Parboti Kakima was visiting her newly wedded son and daughter-in-law in Bangalore. This was many many many years back. Her son SG was (and still is) a very close friend of S, and our almost-always-happy next door neighbor. New bride MG had barely begun settling down with her new life, new house and a new city. And the delighted mom-in-law gracefully proffered in to help. Along with the mundane household chores, she smilingly also took over to cook-and-coach MG on some of her signature recipes. Cooking these foods was going to be MG’s mantra in nurturing a beatific foodie-man at home for several years to come.
One of those initial days after she moved in to be with SG and MG, we were invited at theirs. What fun! Kakima (Bengali for Aunt) was going to treat us with her scrumptious best. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, made rapturous with monsoon showers. There had been an overgenerous heavy downpour. The rains had washed down the dusty layers on our veranda grilles, exposing the lack-luster, rustic and distressed earthen brown paint. The extra large bird cage near our veranda housed 5 pairs of colorful little happy winged souls. The Java sparrows, the finches, the love birds, the little parakeets or budgies, were all suddenly busy and too lively…swinging, fluttering across, resting on small earthen pots that had their eggs on thin beds of straw, pecking on food grains, gulping in teeny bit of water droplets and chirping all together. Singing the monsoon song, eh?
S hadn’t had a single tummy full meal since the morning. He was saving room for Kakima’s feast. And as he does customarily before gorging on good food, he had taken a quick shower to freshen up and wore comfy clothes that wouldn’t stress the stomach as it starts bulging with good food and happiness during the pious Bengali eating ritual. Chaan kore babu-shona khete boshe…
S and I were ready ahead of time and were knocking at theirs just on time! The non-stop rains caused frequently interrupted electricity supply. The dynamo was perturbed with this prolonged disturbance and had given way. And here were S, SG, MG and me, with a table full of bowls-full, plates-full and trays-full of food, with Kakima seated besides us waving an ornate Taal er patar haat pakha (timeless Bengali hand fan made of palmyra palm leaves) and telling us umpteen tales of Kolkata. The rains, the food, the stories and the laughter were more cooling and soul soothing than the gentle whisp of the haath patha-r hawa (air from the hand fan). I did not grow up in Kolkata, and hadn’t got to spend enough days there, and yet I absolutely adored listening to every sweet little details about it. It’s the joy that bonded us together. Yes. The joy!
Kakima made us delicious food. She subtly reminded S and me of our moms. There’s this something about good food made with lots of love…that magic. Alongside all the soulful chats and eating, and as we progressed through our conventional Bengali full coarse meal, I noticed a refreshingly atypical dish amid the other traditional ones. It was the chicken curry. It tasted familiar, and yet was deliciously different. It was spicy, and yet the seasonings were all perfectly in harmony. Though it was more spicy than my taste buds can usually handle, but I found the taste very enticing.The curry was fiery red, and yet well balanced in flavors. Upon inquiry, SG said it was Kakima’s special “Tonduri Murgir-r Jhol” (Tandoori chicken curry). Yes, that was precisely what he told me. And that she cooked and simmered in butter to perfection.
Though Tandoori isn’t Bengali by origin. But here it was blissfully married to this undying Bengali love for a “jhol” (curry)…providing a Bengali soul that unparalleled joy of eating with hands. So I give this recipe in to both categories here. This one is North Indian by nature and Bengali by soul. Moreover, the dish comes with a spice alert shout! But go ahead and make it…it’s totally worth. The taste is very unconventional to come from a Bengali, and yet too scrumptious to resist.
S and I may have had this cooked by Kakima twice or thrice may be, before we moved to the US. But the taste wasn’t gone from our taste buds. Each time we thought about it, we’d fondly refer to it as Parboti Kakima’s Tandoori murgi-r jhol! So this time when SG traveled to the US for work and we met (read my post here), I had a deal with him. I bribed him with his favorite home cooked food and got Kakima’s phone number in return. The next Saturday, I called Parboti Kakima. We chatted, we laughed and I wrote down her recipe of what I call here “Spicy Tandoori Chicken Curry”. And on Sunday, this curry was up on our table for dinner. Then I made it again. And again. Shared with neighbors. They came back thanking me. And elated, I made it again today! No, you wouldn’t want to miss out on this comfort curry either! 🙂 It’s super spicy, palate tickling and very appetizing…
Serves 4 to 5
- 2.5 lb or 1 kg Chicken on bone, cut into large pieces
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice**
- 1 US cup or 8 fl.oz or 237 ml, thick Yogurt**
- 2 inches fresh ginger root
- 12 garlic cloves
- 4 Indian hot green chillies**
- 1 dry red chilly**
- 1.76 oz or 50 gms Tandoori Masala powder or dry mix (I use Shan’s Tandoori Masala Mix brand)**
- 2 oz or 50 gms Butter
- 1/4 US cup or 60 ml light olive oil or vegetable oil (or substitute with another 2 oz or 50 gms of butter)
- Salt to taste**
- 1 tbsp of finely shredded cilantro for garnish — Optional
**Depending on the composition/taste of Tandoori masala you use, you may have to slightly adjust the amount of heat (chillies), tanginess (lime juice, yogurt) and salt that you add here.
- Rinse the chicken pieces gently and pat dry. Transfer them into a large mixing bowl. Add lime juice and 0.5 tsp salt. Mix to coat the chicken. Keep aside for about 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, peel, wash and roughly chop the ginger and garlic cloves. De-stem and rinse the green chillies.
- In a blender, add the yogurt, chopped ginger, garlic, green and red chillies. Puree till smooth.
- Pour this puree into the mixing bowl. Add all the tandoori masala mix. Mix them well. Cover the mixing bowl with food grade plastic film. Leave the bowl in refrigerator to marinade overnight or for 1 to 2 hours.
- In wok over medium heat, add all of the olive oil and butter. As the butter melts, use kitchen tongs to pick a couple chicken pieces (without the marinade) and carefully transfer them into the wok. Fry the chicken pieces in batches so they do not overcrowd the wok. Fry chicken pieces for 2 to 3 minutes each side, till slightly reddish brown. Fry over medium heat throughout, so the melted butter isn’t burnt. Once fried, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer into a clean dish.
- In the same wok, now add the marinade from mixing bowl. Give a quick stir or two. Return all the fried chicken pieces to the wok. Add 1 US cup-ful (8 fl.oz) or 237 ml of water. Cover cook over low-medium heat till done.
- Once done, take off from heat and test for salt. Transfer the tandoori chicken curry into a serving bowl, garnish with cilantro and serve steaming hot with basmati rice and fresh garden salad with lime wedges. Yum!
- This dish comes with a spice alert shout! But go ahead and make it…it’s totally worth. The taste is very unconventional and yet too scrumptious to resist.
- For added punch of taste (and if you do not mind those extra calories), replace the butter-olive oil mixture from the recipe with 4 oz or 100 gm of butter.
- If you are using ginger and garlic paste: Mince the green chillies and use 0.5 tsp of red chilli flakes. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt. Add the ginger garlic paste, minced green chillies and the chilly flakes. Transfer this mixture directly on the chicken, mix and let marinade. The rest of the steps as mentioned under method above.
- If you are pushed for time, then (after adding yogurt mix and tandoori masala to the chicken), proceed directly to frying the pieces.
- If you’d like to cut down on the spices and heat, use 4 heaped tbsp of tandoori masala and reduce or skip the amount of chillies. Add 3 to 4 tsp of ginger paste and 1 tbsp of garlic paste. Alternatively, adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.
- Upon refrigeration, the flavors settle in and the taste deepens on the second day.