August 27, 2010

What I'm Putting Out - Chicken with Yogurt and Indian Spices

Now that Meara is a few months old and a LITTLE bit less clingy, and now that I'm home all day, I'm able to cook much more, which I'm quite pleased about. I found this recipe in my favorite cookbook of the moment, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It literally tells you how to cook everything and offers lots of simple yet interesting recipes. I especially like that the author often gives you a basic recipe, then follows it with five or six variations so you can easily expand your cooking repertoire.

So, the chicken. The recipe seemed fairly simple and easy, but I got so-so results, probably due mainly to the fact that I didn't follow the directions as well as I could have.

The Indian spices of the title are garlic, ground ginger, cayenne, cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon. That's them in the picture at the top in my handy dandy little-glass-bowl-for-holding-ingredients-so-you-feel-like-an-official-television-chef. Aren't they pretty?

I've always had a hard time replicating the depth and intensity of Indian flavors at home. I suspect it's because real Indian cooking requires toasting and grinding whole spices immediately before using, a step for which I never, ever have time. The spice blend called for in this recipe was a pretty good equivalent, though, of flavors I've had at Indian restaurants. The recipe also called for cooking the dry spices for a bit with the onions and oil before adding the chicken and yogurt. I think that helped release more of the flavor. I will definitely use this spice blend and technique in my future Indian-style cooking.

I substituted a package of boneless thighs for the cut-up whole chicken I was supposed to use. I also skipped the browning step that the recipe listed as optional, and after adding the yogurt and chicken, I had the heat too high because I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table. And it cost me. The thighs I chose not to brown were pale, flabby and unappetizing, and the sauce, which curdled because the heat was too high, was too much for the smaller amount of chicken. The sauce tasted good, but looked fairly unappetizing. I think the recipe would have been awesome if I'd given myself the time to make it properly.

Here's the chicken recipe. Enjoy!

Chicken with Yogurt and Indian Spices
from How to Cook Everything

1/4 cup peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 8 pieces, or any combination of parts
1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped or grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups yogurt
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1. Put the oil in a deep skillet with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown it well, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary; the process will take 10 to 15 minutes. (You can skip this step if you like; heat a tablespoon of oil and go directly to cooking the onions.)

2. When the chicken is nicely browned, remove it from the skillet and turn the heat down to medium. Pour or spoon off all but a tablespoon of the oil. Stir in the onions, along with some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices, along with 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cook with the onions, stirring, until very aromatic, 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, then return the chicken pieces to the pan.

3. Cover and cook over medium-low heat so that the mixture doesn't boil, turning the pieces every 5 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through, 10 to 20 minutes (longer if you skipped the browning step); it's okay if the mixture curdles a bit. The bird is done when an intstant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155-165 degrees. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish with cilantro, and serve.

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