Armed with a pair of thick-lensed glasses and a steady hand, my late father would grab a ready-for-the-pot pasture-raised hen or a rooster on certain Sunday mornings. Watching the rather cruel fowl raid, the rest of the hen gang would raise a ruckus! I wasn’t a happy camper. Our home-raised, pretty chicks were my pets. In fact, I was attached to those pot-worthy chickens; I even used to name each and every one of them based on their, well, “personality type”. My favorite part is watching them dust-bathe under the sun. Talk about fancy footwork…
To begin with, “Helen” was a petite, happy wonderer. She lived a long, full life. Even though she was fierce, she was a good momma to her brood of chicks. With a watchful eye, she’d let me mess with and play with her newly hatched, soft, furry, silly little ones. Come rain or shine, Helen would happily wander away from home with her little ones to hunt for insects and worms. (Yes, our chickens were non-vegetarians and pretty darn fit!) Wilma, on the other hand, was pretty much a backdoor guard/bottomless pit. This gal knew that at a particular times of the day, kitchen scraps like grated coconut, cooked rice, unwanted parts of fruit and vegetables would dumped into the feeding bowls. These scraps, however, never meant much to “Hannibal” and “Kid.” They were more interested in running after other hens. As if there was some kind of a magnetic pull, they’d cross the invisible borders into other neighborhood barns and get into territorial-troubles with other roosters.
Back to those so-called “certain Sundays.” They were a big deal for sure. Why? Because that’s the only time we’d have chicken for dinner. To slaughter a chicken (or two), de-feather it, singe off the fine hairs over the burning charcoal stove, chop them up into bite-size pieces with a heavy cleaver, save the neck and feet bones for soups, prepare and ground the aromatic spice mixes from scratch by hand, there had to be a very good reason for my parents. Was it for a family member’s birthday? Check. Were relatives visiting? Check. Was it for the kids? No, check.
When I was first transferred to the Borneo Islands for a teaching assignment, I bumped into a nice Chinese lady at the wet market. Her name was, well, ‘Helen.’ Helen sold fresh chickens. One day, she asked whether I’d be interested to try a black chicken. I thought she was kidding. Pulling out a freezer drawer in her small chicken-only stall, she showed me a couple of semi frozen spring black chickens. Needless to say, I was stumped. Helen guaranteed that her black chickens were more nutritious than their much paler counterparts. She added that despite their black color, they made really delightful herbal soups. Thanks to Helen, her convincing sales pitch piqued my then two little daughters’ curiosity which eventually led me (very hesitantly of course!) to buy one. When we got home, I was torn between making a broth or a curry out it. I couldn’t fathom the thought of black chicken in a clear soup nor black chicken in a still sea of deep reddish-orange curry. A decision was made; it got curried! The meat tasted like chicken. There was really nothing much to shout about. But the midnight blackness of the chicken continued to mess with our minds. I still remember how times my bambinas and I squirmed and wriggled, laughed and giggled, as we bravely attempted the black wings, the black drumsticks, and black what not. We found ourselves in our own “Lost World”.
And guess what? Recently, while I was mooching around in the bustling San Francisco Chinatown, I bumped into these same frozen black chickens. Take a look below. There are black chickens. In S.F. Chinatown, these chicks had a posh label — like “Victoria Secret” posh. It’s called “Fresh Silkie Chicken.” Fresh Silkie Chicken anyone ?
13 bucks for a ‘Silkie’? Obviously, there must be a demand for it.
From that “certain Sundays” chicken dinner era, I now live in a chicken-any-time zone. Here in the Great Plains, rainy days are also known to us as “chicken curry days.” The spices warm up the body right away and make us feel warm and cosy. To mop up the zestful gravy or creamy curry sauce, feel free to use any flavor carrier. Anything from plain naans, garlic naans, paratas, Malaysian roti chanai, chapatis, hot jasmin or basmathi rice to wheat or white corn tortillas will work just fine. If you are a ramen-demon, save a little gravy to add to the ramen broth. It’ll take the ramen to another level.
Curry leaves. Have you ever seen them before? As the name suggests, these leaves smell like curry. They look like these.
