This week I started my apprenticeship with Chef Hemant Mathur, co-founder of Tulsi NYC. For those of you familiar with New York City’s Indian food scene, Chef Hemant’s name needs no introduction. An envoy of the finest Indian fare, Chef Hemant is blessed with hard core culinary training from India and a ‘natural hand in cooking’ – a trait that is very hard to mimic. Since my husband and I have been stalking him for 12 years now, it is of no surprise that I was filled with gratitude when he agreed to train me in his kitchen.
I showed up, thinking I knew most of the fundamentals and was here to enhance my skills whilst learn a few bonus dishes. How wrong was I? There was a lot to learn and getting the names of the dishes right was a good place to start. I realized that I was calling everything with a sauce ‘curry’ and for me curry was always based on the ‘mother sauce’ of ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes. After a brief kitchen tour, it became apparent that there are many different bases for a curry which went well beyond tomatoes and caramelized onions. Meat, fish, chicken and vegetables were also cooked in bases of coconut milk, lentils, yoghurt, ground blanched nuts or coriander based pesto. Furthermore, I learned that ‘curry’ is not even the correct term to refer to these dishes. In India, sauce based dishes are referred to by their designated names providing suggestion of ingredient, technique and region.
So where did this word come from? There are many stories regarding the origins of the term ‘curry’. Some believe that it came from the British Empire whilst others believe it came from the Southern Indian word ‘Kari’ which means sauce.
Either way, there are many varieties of sauce based dishes that are derived from local culture, customs and climate. I will be sharing with you my mini-series of dishes cooked in different Indian regional sauces and re-christen them with the name they go by in their land of origin.
Since a lot of this is new for me, I can’t know where I am going to if I don’t know where I am coming from. That is why, I am intentionally kicking off this series with a Punjabi chicken dish that I have eaten as a child called ‘Tariwala chicken’ or quite literally, chicken with gravy. Punjabi food, much like the culture is an embodiment of heart and life. The food sings through spice and loves through its liberal use of ‘ghee’ – clarified butter. Punjabi food is always cooked with intent to feed people who drop by to ‘say hello’ and if you show up with a full stomach, may the force be with you.
Tariwala chicken is the Northerner’s soul food. When chicken braised in a base of caramelized onions, tomatoes, chili, ginger and garlic comes together with fresh hot and fluffy phulkas (unleavened breads) what is the only possible outcome? Why of course, happiness and family bonding.
Tariwala chicken recipe
- 2 lbs chicken (with and without bone)
- Whole masala (1 tsp. cumin seeds, 1 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 1 black cardamom pod, 2 bay leaves)
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ¾ teaspoon of turmeric
- ½ tsp. chili powder
- Salt (to taste)
- 1 ½ medium sized onions, finely diced
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 2 tsp ginger paste
- 1 can crushed tomatoes and 1 fresh tomato, finely diced
- ½ cup of beaten plain yoghurt
- 1 Fresh green chili
- Handful of cilantro
- Juice of half a lemon
- 4 tbsp. grapeseed oil
Heat the 4 tbsp. oil on high heat in a large pan (to avoid overcrowding), toast the whole spices. When the cumin starts to pop, add the onions. When onions start to brown, add the ginger and garlic and salt and allow for mixture to caramelize.
Add the tomatoes (both canned and fresh), coriander powder, black pepper, turmeric, red chili powder and green chili and cook until the sauce becomes jammy (like a compote) and starts to stick to the base of the pan (if necessary, add ¼ cup of water)
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Once oil begins to appear on the surface of the sauce, add the chicken and coat in the sauce on high heat for 5 minutes. Pour in the beaten yoghurt and cook for an additional couple of minutes, add 1 cup of hot water, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes or until chicken juices runs clear when a knife is inserted by the bone. Once the chicken is fully cooked through, remove from heat.
Splash with the lemon juice and sprinkle with fresh cilantro leaves
Serve with steamed rice, naan bread or pita
This dish can be made with boneless chicken, but the bones add flavor and body to the sauce because of the gelatin
Saira Malhotra is a classically trained French chef and graduate from the French Culinary Institute. A British born Punjabi, Saira has grown up around food with her family pizza business where she helped spreading tomato sauce and smuggling cheese for her own little stash. Having studied in France and Italy and living in the Big Apple for the past 12 years, Saira has brought her European, Asian and American influences together via the palate and communicated through her food blog: www.passportpantry.com