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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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My answer will and always will, be hilsa

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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 »

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“Isn’t it to die for?” My friend gushed breathlessly between bites of Kati Roll.

I was meeting her after 10 long years smack dab in the middle of rain-infested New York City, and she’d dragged me to Greenwich Village to taste a popular Bengali import (or export? Import, if you’re anywhere out of West Bengal).

The chicken roll.

Except that the Kati Roll Company is calling it the Kati Roll.

Versions — diluted, exaggerated and almost always awful — of the quintessential roll in various parts of India, do actually go by that name, so I can’t blame them.

Gujarat (and the Indian West Coast in general) has a version, inexplicably known as a Frankie, where the chicken is tomato red in color and amount of spice will produce a hole in your chest. Delhi’s back alleys produce “rolls” that are made of succulent kebabs wrapped in flimsy rumaali roti. Note how the word “roll” is within quotes.

I once also had a Bengali cook at an Indian food stall on Portobello Street make me chicken roll that had a white yogurt-based sauce that brought forth the same kind of emotions that underwear stuck in your butt-crack brings.

“Isn’t this the best chicken roll you’ve had outside of Kolkata?” She gushed again, this time looking directly at me. I nodded vigorously, making sure my mouth was too full to speak and hoped she couldn’t make out how much I wanted to dump that roll on her head.

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quintessential. tomato. date. sultanas. sugar.

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India’s voting for her CEO and we’re all busy holding our breaths. Yes, me too, considering that I’m not allowed to vote in this country. But all the excitement is more than merely contagious. You might find it difficult to pass a tea shanty without overhearing retired sixty-year-old men sitting around drinking their morning cuppa and bad mouthing the candidates. Even the ladies get into heated debates on occasions. Their’s aren’t as animated or vigorous as that of the men, but the debates are most definitely punctuated with a lot of eye-rolling and pursing of lips.

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