Most people think of curries being cooked on the stove top, in a pot, where it simmers over a period of time, sometimes hours, sometimes minutes. But whether a curry takes an hour or more, most of the time, it helps to be in the kitchen in order to stir the sauce and keep it from burning. (Unless you are partially cooking it in the pressure cooker, but even so, at the end of the cooking time, you usually have stir the sauce while it reduces after the pressure is released.)
This curried chicken dish is unusual in that it is marinated in yogurt, browned onions and spices, then sealed tightly in a casserole dish and baked in the oven until the chicken is done. The marinade thickens into a delicious sauce while the chicken is cooked to tender perfection. The “dum” in the name of the dish refers to a cooking method that involves cooking food in a tightly sealed pot with very little added liquid, which results in a very tender, extremely well-flavored curry.
I got the idea for this dish from Smita Chandra’s cookbook, From Bengal to Punjab:The Cuisines of India. This cookbook is filled with every day recipes that you would find in Northern Indian home kitchens, not in restaurants or at banquets. These recipes use the same classical techniques that the more complex cookery styles of Northern India, but the recipes are simpler, meant to be made for meals for family and friends. And while the results are not always the prettiest of foods, they always taste delicious.
The marinade and sauce for this Masalewali Murghi is based on yogurt, browned onions, some unsweetened shredded coconut and spices. All that is necessary to put it together is to brown the onions, the coconut and spices in oil. Then this mixture is ground with tomatoes (I used the ones I canned this past summer, instead of the fresh ones called for in the recipe), and whisked into yogurt. This mixture is poured over chicken boneless skinless chicken breasts, and then is allowed to sit, covered for an hour to allow the yogurt to tenderize the meat and the spices to flavor it. Then the casserole is tightly sealed with foil under the lid, and is popped into an oven to bake for forty-five minutes.
When it comes out, the chicken is steamy and tender and the marinade has thickened into a sauce that is great to sop up with bread or serve over rice.
Everyone loved this dish, even if it wasn’t that pretty, and I was asked to make it over and over again. And considering how fast it came together, I see no reason not to comply.
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into halves
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 inch stick cinnamon
6 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1 dried small red chili
2 tablespoons unsweetened flaked coconut
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2 medium tomatoes or two cups canned tomatoes, juice drained
5 heaping tablespoons plain yogurt
salt to taste
roughly chopped cilantro for garnish
Make deep cuts in the top surface of the chicken breast halves, without cutting all the way through. Set the chicken breasts in a heavy-bottomed casserole with a tight-fitting lid.
Heat oil in heavy bottomed frying pan on medium heat. Add whole spices, and cook, stirring until they puff and darken.–this will take a few seconds. Add coconut immediately, and cook, stirring, until it browns lightly–this will take a few more seconds. Remove the spices with a slotted spoon to a spice grinder, and put the pan back on the heat. Add the paprika to the spices in the grinder, and grind them finely. Put them into a medium sized bowl.
Put the pan back on the heat, and cook the onions, stirring constantly until they turn deep golden. Add ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the onions are a deep reddish brown, the garlic is golden and everything is quite fragrant. Remove onion mixture from the pan to the spice grinder and grind into a fine paste. Add to the spice mixture. Add the tomatoes to the spice grinder and puree, then add to the bowl with the spices and onion. Stir together.
Using a whisk, beat the yogurt into the spices, onions and tomatoes, and season to taste with salt. Pour over the chicken pieces, and put a piece of foil over the top of the casserole before fitting the lid tightly over it. Allow chicken to marinate for an hour.
While chicken is marinating, preheat the oven at 400 degrees F. After an hour, put the tightly covered casserole into the oven, and bake for 45 minutes.
When the timer goes off, remove the lid and scatter roughly chopped cilantro over the top, and serve with rice or bread, and several vegetable dishes.
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