Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Balti Chicken

The word balti literally translates from Hindi, as pail or bucket. The former usually comprises of plastic and the latter is made from galvanized metal. Both vessels are totally unsuitable to cook a masala chicken curry! Then why is this recipe called so? With Google to my rescue, I find that a balti utensil is more like a steel or iron pot, a deep vessel that sits over a gas or charcoal fire. Balti cuisine is a Northern Indian way of cooking meat and spices over a wok-like utensil. That explanation is much more plausible than my earlier ruminations. So I move into the kitchen with my new found wisdom.

This chicken curry starts and ends with the basics of Indian cuisine. Onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and traditional spices. I add greek yogurt for a tangy taste. Most of the time I use bone-in chicken thighs and legs. Sometimes I find it easier with boneless, skinless thighs, especially when we have company. It's a mood thing. Tightly sealed, the curry cooks in its own juices, no water added at all. The chicken and yogurt generate enough liquid to braise the meat. Uncovering the saucepan,  I find moist chicken thighs. Onions and tomatoes have melded to form a thick sauce. Lime juice is squeezed over the chicken. Then scattered with fresh cilantro, the chicken arrives at the dinner table, gleaming.

Serves 4

6 skinless Chicken Thighs Or a mix of Thighs and Legs
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
2 Cinnamon Sticks
5 Cloves
5 Curry Leaves
2 large white Onions
2 large Tomatoes
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt, whisked smooth
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Lime, juiced
fresh Cilantro

Cut visible fat off chicken. Wash well and pat dry.

Chop onions into 1/2 inch pieces.

Chop tomatoes roughly.

Heat oil in a deep saucepan.

When oil is hot drop cinnamon sticks, cloves and curry leaves into the oil. 

Let spices sizzle for 10 seconds, then add the chopped onions. Saute onions till golden brown, stirring often.

Add tomatoes, garlic and ginger pastes to the onions. Saute till tomatoes are pulpy. You could cover the saucepan with a lid at this point to hurry along the tomatoes.

When tomatoes are soft and pulpy, add turmeric and chile powder. Stir to mix. Let spices bloom for 50 seconds. 

Then add yogurt to the pan and stir vigorously to mix it in. 

Add chicken to the pan, stirring well so the chicken is coated with the masala.

Season with salt.

Sprinkle garam masala over chicken and stir well.

Cover saucepan tightly with a lid. If the lid isn't tight, cover the saucepan with aluminum foil, crimping the edges tightly. Place lid over foil.

Let the chicken braise undisturbed over a medium low flame for 30 minutes. Do not add water to the pan. The chicken and yogurt will exude enough liquid.

Uncover the pan and squeeze lime juice over chicken. Mix masala and chicken.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

Balti cuisine is a hit. Hot chapatis accompany this chicken and it's thick gravy. Common Indian spices elevate humble chicken to a meal fit for a king. 

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