Curry is my “go-to meal” whenever I want something fast and reliably delicious. Curries were the first dishes I ever learned to cook and I can thank Madhur Jaffrey’s 1982 book Indian Cookery for that. In those long ago days I would faithfully follow her instructions to the letter: the importance of blending the right spices, toasting and grinding the whole ones; the critical process of browning onions to the point of caramelisation; the method of adding yoghurt; the foolproof way to cook basmati rice. These days I still follow the basics by instinct but have since then discovered Trinidadian curry powder. I used this wonderful ingredient all the time during my 10 years in that Caribbean island of calypso, carnival and some of the best food you will eat anywhere. So I have a stock of Trini curry powder bought back to New Zealand by me on recent trips, or by others. But the thing with this recipe is any good quality curry powder will do. Alternatively you could blend your own. The cooking processes are the same and the results are guaranteed. Serve with plain, steamed basmati rice, and a dhal or vegetable dish. My much sought-after dhal recipe will be featured soon!
8 free range chicken thighs or large drumsticks, skinned
Juice of a lime
Fresh ground salt and pepper
3 tbs vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
5 green cardamon pods
1 stick cinnamon
6-10 whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 star anise
2 large onions, finely diced
2 tsps cumin seeds
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4cm piece fresh grated, chopped ginger
2 tbsps curry powder, bended with water to a paste
Water and some salt
I large sweet potato cut into 1-2cm cubes
1/2 tsp garam masala
Fresh coriander to garnish
Put the chicken into a bowl, mix with lime juice (optional) salt and pepper. Leave for 20 mins
Meanwhile chop the onions finely along with the garlic and ginger
Heat oil in a wide pan or casserole on a medium heat and add the bay leaves. Let them turn brown, then quickly add the green cardamon pods, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and star anise. Let them sizzle and swell for 10 seconds and add the chicken pieces. Brown them all over for about 5 minutes and remove to a plate.
Add the onions, turn heat down to med-low and fry slowly, stirring for about 15 minutes until they are a deep golden brown — this is essential for getting the base of the sauce just right!
Add the cumin seeds and the garlic and ginger — you can, if you wish, blend the garlic and ginger into a paste with a tbsp of water before adding to the dish — cook for 5 minutes.
Turn the heat up a fraction and add the curry paste stirring constantly to stop it sticking and cook for 5 more minutes. Return the chicken to the pan with a little salt and about 500mls of water — the onions, garlic, ginger and curry power will soon thicken this mixture. Cover and cook at a gentle bubble for 20 minutes. Add the diced sweet potato and cook for about 20-30 more minutes or until the chicken and sweet potato are tender. Sprinkle in the garam masala, cook for 5 more minutes, garnish with coriander and serve.