Today's Friday Food comes with a value-added component. You'll just have to read on to find out what it is.
Remember when I took my first baby steps into Indian cooking? Well, I'm getting closer and closer to advancing from baby steps into, I dunno, Olympic gymnastics. Or at least walking without falling over. Almost ready to ride a bicycle.
Wow, there are just endless ways to run that metaphor into the ground.
Anyway. There's a lovely lady out on the east coast by the name of Monica Bhide. Monica and I have both belonged to the same freelance writer's online forum for years. As I've gotten to know her, I find she completely annoys me. She's pretty, smart, a great writer, passionate foodie--and she's *nice.* Fer cryin' out loud, Monica, get a flaw, would you? Geez. Well. As far as I know, she doesn't knit, so I guess she does have a flaw after all.
Another thing about Monica: she recently published this cookbook.
Monica was kind enough to send me two copies (yes, two, and if lightbulbs are going on in your head as to what the added-value component of this post is, you're probably on the right track) of this wonderful book. It's not just recipes--although of course there are lots of tasty and tempting possibilities--but it's also full of essays and anecdotes, stories about food Monica's tried on her international travels, the history of alcoholic drinks in India, teaching her young son the language of Hindi, and the universal role of food as comfort.
Well! Obviously there was nothing for it but to try a recipe, asap.
I decided to make The Legendary Chicken 65. (By the way, did you notice how artistically I arranged my ingredients, in honor of Monica's book? Pretty spiffy, yes? Also once again proving I am completely lacking in any presentation skills, but at least I tried.) Besides sounding really yummy, Chicken 65 comes with its own legend, or several. Monica found many explanations for the name: the chicken used is 65 days old; it uses 65 spices; the chef who created it was 65 years old; it was first served at a truckers' stop near the 65th milestone outside Hyderabad. I just love those kinds of stories.
Plus it gave me an excuse to pull this bad boy out of storage. I know it may appear otherwise, but we don't live on fried foods here, so I don't get to use the deep fryer all that often.
I wasn't sure what exactly to serve with Chicken 65. Rice? Veggies? So I asked Monica. Here was her response:
Chicken 65 is bar food. Like buffalo wings. Another reason to feel happy about this whole endeavor.
It's a very simple, quick recipe. You mix together some plain yogurt, cornstarch, ginger-garlic paste, red chile flakes, fresh lemon juice, salt--and red food coloring. Yup. Red food coloring. Which in the white yogurt, turns pink. Then you add a bunch of chicken tenders.
At this point, the menfolk were quite dubious. "It's PINK!" they cried in horror.
"Hush," I told them gently and lovingly. Well...or maybe I growled at them to not be so frakkin' judgmental and get a life. Or something.
Now it's time to fry the chicken. While that's going on (and do I even have to mention how good the kitchen smelled at that point?), it's time for a little saute action. Heat some oil, add some black mustard seeds, then chopped serrano chiles.
Now, here's where it might have been good to plan ahead. The recipe called for two ingredients not easily found at my regular grocers: black mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves. However, I recently discovered a local Indian grocer, and when I called them a few days earlier, they had both in stock. Of course I didn't run right over to buy them, and of course when I got there, no fresh curry leaves. The kind woman at the counter said I could easily substitute curry leaf powder--and they were out of that too. Apparently there'd been a run on it, since the fresh curry leaves ran out (due, she said, to a problem with the "food department"). She asked me what I was making, and when I said Chicken 65, she smiled and waved her hand in dismissal. "You'll be fine," she said. She then explained that curry leaves don't have much flavor themselves, but act as a flavor enhancer when added to other foods, usually through oil. But with Chicken 65, it would be OK to not use them.
Again, I love these stories, and it was so fun to have the woman at the store know the food I was talking about and how the curry leaves operated.
The recipe calls for the mustard seed/serrano mix to be poured over the chicken, but I served it on the side instead, well aware of the spice tolerance--or lack thereof--of certain members of the household.
The chicken, in the meantime, went from pink to red in the fryer.
Verdict? Two thumbs way up. Everyone had seconds, and there were no leftovers. I loved it with the mustard/serrano mix, the others loved it without. Even Teen 1, who upon learning we were having chicken had rolled his eyes as only a 16-year-old can and said, "Didn't we have chicken, like, last week?" conceded that it was tasty.
So. I'm looking forward to trying more fine things from this book, and as I have two copies, I can offer the chance for someone else to try them too. To win a signed copy of the book--and perhaps some shelf-stable goodies from the local Indian grocer--leave a comment on this post, and talk about Indian food. Have you had any? What do you like? Never tried it? Why not? I'll take comments through next Thursday, June 11, and announce a winner at next week's Friday Food.
In the meantime, I give you: The Legendary Chicken 65.
copyright 2009 Monica Bhide
1 cup plain yogurt (such as Dannon)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon store-bought ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon red chile powder or red chile flakes (or more)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 drops red food coloring
¼ teaspoon table salt to start
1 ¼ pounds chicken tenders, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 small green Serrano chiles, finely chopped
20 fresh curry leaves
1. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, cornstarch, ginger-garlic paste, chile powder, lemon juice, food coloring, and salt. Mix well. Do not worry if the marinade looks pink! When you deep-fry the chicken it will turn a luscious reddish-brown. Add the chicken chunks and mix to combine.
2. Heat 2 cups of the oil in a deep fryer. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add a small piece of bread; if the bread floats to the top, the oil is ready. Add a few pieces of chicken at a time and fry until the chicken is crisp on the outside and cooked on the inside, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the chicken using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Continue until you have fried all the pieces. Be sure to allow time between frying for the oil to reheat to the right temperature. Discard any remaining marinade.
3. Place the chicken on a serving platter.
4. In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sizzle, add the green chiles and curry leaves. Fry for about 30 seconds, until the curry leaves begin to crisp. If you have handle the spice, add another ¼ teaspoon of chile powder to the oil just before removing it from the heat.
5. Pour over the chicken and serve.