I’ve inherited close to a ton, from my father. Like him, I’m an unnecessary level of logical. Inherently pessimistic and resourceful (which makes me one of the best people to stay close to during a zombie invasion, if you’re taking notes). I have a dimpled chin and narrow set eyes like he does, and I’m almost as awkwardly sarcastic in uncomfortable situations.
I’ve also inherited a few things from my mother. Not much, but a tad. I like to think I’m as resilient as her (my friends have informed me that I’m actually not). I might even say I have a fraction of her sense of humor and her aversion to housework. Apart from that, the most precious things I’ve inherited from her is a camel-colored wool winter coat, a very rare bracelet made of uncut diamonds and all the recipes in her repertoire.
I have to, at this point, put it out there, that my mum is no accomplished cook. She won’t be offended at this, because more often than not, when she’s asked to cook, we end up with either under-salted or over-salted food. But like many uninterested cooks out there, she has a handful of recipes that she’s brilliant with.
Chicken sandwiches, for one. You could live off my mum’s chicken sandwiches. She always makes them with marbled bread. The chicken is shredded and pummeled with salt, cracked black pepper and even more butter till it resembles handmade paper. And there’s always a smidgen of mayonnaise. On occasions I’ve supplied her with homemade mayonnaise, but she swears that the sandwiches work better with store-bought. Don’t ask.
The second recipe is a Bengali mutton curry that was handed down to her by her mother. As a working mother, right from the sixties through to the nineties, my grandmother barely had time to stand over the stove to produce a feast. Instead she had quick-n-easy dishes up her sleeve that she handed down to her daughter. I think she secretly knew how useful they’d be to her granddaughter someday. I was in my second year of college when she died. I hadn’t yet found my love for cooking. Five more years would pass before, in the middle of a bone-chilling winter, I’d try my hand at producing her mutton curry — with lamb instead of mutton — and end up in a food coma after emptying the entire pot.
The third recipe is a prawn in coconut curry. The fourth is a chicken rice. And today is about the chicken rice.
If you’re immediately thinking of some version of a Singapore chicken rice, don’t. Far from it. This chicken rice is a loose version of biryani, an easier and quicker fix if you’re craving meat in spices buffed into a cloud cover of white rice.
You start with onions in ghee, and move on to adding ground spices and aromatics when the onions go glassy. The chicken pieces are then coated and par-cooked in the masala mix. Par boiled rice is added with milk and the pot is covered and cooked. The cook continues till the rice is fluffy and fragrant, and the till the lower layer sticks slightly to the bottom. Trust me, you have to be there for the stuck-to-bottom rice bits.
I’m not in a hurry to give up on restaurant biryani yet. Mum’s version was borne out of the time when we were all craving biryani, but didn’t want to eat out. Isn’t that how great homemade recipes come into existence? So she decided to put a quick version together. And what a version indeed. It’s one of those meals that always gets asked about when I post photos of it on social media. A few of my friends have hounded me for it. Anu, a friend from college, took it on herself to got in touch with my mother and get the recipe directly from her. It has my mother written all over it. It’s her signature. The recipe below hasn’t existed for generations in our family. Its not an heirloom. But I plan to make it one.
Sikha Chowdhury’s Chicken Rice
I will understand if you’d want to run for a jar of Patak’s Original after glancing at the long list of ingredients below. Indian recipes have that reputation. But don’t. Trust me on this and you can thank me later. The recipe feeds a family of four. Or two very hungry people.
For the Marinade
- Chicken cut into curry pieces, 1 kilo
- 1/2 cup of yogurt (homemade is best, but store-bought will do)
- 2 teaspoons of salt
For the Chicken
- The marinated chicken
- 2 tablespoons of ghee
- 2 black cardamom pods, split through the middle to expose the seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 2-inch stick of cinnamon
- 4-5 pieces of black cloves
- 2 large red onions, sliced thinly into 1-inch slices
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes, quartered and all seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon of garlic paste
- 1 tablespoon of ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon of coriander powder
- 1 tablespoon of red chili powder
- 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
- White granulated sugar and salt, to taste
For the Rice
- 1 1/2 cups of Basmati rice (of not, then any long grain will do)
- 3 cups of water
- 1 cup of milk, full-fat
- 1/2 cup of raisins or golden sultanas
- 1 tablespoon of ghee
- Salt, to taste
- Chopped coriander, to garnish
- In a large bowl, coat the pieces of chicken with yogurt and 2 tbsp of salt. Wrap the bowl with cling film and rest in the refrigerator for two hours or more. If you’re in a hurry, rest for 20 minutes.
- Wash the rice well in running water till the water is clear, instead of milky.
- Bring the rice and 3 cups of water to a boil. The moment the water starts boiling, reduce the heat, cover the pot and cook for 7-8 minutes.
- The rice needs to be par-cooked. Not completely soft, still a tiny bit raw in the middle of the grain. Drain the water and spread the par-cooked rice on a shallow tray to let it cool for a while.
- Heat 2 tbsps of ghee in deep-bottomed pan.
- Add the black cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon and cloves, when the ghee is hot enough. Stir for 30 seconds.
- Add the onions. Cook the onions till they go translucent and glassy, and start to turn slightly brown at the edges.
- Add a teaspoon of white granulated sugar and stir till the onions start to brown up slightly more.
- Add the tomatoes and cook till they soften a bit.
- Add garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, red chili powder and turmeric. Stir till the onions are all coated with the spices. If the mixture starts to go a bit dry and difficult to stir, add a tablespoon of water, and cook till the liquid evaporates. Add a tablespoon more of water and repeat. A total of 4 tbsps of water can be added gradually and stirred till dry. At the end of which the mixture will start to resemble a coarse masala paste.
- Add the chicken along with its marinade. Stir to coat the chicken with the masala paste.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes till the chicken starts to release some of the liquid. It should look like a chicken curry by now. If not, add a little more water and cook for 3-5 more minutes. Taste and season with salt.
- Layer the par-cooked on top of the curry. Sprinkle the milk and raisins on top and give everything a good stir. All the rice doesn’t have to be coated fully with the masala. White patches of rice are OK.
- Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot tightly and cook on low heat for 15 minutes, or till the chicken is cooked through. It would be wise to check the mixture once in the middle of the cook. If it seems a little too dry, the rice will burn at the bottom, so don’t hesitate to add a little more water.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander. Serve with a cucumber raita or a few slices of pickled cucumber.