Mum’s Chicken Rice

 

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.

20482147_695306123994582_1580099682011447296_n

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.

20394027_251496682025559_7742818370935848960_n

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.

20398773_106319963400980_9213662503072956416_n

20482387_127757307840539_5743989760163053568_n

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.

Ingredients

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

To Finish

  • 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

How-to

  • 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.

What we eat

You know what the rains are like here. We get swept away and washed off of all our sins every season. Then we roll right out of bed, grab black umbrellas left behind by our grandfathers, go back to work and dream of khichdi.

19428652_1233123663464795_7601346215539638272_n

Khichdi with fried aubergines and cubes of potatoes coated in a poppy-seed crumb, crispy fried of course, and a large dollop of ghee on top for good measure. Khichdi, like this, or with flaked fish British-style, is something I will cook forever. I have done my research online trying to find poetry or pretty prose that might have been written on khichdi, but I have been unsuccessful so far. With fried hilsa fish, with popadoms and mango chutney or with an omelette on top. It is not a head-turner in any sense. It is not something you’d find in QP LDN’s menu for sure. But let’s be real here. As much as I enjoyed QP LDN’s food last summer, I did walk out of there still feeling a little hungry (and lighter in the pockets) and ended up gorging on a quarter-pounder form Burger King. That should tell you a lot about how we eat. And more importantly, what we eat.

A man I had dated for a very short while, had studied my Instagram feed very carefully. He said, “You really love food, don’t you..”

I do. But he wasn’t really asking a question, it was more of a self-assured whisper under his own breath, as if he was looking for clues to help him decide what to give me as a birthday gift. He then proceeded to observe, “You eat fancy!”

He didn’t last till my birthday, but I still think of that conversation.

The sausage salad

The truth is that we don’t eat fancy at all. We eat out. We visit our favorite Indo-Chinese establishments or stroll to the neighborhood burger place that has, in recent times, turned magnificent. We get biryanis home-delivered. But those meals, although scrumptious enough to swear by, are hardly ever the kind of fancy you would want the world to be envious about. Good food. Great food, even. But not fancy food.

Most of our meals are home-made. Cooked or slurried together due to lack of time. A mutton curry, the recipe of which was handed down to my mother by her mother, with fluffy white rice. A homemade vanilla cake my colleague baked for Christmas, that we had with coffee. I found myself with some cooked pork sausages yesterday. I threw them in a bowl with a 6-minute egg, day old lettuce that already had a few brown edges, and dollops of mayonnaise. I then called it a sausage salad. That’s my daily level of fancy-ness. It may be comfortable, mediocre or cherished. But it is what it is.

15538981_1855424261403777_7571519226742046720_n

We took a whirlwind tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Bali. I travel to eat — for the most part — and I was not disappointed. Big bowlfuls of kuay chap, rolled noodles with crispy pork, hokkien mee, unctuous plates of Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng, barbecued pork ribs, piles of seafood by the beach and cups of robust Luwak coffee with sweet coconut milk. Nothing plated, ready for Instagram. But everything made to fill an insatiable appetite for good food.

We returned to a rain-drenched waterlogged city. And within 24 hours of arrival, I was craving khichdi. A steaming plate of gooey rice and dal, to warm you up in the chill of monsoon. So we had khichdi for lunch. And a quiche for dinner.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, She talks about eating un-fancy and then goes and serves up a quiche! But a quiche is right up there with khichdi, believe you me. It’s pie-crust, egg custard and filling. And there is not much that you can screw up. If making pastry makes you nervous, just get a crust from the shops. The custard is a mixture without all of the fiddly bits that go into making an anglaise. And then you have the filling, either cooked or raw, based on what you choose. A quiche is one of those dishes that you can load and dress up for a party. Or you can choose to have it for dinner at home. A quiet and good meal. After all the bright loveliness of Instagrammed food shots and the silkiness of a quenelled mousse — khichdi, chicken rice, mushroom quiche…is what we eat.

15034807_134004480413157_5836184677735464960_n

Chicken and Mushroom Quiche

I don’t have a record of producing ground-breaking quiches. But I had once made a chicken and cheese bake in a disposable aluminum tray, that had gotten high praises at an end-of-semester student-professor lunch. So, listen up.

Feel free to get a store-bought savory pie crust. If you’re not quick or confident at making pie-crusts, it makes no sense to labor away and experiment with them for a simple dinner. Let’s be honest here — pastry can smell fear. If you have a good shortcrust pastry recipe use that. If not, I love Rachel Allen’s pie crust recipe.

Note the cheese — choose something you like to eat a lot of. A light cheddar or a matured one, sharp and violently orange. The next time I’m making this, I would definitely want to use something hard, either Pecorino or Parmesan. The recipe also uses cooked chicken. Preferably dark meat. If you have leftovers from a roast, that’s best. Or poach a chicken with salt and black peppercorns, strain off the water and fork the meat of the bones.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
Shredded meat from 1 chicken thigh and drumstick
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms
Fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup double cream
3/4 cup grated white cheddar
A pinch of grated nutmeg (powdered)
3 eggs
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Freshly chopped coriander leaves or parsley leaves (optional)
8-9 inch diameter shortcrust pastry shell

How-To

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.

Heat oil and butter in a pan. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minutes, just to remove the pungency. Add the cooked chicken and mushrooms. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, till the mushrooms soften a bit. Add fresh thyme leaves, Worcestershire sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper. Do a taste test. Adjust the salt and pepper, if needed. take the mixture off heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine milk, cream, nutmeg and eggs and whisk well till the mixture is smooth.

