Monday, December 30, 2013

Luisa's (Delicious) Raj Curry

Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater


Chicken before it's mixed with the sauce
For a while I have been trying to come as close as possible to the Anglo-Indian curry I used to eat at the Devon House - a now-closed restaurant that was located on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue at 93rd Street in New York City. It was not in the basement but a few steps down from the street in a beautiful brown building. The staid dining room had blue walls with cream trim; the mahogany tables were covered in crisp white cloths; and the servers were all women who wore grey skirts and navy blazers. I always felt as if I passed through a portal into a dining room in Bermuda. 

I didn’t eat there often. Money was tight; the restaurant was expensive; and I like to cook at home.  But I did go whenever we were eating out, and I got to choose where. If I didn’t eat the curry, which was cream-based and studded with pieces of boneless chicken and shrimp and maybe a little mango chutney,  I ate faultlessly-prepared Dover sole, and it was always a conflict which dish I would order.  On a perfect night I would get one, and a companion would get the other, and I could taste both.  

Every time I pass Number 1316 Madison Avenue, I realize how sorry I am the Devon House is not still there and think fondly of the evenings I spent eating lovely food in that elegant room with good friends.

Thanks to the always dependable Luisa, who told us about this on February 6, 2012, I do have a recipe for Anglo-chicken curry - not the same as the curry at the Devon House, but very good - to tell you about. It comes from the eloquent Nigel Slater. He calls it Chicken with Spices and Cream; I call it Luisa's Raj Curry.

Luisa recommends serving this with basmati rice. I used to make the Basmati Rice Pilaf from Cook’s Illustrated, but now I use Meera Sodha's recipe for Perfect Basmati Rice from her excellent book Made in India. In fact, it's the only plain rice I ever make now - even when partnering it with Shrimp Creole. If I have the time, I fry some pappadam, but in a pinch, I will serve really good potato chips, like my favorite Cape Cod Waffle Chips. (Don’t laugh until you've tried it.)

Luisa’s Raj Curry
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

4 to 6 chicken thighs, either bone-in/skin on or boneless/skin off
Salt
2 tablespoons butter (If you keep clarified butter hanging around, which I don’t but always threaten to, use it here.)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
A lump of butter the size of a walnut
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced (not too fine)
2 tablespoons curry powder (Sun Brand is always reliable.)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like Vietnamese, often called Saigon Cinnamon.)
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
Black pepper

If you know in advance you’re going to cook this for dinner, rub salt into the chicken, and let it sit in the refrigerator on a rack for a couple of hours. If you haven’t done this, don’t fuss, just rub the salt into the chicken right before cooking.

If you are using boneless/skinless chicken thighs, dredge them with Wondra Flour. It's granulated and will coat it lightly.

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet; I use cast iron for this step. Add the pieces of chicken, and cook, turning over, until the skin is taut and golden or the Wondra-Floured chicken has browned. In another pan (I use stainless here), add a lump of butter the size of a walnut and the onions, and cook until they are soft – about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until it is fragrant but not burned – 2 minutes more - stirring occasionally.

Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes so the spices “bloom” and are not raw when you add liquid to them.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock, and mix to blend. Let the mixture get warm. Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is done – about 15 or 20 minutes.

Stir in the cream. Cook for just about 2 minutes to let it mingle and thicken a little. Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste, if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice, cook for a minute more, turn off the heat, add black pepper to taste, stir once again, then serve.

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