Friday, 4 October 2013

notes on how to cook chicken karahi + mama's recipe

mama's chicken karahi
i missed this. a pool of bronzed oil, chicken with slightly crisp, caramelised edges and a lacquer of tomato along with the bright heat of fresh green chilli. a really good chicken karahi must be all these elements and must be accompanied by fluffy and soft white naans. the naans should be thick enough to allow their edges to be prised open to a thinner layer. this exposes the dough like centre that becomes a sponge for the spiced oil and masala.

a karahi is actually a cooking utensil that resembles a wok with two handles. the round bottom is intended to nest on a naked flame allowing the oil to get really hot. nowadays they are usually made of stainless steel and are of medium thickness. a chicken karahi therefore is literally chicken cooked in a karahi and in pakistan you can get mutton karahi as well. the wok-like shape of the karahi makes it particularly suited to quick cooking and frying and explains why chicken or mutton karahi is so appealing when guests arrive unannounced. it is the kind of dish that can be prepared in almost the same time in which the house help is dispatched to get naans from the tandoor

it was certainly a favourite with my sibling who would promptly ask mama to have a two chicken karahi prepared when his friends would come over and there was no meat based dish in the fridge. their teenage and therefore voracious appetites would most certainly mean that the karahi was scoffed down within minutes. i was content with wiping the spiced oil straight from the karahi with naan revived in the toaster after they were done. 

mama taught me her recipe on her recent trip to london. there is no singular recipe for karahi as each household will have its own preferences and some will even use onions. the latter give it a sweet edge. i am adding some notes as a preface to the recipe. the foremost is that a wok works equally well in the absence of a karahi. this is a simple recipe and i suspect that if you stir-fry often you should not have difficulty making this. but for those who do not, it might require a little practice. firstly, this is not the kind of dish where you can economise on oil. an over-generous pour of it is necessary for the chicken to caramelise and the tomatoes to become a jammy mess that clings tenaciously to the chicken. secondly, you will need to ensure that the butcher cuts the chicken into at least eighteen to twenty pieces. they should be larger than bite size pieces but much smaller than a regular jointed chicken. when cooking, you will need to play around with the heat a fair bit. for instance the chicken is initially seared on high heat but the garlic and ginger paste must be sautéed on lower heat to ensure that it is does not burn. and of course one always simmers on medium to low heat. lastly, i much prefer a dry masala so i fry the tomatoes until they are merely a lacquer on the pieces of chicken. you can adjust the masala by frying it to your likes. and now here is the recipe. 

{chicken karahi} 

a one and a half kg chicken, skinned and cut into eighteen to twenty pieces 
sunflower oil 
five to six cloves of garlic 
a one inch piece of ginger, peeled 
one teaspoon chilli flakes 
salt to taste 
one teaspoon white cumin 
five plum tomatoes, roughly chopped 

to garnish 
green chillies 

pound the garlic cloves and ginger in a pestle and mortar until reduced to a smooth paste. 

start by heating half a cup of oil in a large karahi or wok. when it is hot add the chicken. make sure that the pieces are in a single layer so that they brown evenly. the aim is to colour the exterior, not cook the chicken at this stage. if your wok is too small to accommodate the whole chicken sear it in batches. this should take around ten to twelve minutes. 

once the chicken has caught colour and lost its raw smell reduce the heat to medium-low and add the ginger garlic paste to the wok. fry this briefly until it smells aromatic, but taking care that it is does not go brown or burn. then add the salt, chilli flakes and white cumin. lastly add the tomatoes. 

increase the heat to high for a minute to encourage the tomatoes to run their juices. then reduce the heat so that the contents of the wok are at a whispering simmer. place a lid on the chicken and allow it to cook in the juices. this will help tenderise the chicken. 

check the chicken for doneness after fifteen minutes. if it is not fully tender let it continue simmering for another five minutes. the final stage involves turning the heat up and frying the chicken. the karahi is ready when the tomatoes are jam like in consistency and the oil separates from them. its colour will be dark sunflower owing to the tomatoes and spices. 

finely chop the coriander, julienne the ginger and slice the green chillies into fine rounds. garnish the chicken karahi with these and serve with soft white naans. 

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