Tip the chicken-mushroom mixture into the tart shell and spread evenly. Pour the milk mixture carefully over. Sprinkle cheese evenly on top. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, till the custard is set. It takes a little more (about 40 minutes) in my oven. So check with your oven temperatures. Garnish the quiche with coriander and serve.

Radio silence. Berlin. And the problem that sparked the idea.

Do you hear that?

The radio silence that makes it seem like the blog’s gone dead?

Well, it hasn’t.

I’m coming to you from somewhere high above the Atlantic, as I fly back home. The airplane cabin is dark and quiet. The baby in 24C was crying a while back. He’s fallen asleep. I’ve just a finished a spectacularly bad meal of pack-n-seal biryani. But buckle up, this is going to be a long one.

It would be OK for you to assume that I haven’t been doing much of cooking or baking, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Barring junk-that-will-make-you-slobber-uncontrollably hot dogs and a chicken and mushroom quiche, which I will share with you shortly, I haven’t really spent much time in the kitchen this year. So far.

Remember how we discussed Altertrips over lemon cake? I did promise to share more with you and now is just as good a time as any.

Two summers ago, in 2015, we took an impromptu flight to Berlin. Just because. Fauri, my BFF from Uni (and fellow kebab-lover), was finishing up with her post-grads in Dessau and I was looking for a short break. Germany seemed like an attractive option. Unfazed by the popular consensus about the starkness of bratwurst, my family wanted to come along. And so they did.

11855738_10153578025649066_7368016023295214465_n

I don’t have to tell you how family vacations are completely different from vacations with friends. It’s the priorities that get you. Hostel vs Hotel. Sightseeing vs Eating. Eating Indian vs Eating local. Walking around all day vs Going back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.

Luckily, my family’s made up of champs and travel-hungry people.

We booked an AirBnB, a charming two-room apartment in Barbarossastraße, with the tiniest of kitchens and a bathroom that was so narrow, you wouldn’t be able to stretch out both your arms sideways at the same time. The apartment was stacked with its neighboring units and overlooked a cozy courtyard. The coziness and the green of the courtyard was welcoming. However, it meant that neighbors could easily hear you talking if you raised your voice a couple of notches. Toddlers looked up from their playtime and quietly watched us drag our luggage to the first floor.

BERLIN1.jpg
On top of the Furnsehturm. Tickets Here.

Read More »

32 years. And salted butterscotch.

32 years.

THIRTY TWO YEARS!

Sometimes it feels like I’m 22, bent over on rolls of tracing paper at my college drafting board, wondering when I’ll hear the roar of motorcycle engines outside, signalling the possibility of a midnight mini road-trip.

Sometimes it feels like I’m 42, bent out of shape, exhausted and wondering when they’re going to invent a bed that will be able to swallow me whole.

But I turned 32, almost a fortnight ago now.

I feel like I have to whisper it, lest it sets off people into asking me if I’m married or if I have children.

I’m not. And I don’t.

cupcakes-1

Does it feel weird?

Yes and no.

Yes, because when I was younger, much younger, I had imagined – not in too many details – my life to be somewhat different. Maybe a little more accomplished, a little thinner. With a toddler by my knees and a one-off house in Devonshire.

No, because it has been a roller-coaster ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Accomplishments have come, gone and come again. I could be much thinner. There are no toddlers around, but there’s calm and stillness, a complete command over my own life. I don’t wake up to wet nappies, I wake up to chocolate cupcakes.

Read More »

My answer will and always will, be hilsa

“What’s your favourite kind of fish?” asked Priya.

dog

Her mouth was full of badly made chicken patty and her legs were propped up on the center table, on which lay few more chicken patties, more horrible than the other. The 6-month-old puppy that hardly looks like a puppy anymore, sniffed around for scraps.

We’d tried to get as much work done on the Help Center article for our travel website, as possible. Curiously, it has given us a lot of clarity. Priya, someone I haven’t introduced to you, is a childhood friend. We met when we were both in the sixth grade, at a dinner party her family threw. She talked my ears off and I just sat there wearing a kimono.

Nineteen years later and we’re partners in a travel start-up, yearning for a nomad life and 26-inch waists. I mean what is the point of running a travel website, if you can’t travel and look fucking fantastic while doing it, right?

On Sunday, we were watching Dipa Karmakar on the vaults during dinner, when the topic of fish came up. In all honesty, we’re Bengalis — we’re always talking about fish. We could be sitting in our grandfather’s armchair complaining about the heat or traipsing the Salt Flats of Utah solo, but we would always talk about (or even better, eat) fish. It can’t be helped, you know. Throughout our school days, we woke up early to Read More »

In two inches of oil

I’m writing to you from the mundane blue and white of my office, where I have taken a break from Excel worksheets to think about food.

This may be the coffee talking, but is there nothing you can’t do with chicken?

chicken_garlic

The photo above makes me want to plunge my face into the wok. I don’t want to think about what the hot oil might do to my face. The truth is that I’ve been trying to lose weight. Considering the fact that I’m the last person on earth to conform to a routine life of carefully selected food and regular sessions of well-rounded exercising, this might be the toughest mission I have ever embarked upon.

Read More »

Take the mountains’ word for it

We took a weekend trip to Darjeeling. A work thing. Mixed with tons of sleep. And food.

Well, I mean, look. Just look.

Fish Au Gratin, Glenary's - The Subjectivist

The last Friday night was spent swaying in a train, as we made our way to Darjeeling. At one point, the time when my folks honeymooned there, Darjeeling was quaint, cold and romantic. It is still cold. It is no more quaint. And the romance is stale and fragrant-less.

Now it smells of horse-shit, from the ponies that carry children around the market square. It also smells of smoke from the Read More »