Tamarind Chicken Bhuna

Chicken curries are food for the soul, or at least for me it is!  A good chicken curry must be cooked bone in, be juicy and, most importantly, the meat itself must be flavorful. Although chicken may be an easy meat to cook, there’s a real technique behind using the right spice combinations to make it a unique dish. I know I’m starting to make this dish sound all complicated, but you won’t believe how easy and flavorful it turned out to be.

For this dish, I have tried to incorporate the classic flavors of a Bengali chicken bhuna with the addition of tangy flavors, like those in Pakistani Achari chicken. The main flavor bomb in this dish come from the tamarind pulp. Tamarind is a real favorite under my roof and pickled tamarind is one of my favorite side dishes to have with any South Asian dish. Although it might just be my addiction to tamarind, but this really was one of those, “I don’t care who is looking, but I am going to lick this plate clean” dishes. 

For me, no meal is complete without chili or heaps of Sriracha. However, one of my many goals as a cook has always been to create a dish that is minimally spicy but packed full of flavor. To be honest, this dish definitely nailed that goal. Initially, I started off with a spice blend using peppercorn, garlic, some fenugreek, and garam masala. Then I thought why not add some tamarind pulp? Well luckily, it turned out good and for those who love peppery and tamarind flavors, believe me, this dish will not disappoint!

Just like most of my other chicken curry recipes, this one is also a classic bhuna recipe. The concept of bhuna is about cooking meat in its own juices. This is the reason why I love using boned thigh and leg pieces because it releases so much juice and fat, that it gives the dish that real depth of flavor.

One of the most crucial aspects of this dish is the addition of crispy fried shallots/onions. I don’t think there is any way I could express the goodness of crispy onions than saying, please just try it! I mean the idea seems so simple–deep fried onions–but believe me when these fried onions release this amazing sweetness and aroma that makes the dish seem so much more special. I hope that you will give this dish a go and let me know how it goes!

2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 cup chopped coriander/cilantro
3 tbsp tamarind pulp
Crispy fried shallots for garnish  (find recipe here)

Spice mix
1 tbsp peppercorn
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2-3 dried chili (adjust to your taste, always start with less and add more later)
5 cloves of garlic

Marinade mix
6 pieces-leg and thigh meat combined
1 tbsp salt (you can use any type of salt, but keep in mind that some salt is stronger than others)
1 cup of yogurt
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp turmeric
1 cup of crispy fried shallots (find recipe here)

The first step is to clean and wash your chicken. Once cleaned, pat it dry using a paper towel and make some deep slits along thickest part of the meat. You want to make the slits only in the middle, on the spot that is right on top of the bone. Now mix together all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and set aside for an hour or overnight. Remember, the longer you marinate, the more time it allows for the flavors to penetrate into the meat, so the longer the better. While you marinate your meat, in a pan over a medium heat, heat all the spice mix ingredients and dry roast them till the fenugreek and coriander develop a nice golden color. Once roasted, pour into a spice grinder or blender, add the tamarind pulp and mix till it becomes a beautifully aromatic paste. You might need to add a little water to get a smooth paste, so don’t hesitate.

Once your paste is made, heat a pot over medium-high heat and add in the oil. Once your oil is heated up, take the pieces of chicken and fry for about 10 mins on both sides, keeping the excess marinade aside. At this point, all you are doing is browning the meat so it gets a nice color. Once the chicken has developed a nice and golden brown crust, simply take the meat out and place it on a plate, leaving the excess oil in the pot. Now, lower the heat to medium and add in the spice paste into the same pan. Fry the paste for about a minute or two and add in the rest of the marinade previously kept aside. After another minute or two, and add in the onions, ginger paste and fry till the onions are caramelized. After about 5-7 minutes of caramelizing the onions, add in the meat and 1/2 cup of chopped coriander. Now turn the heat up high and keep stirring.

This is where the ‘bhuna’ or constant stirring stage starts! At this stage, you want to keep stirring the meat till the mixture starts to dry up, at which point you can add 1/2 cup of water and continue stirring. Repeat this step 3 times, after which you can taste to make sure you have the right balance of salt, tamarind, and heat in your curry. If you’ve made your curry too spicy, just add some yogurt (1-2 tbsp), tamarind pulp (1 tbsp) and a pinch of sugar. Remember, the yogurt is what balances out the heat and saltiness in the curry, not the sugar, so if it is still hot or too salty, add more yogurt, tamarind and a pinch of sugar. When your curry has reached that perfect balance, add in another 1/2 cup of water, turn the heat to low and put the lid on. Now just let you chicken simmer for about 15-20 minutes, and just keep going back to it once or twice and give it a stir.

After about 15-20 minutes, take the lid off and you should see that the oil from the curry should have separated to the top. Don’t panic if it hasn’t, just make sure your chicken is cooked before you serve. Finally, add in the rest of the fresh coriander, give the curry a good mix, garnish with crispy fried shallots and serve.



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