Curried Chicken From the Oven: Masalewali Dum Murghi

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.



Masalewali Dum Murghi

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

17 Comments

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  1. Barbara, thats a very lovely dum murgh dish! Thanks for sharing! Yours looks delectable!

    Comment by Purnima — March 5, 2008 #

  2. Barbara, this looks absolutely delicious. And this sounds like a perfect weekday dinner too. I’ve tried fish curry in the oven, but never chicken curry, will have to try this soon!

    Comment by mandira — March 5, 2008 #

  3. This sounds absolutely fabulous and definitely a dish for the weekend since it’ll be so busy! One question: Do you need to let the oven preheat for an entire hour? I’m not sure I understood that completely:)

    Comment by Mamlambo — March 5, 2008 #

  4. that looks fab..nice one to share…

    Comment by Srivalli — March 5, 2008 #

  5. Oooh, it looks pretty to me! Exactly my favorite type of savory dish! Wonderful stuff.

    Comment by Cakespy — March 5, 2008 #

  6. Ah, a dish that sounds within skill range! Although, I do not have most of those whole spices and honestly do not intend to buy them (as I don’t have a spice grinder either). Do you have any idea the amount of ground spices to sub?

    Comment by Zoe — March 5, 2008 #

  7. wow, i’ve been looking for something just like this, and coming across your page (not the first time) today i see this. can’t wait to make it.

    Comment by chiggles — March 6, 2008 #

  8. I presume the hour is for the marinating chicken, not the preheating oven.

    Comment by Christy — March 6, 2008 #

  9. Hi Barbara, I tried this last night and it came out FANTASTIC. Due to time constraints, I didn’t marinate it very long, but the chicken was still tender. You might be interested to know that I added an extra ingredient when cooking the onions: fresh curry leaves (about 5-7 medium ones). I’m not sure if they created a slightly different flavor to the dish (since I haven’t tasted the recipe without the curry leaves yet), but I must say, the flavor was very good. Even my husband (who is from South India) said the taste was “interesting”, so I’m quite pleased! I’m going to try your methi paratha recipe next!

    Comment by Karol — March 7, 2008 #

  10. No, the oven just needs to preheat as long as it needs to preheat–the chicken needs to marinate for an hour, though.

    Although, even marinated for a shorter period, it still comes out exceptionally tender and tasty.

    Zoe, for already ground spices–if they are fresh, then use about half the amounts I call for for your first try. Otherwise, use the same amounts and see what happens. It all depends on how fresh your spices are.

    I am glad that folks have had good luck with this recipe–I think it is awesome.

    Comment by Barbara — March 7, 2008 #

  11. Thanks for clarifying the preheating thing Barbara… I’ll be giving this a go tomorrow. Yumm. Can’t wait.

    Comment by Mamlambo — March 8, 2008 #

  12. Hi Barbara! I’m making this dish today – it’s marinating right now. I’ve added a scotch bonnet and another dried chili to it though. Will let you know hot it turnso out!

    Comment by Maninas — March 9, 2008 #

  13. you’re right – definitely not a pretty dish,especially before cooking it in the oven – not that i mind too much – but it’s not too bad! especially after it had a few hours to stand, to let the flavours develop and mellow down. it tasted a little too sour after i took it out of the oven (after 1 h 20 min), but got better with time. i normally have a ‘sour tooth’, but i think the (large!) schotch bonnet + dried birds chilies i put in it heightened the sourness, and boy was it hot! it’s much better now though.

    i still prefer kat’s curry :D

    Comment by Maninas — March 9, 2008 #

  14. Hi Barbara. Just wanted to let you know that the dish tasted divine last night, after a day of standing! The flavours have mingled, mellowed and matured, resulting in a beautiful homely dish!

    Comment by maninas — March 11, 2008 #

  15. Barbara, I wanted you to know that I tried this last weekend, and it was absolutely FANTASTIC! I had to use bone-in chicken thighs instead of breast meat, but it still came out delightfully tender. I think it helped that I did marinate for a whole hour, and I left a bit of fat on the meat, which made the sauce even richer. I also used tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes, and a number of my spices were already ground (I used your amounts and it came out just fine). Such a rich, satisfying meal – it fed me for days, and just got better with time! I’m not sure why everyone thinks it’s an ugly dish… it isn’t elegant, sure, but I don’t think it’s ugly. It looks like a thick, oven-red, homey curry. YUM!

    Comment by Corvid — March 11, 2008 #

  16. hi corvid, i used chicken thighs, too. it worked just fine. i seared them with a knife to allow the spices to penetrate it more easily.

    i thought the dish looked ugly before going to the oven – all pink and funny… :)

    Comment by Maninas — March 12, 2008 #

  17. Yum! Thanks for the recipe, Barbara, this was a big hit with my boyfriend and his parents last weekend! I even went to the trouble of making ghee to cook the spices in, and it was definitely worth it. All that was left was a bit of sauce, which we enjoyed for lunch the next day over basmati rice and topped with a poached egg. A poached egg makes everything good! ;)

    Comment by Raedia — March 17, 2008 #

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