There is a lively debate about who in the caribbean says “chicken curry” vs who says “curry chicken.” Having lived in the US for more than half my life, my memory is a bit blurred regarding which one I grew up saying, so I called my Auntie Faye. “Chicken curry”, she said.
Curry dishes are a staple in Guyana, attributed to our strong East Indian heritage. Much like the debate over whether the chicken comes before the curry or vice versa, I am sure that almost every Guyanese family has their own “twist” on curry dishes. Some folks cook curry that comes out with a very dark mustard color and is quite potent to taste. My curry dishes have lots of coconut milk and I sometimes add fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods as the mood takes me. My curries also have a much paler yellow color than most Guyanese curry dishes and a “fusion” flavor.
If you are new to this, or want to “twist it up” be sure to read the “Curry: Basic Techniques” section before diving into the recipe.
WHAT MAKES A MEAL
Curry is traditionally served with plain white rice or roti (or both) or with dhal puri. The greatly preferred way for Guyanese to eat curry is with roti. A side of dahl (made from split peas) is not uncommon. You will remember from the “Never a Dull Rice” post that I advocate for serving curry dishes with a variety of veggie enhanced grains. Curry goes very well with medium grain bulgur enhanced with spinach. As you can see in the featured photo, I also enjoy curry with jasmine rice and spinach. A simple side salad – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers – is also a delicious addition to your curry dish and creates a balanced meal.
CURRY: BASIC TECHNIQUES
I only use Guyanese curry powder. There is a wide variety of curry powders and pastes on the market. Guyanese curries are very different from Thai or Vietnamese or Malaysian curries. Each type of curry powder or curry paste has its own character. My family has always used Indi Special Madras Curry Powder and Sujata Curry Powder – both of which are fairly easy to get in New York City. Of course you will have to use whatever you have available. You may have to kiss a few curry frogs before you get to the one you like best – but it is worth it because curry is a delicious “go to” meal that never gets old.
Marinating your Chicken
PLAN AHEAD AND DON’T SKIMP ON THIS STEP! This will be a recurring theme in all of my recipes. This is my secret to depth of taste in meat, seafood AND veggie dishes. I recommend that your chicken be generously marinated in an herb blend for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days (refrigerated) or 2 weeks (frozen.)
Making the Curry Paste
Here again the star is the herb blend. Using a blend saves time and creates a rich, flavorful curry paste. The paste is made by mixing the curry powder with the herb blend in a 1:1 ratio. If the result is not sufficiently moist, you can add 1 tablespoon of water.
An option if you don’t have a herb blend on hand, would be to finely chop up a mixture of onions, garlic, scallions, celery, thyme and whatever other herbs you have on hand. Then mix the curry powder with the chopped herbs and add a bit of water.
Bunjal the Curry
Once you have your curry paste, you are ready to cook. When the pan meets the flame, the first step is to “bunjal” the curry. This involves cooking the paste in hot oil or ghee and stirring constantly until the paste just begins to change color and burn a little. During this step the curry paste will absorb all of the oil or ghee and you will be tempted to add more. DONT! Just keep stirring then add your meat/vegetable and stir to coat evenly.
SHINDY’S CHICKEN CURRY
The most commonly prepared and enjoyed curry of them all. Chicken curry can be made with the parts of the chicken that suit your fancy. My preference is to prepare it with a whole chicken cut up into parts, because I love the back with all the bones. I however, most often use chicken thighs with the skin (again my preference) or a mixture of thighs and drumsticks or even a mixture of skinless thighs and those with skin. You can prepare with chicken breast if you prefer, just bear in mind that the cooking time will be shortened.
- 3 lbs of chicken parts cleaned and cut into pieces.
- 2 tbsp plus 1/4 cup curry powder
- 4 tbsp herb blend
- 2 tbsp coconut oil or ghee
- 3 medium sized gold potatoes (1 lb)
- 1 15oz can coconut milk
- 2 tsps cumin (optional but recommended)
- 2 tsps garam masala (optional but recommended)
- 3 inches of ginger (optional)
- 2 dried chili peppers (optional)
- 1 15 oz can of unsalted chickpeas (optional)
- 2 cups broccoli florets (optional)
Chicken Curry Techniques
- Season your chicken with salt/seasoning salt, freshly ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons of the herb blend of your choice. Let marinate for at least a total of 2 hours.
- After 1 hour sprinkle the marinated chicken with 2 tablespoons of curry powder. Mix well to coat thoroughly. Let sit for another hour.
- In the meantime, peel, wash and quarter the potatoes. Set aside in a bowl of cool water until needed.
- In a small bowl combine the curry powder and the herb blend to make a paste. If it is too dry, add 1-2 tbsps of water. It must be well blended. Set aside.
- After the chicken is well marinated, heat the coconut oil or ghee on medium high heat in a deep, non-stick or cast iron pot.
- When the fat is hot, add the curry paste and stir continuously scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden or silicone spatula and making sure that the oil is well absorbed. Keep stirring, giving the paste a chance to cook through a bit (2-3 minutes). A little burning is OK and in fact preferred.
- Add the chicken in one batch to the pot. Stir continuously to coat the chicken with the bunjal curry mix. Use a wooden spoon and scrape the bottom of the pan to limit burning.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pot. Allow the chicken to spring it’s own juices (2-3 minutes).
- Blend the garam masala and cumin together and add to the chicken, coating thoroughly.
- Cover the pot, lower the flame and let cook for 7-9 minutes, checking and stirring after every 2-3 minutes. You should have a pot bubbling in the juices sprung by the chicken.
- If it is getting dry and not juicy and bubbly, add 3/4 cup water and cover again. The chicken should be gently bubbling. Adjust the flame as needed.
- When the chicken is nice and juicy and bubbly (10-15 minutes), add the potatoes and 3/4 of the coconut milk. Sprinkle salt and black pepper sparingly. Cover the pot. Raise the heat to medium high and allow it to come to a steady bubble. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking for taste. Adjust with seasoning salt/salt and pepper as you like.
- Add the remainder of the coconut milk (rinse out the can with water and add that to the pot as well) and let cook until the everything is well combined, the chicken is done and the potatoes are tender. You should have a generous amount of gravy with your chicken curry. If you need more gravy add 1/2 cup water and adjust salt/seasoning salt and black pepper to taste.
- If using chickpeas, add 5 minutes before the chicken curry is done.
- Ginger: Add after step 7
- Cumin & Garam Masala Mix: Add after step 7 by itself or with the ginger
- Chickpeas: Drain and wash the chickpeas. Add the chickpeas to your curry in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
- Broccoli Florets: Add 2 cups broccoli florets, stir to distribute in the curry, cover the pot and turn off the fire. Let sit for 5 minutes then serve.
Beef, Pork, Lamb Curry
Basics of curry preparation are the same as outlined above. Choose cuts of meat that have the marbling fat – for example cuts good for braising and stewing. These cuts will yield tender and juicy curry dishes. The downside is that they require much longer and more “minding” to cook on the stovetop. One strategy that I use is to put the curry into a crockpot after step 11 in the method above, and walk away from it for 1 – 11/2 hours until the meat is on the verge of being tender but not quite there. At that point I would return the meat to the stovetop and finish off with steps 12-13. I don’t recommend adding chickpeas or anything other that potatoes with these curries.
Vegetable Curry Recipe: If you are vegetarian or vegan, sign up for the blog so that you don’t miss this flexible, hearty recipe.
Shrimp and Fish Curry: Master your curry basics first. Shrimp and fish recipes coming soon!