The original text of this recipe dates back to 1846, and was brought to England from India by intrepid Victorian explorer, writer and poetess Emma Roberts. I've given her version below:
“Melt four ounces of butter in a stewpan, then add two onions cut into small pieces; stew them until they become brown and dry, then take them out. Having cut up the meat intended for the curry, reduce to a pulp the following ingredients:-four cloves of garlic, twelve small onions, two pieces of ginger, four pieces of turmeric or saffron, four chilies and four tablespoonsful of curd, adding, if desirable, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, also reduced to a pulp. Put the whole into the stewpan, keeping them well stirred until they become thick, then put in the meat piece by piece, and keep it constantly stirred until thoroughly done, adding occasionally a little water to prevent it from burning; then take off the stewpan so as to allow the water to mix, and having previously pounded the following spices, viz., ten cloves, twelve corns of black pepper and half a teaspoon of caraway seed, with salt to the taste, add them, with the fried onions beaten into powder, to the contents of the stewpan; mix the whole well together; put the stewpan on the fire and stew until the meat is properly done.”
Alright, then. Let’s update this baby. Firstly, you can be my guest and use all that butter, but I’ll use vegetable oil, thank you. The 12 small red onions could be large shallots, but you’re better off picking some smaller examples from the Indian onions on sale in the Gulf. You can cheat and not do the frying onions thing at all – you can buy them ready fried in any outlet that has a decent volume of Indian customers. Don’t tell the Foodie Purist Police I suggested it, please. They’ll have my guts for garters…
- 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 4 chicken breasts, approx 800g, cut into rough 2cm cube
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 12 small local red onions or large shallots, roughly chopped
- 4cm piece fresh ginger
- A good pinch of saffron
- 4 red chillies
- 1 tbsp coriander seed
- 250ml full fat yoghurt
- 10 cloves
- 12 black peppercorns
- ½ tsp caraway seed
- 1 tsp salt
The saffron given in the original recipe is a substitute for those who don’t like the taste of turmeric, which you can’t always get fresh anyway.
Put the yoghurt, garlic, onions, ginger and chillies into a blender/whizzer bowl. Using a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder, grind the coriander seed freshly then add this, along with the salt, to the blender mixture and then give it a damn good whizzing.
In a nice large wide bottomed frying pan, fry the two sliced onions in the butter over a medium heat, turning them occasionally, until they have browned and shrivelled, then remove them to drain on some paper towel. Keep the oil in the pan and put the yoghurt and spice mixture in: cook to heat through, stirring, on a medium heat. Add the chicken pieces, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, over a medium heat, ‘until the oil comes through the yoghurt’ as they say. Grind the black peppercorns, cloves and caraway seed, then add this to the yoghurt and chicken mixture. You can grind the shrivelled onion with these spices, as in the original recipe, but I personally like to serve the onion pieces over the curry in contemporary curry fashion.
Serve with lots of basmati rice, chutney and sambals. I like it with peanuts, tomato and onion seed, pineapple, cucumber and chopped onion. Authentic? Poppycock!