And guess what? As it Cooks says that curry leaves are the star ingredient of this chicken curry. They greatly enhance the flavor of the curry sauce. (Plus, tiger mom used to say that they are great for a lush, healthy head of hair.) Most Indian grocery stores carry them. In Malaysia, I used to pluck these leaves from our very own curry leaf tree. This tree was so lush that strangers and neighbors would stop by to ask and pluck some. The most interesting part about our curry leaf tree was the more we generously gave away the curry leaves to others, the lusher the tree would get. Talk about the Law of the Mighty Curry Leaf Tree.
To get the most of well-rounded chicken flavor into the curry, I usually use a whole cut-up skinless chicken with bones and all. I’m taking it easy this time. I’m using 4 bone-in skinless chicken legs. Plus, Mr. Chi-Town is a drumstick kind of guy. I, too, prefer to gnaw on bones. We are going to use normal chicken, not the “Silkies.”
Here’s the recipe. Certain ingredients such as cilantro, Kashmiri chili powder, coconut cream, green chili, and potatoes are optional and will not affect the lovely flavor of this curry.
The Wind Barn Creamy Chicken Curry
- 4 chicken legs, remove fat and chop it up into three pieces (I used Bell & Evans chicken; they are much leaner)
- 2 red potatoes- quartered (optional)
- 2 cups of water
- 2 teaspoons of salt (Taste as you go. Reduce the amount or add more only if necessary.)
- 3 tablespoonful clarified butter (I use Purity Farms)
- 1/2 onion, thick sliced
- 3 sprigs of cilantro — finely chopped (optional)
- 3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 cardamoms
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
For the first stage of cooking the chicken pieces, purée these together:
- 6 pips of garlic
- 1 inch piece of ginger
- 5 slices of white onion
- 1/4 cup of water
For the curry mixture, mix all these ingredients in a bowl
- 1/4 cup of meat curry powder (I use Baba’s Malaysian Meat Curry powder)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon Kashmiri chili powder (optional or use it to your discretion)
- 1 cup strained tomatoes or 5 large tomatoes- chopped (I ran out of fresh tomatoes, so I used Bionature Organic Strained Tomatoes)
- 1 tablespoon or 1/4 cup of coconut cream depending on how creamy and mild you’d like your curry (I like Native Forest Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk. Play with it. Experiment. Add milk a little at a time. Put your own spin to it. If you prefer a robust, tomato-ey sauce, omit the coconut cream)
- 2-3 strands of fresh green onions – finely chopped
- 1 green chile or jalapéno, cut horizontally — optional
1. Heat clarified butter in a pot. Sauté onions, cilantro, curry leaves, fennel seeds, cardamoms, star anise, cloves, and the cinnamon stick until the onions caramelize around the edges like this.
2. Next, pour in the garlic, ginger, and onion purée. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. When the purée meets the caramelized spices, the aroma is just divine! (My daughters claim that this is their favorite moment every single time I make this curry.)
3. Stir for a minute. Add the chicken pieces. Stir well until the chicken pieces and the puree are well-combined. Add 2 cups of water. Stir, cover, and cook the chicken pieces until the sauce thickens and cooks down. In other words, wait until there’s just enough ‘sauce’ to coat the chicken pieces. (Please stir the chicken pieces from time to time.)4. It’s time to add the curry mixture (and the red potatoes). Give it a good stir in the bowl itself before pouring it over the chicken. It should look like this.
5. Stir, cover, and simmer the curry for another 10-15 minutes. If you’re cooking the curry with the potatoes, you’ll know when the curry is done. *Tip: Run a steak knife through a piece of potato. It should cut through like butter.
6. Add or pour the coconut cream if you prefer a mild, smooth, and creamier curry. Cut the green chili horizontally and throw it into the simmering curry if you like that unique “green” peppery flavor.
7. Taste for salt. Add more salt if necessary.
Green chillies are called “mirch” in Indian grocery stores.
Check out this almost 6″ long lady finger-like mirch. Isn’t she hot?
8. Turn off the stove. Sprinkle the chopped green onions. The creamy chicken curry is ready to be served.With just eight simple steps, you’ll have a delightful curry without worry.
Mr. Chi-Town and I are completely happy with the usual chickens. But I keep thinking about black chickens. Check out this website at www.viralforest.com. These chickens are actually called “Cemani chickens.” What intrigues me even more is that these black beauties are also known as the “The Lamborghini of Chickens.” Pot-worthy or not, here’s the $13 question: To eat or not to eat?
So what’s your curry story? Have you had an encounter with Cemani?