There are some days when my stomach has a genuine craving. On most days, I tell it to shut up and go straight to my canteen at work because there is a share purchase agreement to review. On good days though, like today, which happens to be a Saturday, my stomach gets its way.
So this evening, when I was craving a nice spicy chicken pepper roast, I went straight to the kitchen and got to work. Chicken roast in Indian terminology is not just roast chicken in the West in inverse. They are different planets in the world of food. Chicken roast is chicken served in a spicy masala that clings to the meat. Much like a figure hugging dress. Slightly uncouth analogy perhaps, but very accurate, I assure you.
The point of the dish is the masala, rather than the meat itself. This is an interesting point of contrast when you compare Indian (home) cooking and Western cooking. In Western cooking, (especially of the pretentious variety), there seems to be a lot of emphasis on good "produce" and on letting that do the talking rather than the spices.
In Indian cooking, the highlight of a dish is often the gravy or the masala. My brother and I would often fight over who gets more gravy in a curry or more of the masala. My father would often reach the last bit of masala in the bowl and turn to my mother to poignantly ask, "Is there more gravy?" Not unlike Oilver Twist's "Please Sir, I want some more." Except "Sir" for some reason never did make enough gravy in her dishes.
Anyway, this dish is derived from my mother's accumulated kitchen wisdom. The recipe relies on the generous use of sliced onions; ubiquitous in Indian cooking. Except the onions aren't added to chicken and cooked together with it. It is added to the pot after the meat has cooked through. That is the trick to getting a thick dry masala with the onion slices retaining their shape and texture. Cooking it all together reduces the onions to a pulpy homogenous mess which is very far from what this dish is meant to look and taste like. I threw this recipe together relying on my "cooking instinct" (which has grown to become more and more reliable with experience) rather than on a recipe. I have tried to reproduce it below as accurately as possible.
Chicken (on the bone) - I used 4 large pieces of chicken thigh
Finely sliced onions - 2
Pureed tomatoes - 2 (small)
Oil - 2 tbsp
Lemon juice- 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder- 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - as many as you like
Saunf - 2 tsp
Ginger garlic paste - 3 tsp
Garam masala powder - 2 tsp (reduce if you aren't a spice fan)
Coriander powder - 2 tbsp
Pepper powder (coarsely ground) - 2 tsp
Make cuts on the meat so that the marinade seeps in as much as possible. Marinate the chicken pieces and set aside.
Heat oil and add the saunf. When it emits an aroma, add in the curry leaves, ginger garlic paste and onions. Keep stirring until the onion turns golden. Add in the garam masala and coriander powder and stir for a few more minutes. Take off the heat and set aside in a separate bowl.
In the same pan, add the chicken pieces and cook with the tomato puree (if using). The meat will release lots of water as will the pureed tomatoes. Keep stirring from time to time and cook until the chicken has cooked through and the water has evaporated. Now add in the onion masala and cook for another 10 minutes or so to let the flavours combine and for the dish to come together. Best enjoyed with hot rotis fresh off the griddle.