The star ingredient in this curry is the fenugreek in my Chennai spice mix; the method of cooking onions and then adding ginger, garlic and chilli paste with some thick yoghurt before the other ingredients is the one I picked up as a student from my Asian flatmate’s Mum. Once you master that classic technique, you can make up any number of variations for stunning curry dishes of your own. I’ve used chicken here but lamb would work just as well. It’s spicy but not hot so feel free to crank up the chilli content if you like it hotter – it’s great made ahead and reheated and the sauce freezes well. I serve it with basmati rice made fragrant with some cumin seeds and a couple of black cardamom pods in the cooking water and dark greens such as wilted spinach.
Chennai curry powder
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 medium cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- 4 cloves
- 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek leaves
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1 pack of 12 skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into two pieces.
- Curry base: 1 medium red chilli, 3 garlic cloves, 3cm piece of fresh ginger
- 2 onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 200ml chicken stock (I use a gel stockpot)
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste
- 2 tbsp thick Greek yoghurt
- Fresh coriander and/or crisp fried shallots to garnish
- Heat the oil in a sauté pan and gently cook the onions with a pinch of salt until they soft and caramelised – this takes about 30 minutes but requires nothing more than the odd stir.
- Meanwhile, make the curry powder. Add all the ingredients to a spice grinder except the turmeric. Grind to a fine powder, pour it into a small bowl and stir in the turmeric.
- Next, make the curry base. Roughly chop the chilli, garlic and ginger and blend them into a paste with a splash of water in a small food processor.
- Turn the oven on to 140°C.
- Once the onions are ready, add the curry powder and curry base. Mix thoroughly and then gradually stir in the yoghurt. Next, add the tomatoes, bay leaf, tomatoes, tamarind paste and chicken stock. Stir again. You could leave this to cook out for half an hour, allow it to cool and refrigerate or freeze to use later or proceed straight to the next stage.
- Add the pieces of chicken to the sauce, transfer it to a flame-proof casserole and cook in the oven for 40 minutes. The sauce should be thick and spicy, the chicken tender. Check the seasoning – you may want to add a little more salt or black pepper but you don’t need to do this until the end. Scatter with freshly chopped coriander and crisp shallots.
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