"The greatest Indian cook in Britain"Jay Rayner "The Observer"
"Cook with love. Love your cooking" Gita Mistry

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The chicken story

Now let's talk about a home made chicken curry.  I have some great memories of our Sunday dinner and some damn horrible ones too in preparation for it.!

My father would go down our cobbled back street to our local shop. In Gujarati we call it the Dukhan.  At street level the shop sold groceries, sweets and household products.  Downstairs, yes, downstairs in the cellar they sold chickens. Live and clucking. Yuk!  

I decided one Sunday to go with my father in the hope that he would buy me some sweets. Instead he left me waiting at the top of a flight of stone stairs which led to a chicken farm in the cellar . I waited and waited while he picked the feathered friend that would soon become our Sunday Lunch.. In my impatience I decided to take a  wee peak. 

As I crept down the stones steps to my horror I could not only smell "them chickens" but I could hear them clucking  and I saw them flapping their wings as they scrambled over each other trying to escape.   After taking only three steps down I could hear my father telling me to stay at the top...  The next thing I knew was that the chickens were trying to make their way up the staircase.   I ran back up the steps screaming.    I thought one of them might take off and poop on my head . 

Now you may think that was funny but let me tell you I vowed never to eat any type of bird again! Not to mention hearing its neck broken and then seeing it plucked and smell from the rest being burned off.   Yuk yuk yuk!

Once we were out of the shop I thought the ordeal as we walked back home reluctant to hold my father's hand for fear of being chickenised if there is such a word !but Oh No!

Mother was in our 4ft by 4ft kitchen preparing the masala for dish of the day and also covering up the kitchen ready for Dad s butchery.   He used a home made circular wooden chopping block and a cleever that only came out on Sunday for the Chicken chop. Wham!  He laid into the chicken with such vigour and passion.   I ran for cover and peering through a crack in the door way between the hinges.

My mother would try to get him to calm down and to not mess up her spotless kitchen.   She reacted with the speed of light reaching for her masala tin lids and running round the kitchen like a headless chicken with a cloth wiping up the splatters.

When I thought all was safe I would come back into the kitchen to see the next stage. I would see the chicken in pieces in a big  Indian stainless steel bowl.  Each week I would say “Dad next week can you not put the long bony neck in the pot". To which he replied: "That's were the flavour comes from."  He told me not to worry because there was only one person in the house that would be served the neck. And that was his good self...

He always insisted that a good chicken curry should never be started with a thick base of onion and tinned tomatoes.    In our home all curries were made with fresh tomatoes added towards the end of the cooking.   We never used onions as the main sauce of flavour or sauce base.  Instead, we used a combination of wet and dry spicing..   It was always just about balance and to bring out the best flavour of the main Ingredient.   We followed recipes that my mother has learned from her mother in law and my fathers grandmother.

Anyway so then it was onto mum who would marinate the chicken pieces and prepare her garamasla mix and other spices. Our chicken curry was served with the finest aged fragrant basmati rice and vinegar onions and fresh chapattis 

Basmati rice means "queen of fragrance" in Hindi …My mother and father would buy a sack of rice and let it mature in a steel drum in the attic for between 1 and 2 years.   This improved the fragrance and flavour of the grain and it cooks better.  The onions accompanying the chicken curry were simply large Spanish onions cut into rings and soaked in brown vinegar.

So here's my recipe for chicken curry.   Actually it is mum's recipe for which she became famous in the Bradford Indian community in the 60s and 70s.   Folk would  turn up at our door with whole chickens ready for her touch! I guess Dad had sold how good her curry was to them. And I have to I agree.... .....

Classic Gujerati chicken masala
(Serves 4)


1 kg chicken beasts
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger pulp
1 tbp garlic crushed
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chilli powder (more if you like it hot!)
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
Salt to taste
12 Spanish cherry tomatoes
1 large lime
11⁄2 tsp Garamasala
1⁄2 bunch of coriander leaves
300ml boiling water

To flavour the oil

4 cloves
2 sticks cinnamon bark
5 green cardamom pods


Trim the fat off the chicken breast and chop into bite sizes pieces then marinate in the ginger, garlic, chilli powder, salt, turmeric for 1⁄2 an hour. Place in the fridge. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Chop the fresh coriander leaves. Squeeze the lime juice and set aside.


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom pan, when hot add the cinnamon bark, cloves and cardamom; gently cook in the oil until the spices darken.
  2. Mix in the marinated chicken and give it a good stir. Turn the heat to medium and allow the meat to absorb the spices whilst the marinade releases into the oil. Place the lid on the pan for 15 mins, stirring occasionally.
  3. Turn the heat up and add the hot water, cumin and coriander powder. (The water should just cover the tops of the chicken pieces.) Add in the cherry tomatoes. Stir and simmer until the sauce has reduced by half (for approximately 10-15m mins).
  4. Take off the heat, add the garamasala and a squeeze of lime and sprinkle over the fresh coriander leaves.
Tip: Avoid stirring the chicken too much as it will break up. A rested chicken curry is the best curry – giving the chicken time to absorb the flavors. For a drier curry do not add the extra water.


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