BBC Afternoon TV Chicken Curry (Circa 1981)
Or it might have been ITV. Whatever, some childhood inspirations are forever*
I’ve been making this recipe since I was 16.
Growing up in Ireland in a single-parent household, I picked up the cooking bug pretty early on. Mostly I had enjoyed watching my grandmother cook, and on the weekends, my mother.
Our grandparents, our mother’s parents, helped raise my siblings and I when we lived in the Greater Los Angeles area in the mid-1970s, before 1977 when we up and moved to Dublin, Ireland where my mother’s family originated.
Even back then, TV was the afternoon babysitter, and despite having only a whopping four stations to watch—BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV, and RTE—we managed to be well-entertained and informed.
My older brother, Alan, and I attended St. Paul’s College in Raheny, Dublin. An all-boys school run by Vincentian priests, it was all very Harry Potter with the uniforms and blazers and school crests, but decidedly less magical.
At the time, the Irish Republic required secondary (high) school students to attend a particular number of school hours per year and to make the quota, we had a half-day on Wednesdays. If memory serves, we were let off class at the odd time of 1:10 p.m.
I’d go home, make lunch and watch the women’s afternoon programs on BBC1 or ITV. Now, back in the day, there was an afternoon chat show where a cute, portly blond middle-aged fellow with a beard used to co-host. And almost every Wednesday, the show would have a cooking segment and that’s where I learned this recipe.
Now, this is a particularly British curry; in that, long before chicken tikka masala became the number one dish for British soccer hooligans, this was considered an authentic “curry”. But, as I matured and my experience and palate broadened, I realized this was less an authentic Indian curry and more some weird amalgam of ingredients from every South Asian and Southeast Asian country the Brits ever colonized.
But I learned to make it, and it’s become a staple of my family meal repertoire, alongside French Toast, and pancakes. If Mom roasted a chicken for Sunday dinner, then a chicken curry was on the dinner menu for Monday.
Despite being raised in Ireland, our mother insisted we recognize and acknowledge our US roots. So, while we lived in Ireland we celebrated Thanksgiving every year and this recipe became part of the family post-Thanksgiving ritual that went on for many years. (Imagine my surprise when I learned a few years back that the mother of the protagonist in “Bridget Jones Diary”—the books and films I’ve neither read nor seen—had her own post-Christmas Turkey curry buffet!)
Roast chicken. We’ve all been there; we’ve all got at least one chicken breast, a leg, and a thigh just waiting there to be turned into chicken salad or a dry sandwich. This is where this recipe comes in to save the day.
3 tablespoons of Ghee (Indian clarified butter) or 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
1 large onion, diced
1 small birds-eye red chili or a ½ teaspoon chili flakes (this is to your taste, so add as much or as little as you desire)
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ cup of raisins
4 cloves of garlic
1 cinnamon stick
4 to 5 green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ cup of roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews ground up in a food processor (or two large tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter).
Juice of one fresh lemon
½ a tart apple (Granny Smith)
1 can of coconut milk (full fat, or why bother?)
1 can low sodium chicken or veggie broth
A pound of cooked chicken, preferably breast and thighs
½ cup of frozen peas
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
OK, in a Dutch Oven or a nice, broad and deep wok or pan, sauté the onions, raisins, garlic, peppercorns, chili, cardamon in the ghee or butter/oil mixture. I use one medium size birds-eye red chili that I halve or quarter, piercing the skin to let the oils free. You want to cook the vegetables until they are glistening and beginning to caramelize. The raisins should begin to plump.
If they absorb too much of the oil, just add more, then mix in and sauté the crushed spices. Keep an eye on the pan, you want the spices to begin to brown, but you don’t want them to burn. When the onions are browned and the raisins begin to bloat, add the juice of one whole lemon, grate in the fresh ginger and then shred at least half of the apple’s flesh into the mix.
Before you add the liquid, you will want to remove the cinnamon stick. Add the coconut milk.
Now, add the same amount of chicken or vegetable broth, I use the coconut milk can to make sure it’s an equal measure. If it’s too runny, then add a cup of creamy plain yogurt, if it’s too thick, a cup of water. Add in two tablespoons of peanut butter. The ketchup goes in last to bring out the sweetness and color. Lower the temperature to a nice simmer, stirring occasionally.
Now, break out the protein. We had a roast chicken earlier in the week and had a breast, a leg, and the thigh leftovers. No need to be polite, just shred the meat with your hands.
Now, fold in the chicken until every last piece is submerged and coated. This chicken is cooked, so now you don’t want it to become rubbery. Set the heat on the stove to as low as it can go, so that the curry is slightly simmering.
Now, when I get to this stage, this is where I begin to work on rice, which should only take about 20 minutes to cook.
Take the time to stir in your two tablespoons of ketchup, this is for acidity and sweetness. Finally, fold in the peas and the finely chopped cilantro in the last five minutes of cooking. This adds brightness and color to the dish.
If you’re going to go all “authentic”, use basmati rice, but Jasmine works just as well as long as you rinse it well before you boil it to get rid of the excess starch. This assures firm, separate grains that are not sticky.
*This recipe first appeared on my Tumblr food blog, also called Meat Is Murder (But Also Delicious). I always experiment with new platforms just, like Substack, to see what they’re about.
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