There are hundreds of recipes for chicken curry. This is the stuff I was brought up on.
Think aromatic delicately spiced meat, chunks of tender, melt-in-the-mouth potato in a thin and deeply savoury gravy. The complex layers of flavour are born from a very specific mixture of whole and ground spices. This recipe was my late grandmother’s – she passed it on to my mum who passed it on to me. It’s been tweaked a little over the years (my gran would use skinned chicken pieces and just add them to the spiced onion mix) but that’s the beauty of curry, you can always experiment and make it your own.
If you want to make like a proper Bengali housewife, then be sure to make this in the morning and leave it all day to allow the flavours to marry. If you can leave it overnight so much the better.
4 free-range organic chicken drumsticks or thighs – skin on
4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and halved
A large (2 ½ inch) piece of ginger, peeled
4-5 cloves of garlic
½ inch cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
*Panch phoran (1 tsp each of fennel, mustard, cumin, nigella and fenugreek)
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp blade mace
A few curry leaves (optional)
2 cardamom pods
100g rice flour
1 tsp each of curry powder and salt
½ tbsp oil
½ tbsp ghee
½ fresh green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
*Panch phoran is a five spice mix commonly and almost exclusively used in Bengali cooking. Traditionally it’s made from fennel, mustard, cumin, nigella and fenugreek, but I’ve seen versions that use aniseed, cassia leaves and even mace. The spices are usually fried in hot ghee or oil until the flavours are released.
• Blitz the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli if using in a food processor or blender.
• Grind together the panch phoran spices in a pestle and mortar or coffee grinder.
• Heat the oil and ghee in a large saucepan.
• Combine the rice flour in a shallow dish with the salt and the curry powder.
• Dredge each chicken piece in the seasoned flour and fry over a high-ish heat until golden all over.
• Drain on kitchen paper and turn the heat down to medium.
• Add the bay and curry leaves, mace, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods to the pan.
• Fold in the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli mixture and cook for a few minutes.
• Stir in the panch phoran mixture and the potato chunks, ensuring everything is well combined.
• Add the chicken pieces and stir for about 8-10 minutes. If the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan, just add a touch more oil.
• Add a pint of water and lower the heat slightly.
• Check the seasoning and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for an hour and a half.
• Check and stir the curry every so often, adding more or less water depending on how thin you like your gravy.
• When the chicken is falling off the bone and the potatoes are tender, turn the heat off and leave for as long as possible before reheating with plain steamed rice or some parathas.