In the Tamil movie Samayalkaran (Chef/Cook) a recently discharged soldier is not recognised by his family and is appointed as their cook. He surprises them with a preparation that is mistaken for mutton curry but is actually a yam curry. In Tamil cooking, yam is usually used to make chips or poriyal (fry), and I was therefore struck by the idea of a yam curry. I was determined to make one for myself and finally came up with this recipe in 2017, a full 20 years after I saw the movie on TV 🙂
Chicken à la King seems to have been a favourite of the British Raj in India, perhaps because all the ingredients were available here, and the flavour, though rich, is bland. I have come across various recipes using egg yolk, wine, etc., but adding wine somehow gives a fermented flavour, which we Indians regard as the beginning of spoilage. Therefore, I searched for a recipe which was simple and, at the same time, wholesome. I found one in Children’s Party Cooking. Of course I had to tweak the recipe to suit the Indian palate and the ingredients available.
Tamil Nadu is famous for the Paruppu Urundai Kulambu, which is steamed dhal balls cooked in a savoury curry. My mother had a recipe using Bengal gram dhal for the balls, but the curry she had suggested was very vague. When I prepared her recipe at home, it was not popular and we also had attacks of flatulence. In my eternal search for recipes, I found many using either red gram dhal or a combination of the two dhals. I chose to use only red gram dhal because it is the least digestively offensive. The curry that I have used is a combination of ideas taken from several recipes.
December 2015 saw most of Chennai devastated by floods after heavy rains. Water entered the electricity substation feeding my neighbourhood and we did not have electricity for 5 days. I had unwisely stocked my freezer just a few days before this happened with perishables. I developed this recipe (along with Candlelit Chicken Pulav) as a dish that could be made without electricity, cooking only with gas, and to use the non vegetarian foodstuffs before they spoilt. To my surprise and delight the curry turned out to be very tasty. A few months later I tried the curry again with the addition of coconut milk and coriander leaves, and it was an excellent preparation.
I call this recipe Kovilpatti Chicken Curry because the originator of this recipe is my aunt who was from Kovilpatti. My mother-in-law was in the habit of collecting recipes but never tried them out. When we were going through her papers after she passed away in 1981, I found a letter dated July 1974 from her sister-in-law (Janaki Srinivasagam – my aunt) giving a recipe for chicken curry and a tomato chutney. I put this letter in a folder to try at a later date but I rediscovered it only last year and decided to make it. To my great surprise and delight, this is a very delicious preparation and so very easy to make. It’s a pity it had to wait 40 years but I suppose good recipes never die. When I spoke to my cousins (my aunt is no more) they told me she was famed for her chicken curry in our family circle. I wish I had known her better; I would have loved to collect more recipes from her.
In a book fair during the late ‘80s, I came across Meera Taneja’s Indian Cookery and I bought it immediately because of the way the recipes were written. She had given a slightly different preparation for Murgh Makkanwali. I modified it to suit the ingredients available then and also the facilities in my kitchen. This preparation is different from what one usually comes across in restaurants as ‘Butter Chicken’ which uses leftover Tandoori chicken pieces, whereas Meera Taneja had used fresh chicken.
Doro Watt or Ethiopian Chicken by Sefanit Sirak-Kebede was featured in the People’s Cook Book – A Celebration of the Nation’s Life Through Food. I was fascinated by the introduction to the recipe and the steps involved in the preparation captured my imagination and interest. This recipe must have originated when communities sat around a common fire and cooked, designating various tasks to groups of women – just like one of my cookery labs 🙂 I could visualise a chattering group peeling and dicing a kilo of shallots with tears running down their faces from the vapours, another group plucking, skinning and jointing a chicken, and another carefully melting the butter with spices. This last one I omitted from the recipe as in India it will be sacrilegious to waste good spices and flavoured butter will not lend itself to other recipes. Continue reading