the way, I turned my attention to the curry. I cut the chicken breasts (two of them, remember) into strips, and then tossed them with about two tablespoons of peanut oil and maybe two tablespoons of Madras curry powder because, well, that was what I had. Since the stuff I had already had salt in it, I dispensed with adding more. I already had a pan over medium heat, so I browned the chicken off in batches, just enough to give it a good sear on both sides. I did not bother cooking the chicken all the way through, but we'll get to that. It took about three batches to get it all browned up. While that was happening, I added one 5.6 oz can of coconut milk to my little two-cup food processor, along with a half cup each of golden raisins and cashew pieces. I processed that until it was nice and thick. It was still a little chunky, but it didn't have huge hunks of anything, so I was happy.

When the chicken was all browned, I added another teaspoons of oil to the pan, along with about a quarter cup of diced red bell pepper. I added a wee pinch of salt, and let the bell pepper sweat a little bit. Then I added all the chicken back into the pan, along with all of the coconut milk mixture. It wasn't as liquid as I would have liked, so I added another little 5.6 oz can of coconut milk. That's two cans total now. I brought it up to a boil, and then dropped it to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Since I hadn't cooked the chicken all the way through the first time, this would give it a chance to coast up to temperature, without making it overcook and get rubbery.

The chicken and the rice finished at pretty much the same time. Now, in the restaurant, they would serve each in a seperate container, and give you the chance to scoop out your own rice, and then top it with the curry yourself. In other restaurants, they would just serve the curry on top of the rice anyway. I believe the idea is that since there's so much liquid, you can mix it in with the rice and have something just a little more special than just chicken and rice. For photographic reasons, I served mine side by side, and then mixed things as I got to them.

Now, after I had gone to all this trouble of making what turned out to be a simple, yet excellently flavored dish, I then decided to look up an actual chicken kurma recipe. I was way off. First of all, I should have used yogurt instead of coconut milk. Second, I used a curry spice blend instead of making one up myself. Third, even though Bombay House used golden raisings, I could not find any recipes that even mentioned them. So this is Not Chicken Kurma. But it is pretty dang tasty.

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