First recipe: Indian: Murgh Methi

A few years ago I had the honour to study cooking at The Culinary Academy of India (CAI). Chef told me that teaching regional Indian cooking is impossible as every 20 kilometres from wherever you are, the food is prepared differently: What X connotes in one city can be very different just one town over. To teach me Chef printed out recipes from the web and taught me why tomatoes are used here but fenugreek there, and we cooked and tasted at every step. This was my base education. Indian Food: A Historical Companion by K.T. Achaya filled in the historical gaps.

Back home I took my notes and went through each of the recipes online and through my (large of collection of electronic) cookbooks, looking for the common ingredients in a dish, what combinations of other things were added, and what different regions preferred. With practice I learned what combinations of spices and how much spice — there is no fixed measure — I like. Voila! I’ve become part of the evolution in Indian cuisine.

I chose my first recipe for here to be Murgh Methi because it’s delicious, easy to make, good for you and is maybe easiest to demonstrate how I want to present the Indian recipes I know. With some feedback from you I’ll be able to improve this kind of content, so please talk to me about formatting and my writing style.

Murgh Methi (Chicken and Fenugreek)

Mise En Place

Ingredients in parenthesis are not common to each region and so are optional. My suggestion when cooking Indian food is to add one spice at a time and taste. Over time you’ll get a sense of what each spice does.

The key is to caramelise the onions so their sweetness will balance the sourness in the yogurt and/or fenugreek.

The average is one cup fresh fenugreek leaves or 1/4 dried per pound of chicken.

Marinade the cut up chicken in enough yogurt to cover; add green chilli, salt (ginger, red pepper, chill pepper powder)

Mince 1/2 – 2 whole onions. The more onions you caramelise, the sweeter the dish.

Step One: In a large open pan like a karai or wok add a measure of oil or ghee turn the flame up to high and add Indian bay leaf, 5 green cardamons, 3 – 5 cloves, a piece of Indian cinnamon, peppercorns, (2 black cardamon). Through osmosis the flavour oils within the spices will season the cooking oil. Add the minced onions to stop the spices from cooking and fry the onions until they caramelise, which will take about half an hour.

Note: Restaurant quality Indian food uses a technique of cooking the onions until they release the oil at which point you add in a ladle of water and cook it down again until it releases the oil. You’ll do that five to seven times. Each time you’ll notice the paste gets darker and darker as caramelized residue in the pan dissolved back into the mix. This technique also breaks down the cell walls of the onions to give the end sauce a better texture.

Version one, the sauce is very much reduced. Again, there is no one way to make this.

Step Two: Add garlic/ginger paste and cook one to two minutes to take away the sharp notes then add turmeric, coriander powder, slit green chilies and cook one minute more to incorporate.

Note: You can take this off the stove and run it through a food mill or food processor for an even smoother texture.

My classmate took the sauce down to a paste and added tomato in place of yogurt. Indian tomatoes are sour compared to American varieties.

Step Three: Add all of the liquid from the marinade, mix, then add the chicken and cook for ten minutes.

Step Four:  Add the fenugreek leaves, garam masala powder, fresh coriander, and enough water to bring it to the consistency you like. Cook at about ten minutes so the chicken and sauce exchange flavours. When the sauce reaches the consistency you like salt it. Serve.

He was wonderful. A very bright man who loves photography. He set up all the dishes I made and shot them.

Many variations use pastes in place of the long cooking. Some, for example, season the oil then add brown onion paste followed by tomato masala or tomato paste, ginger garlic paste, chilies. Then add the chicken and yogurt. Since the dish depends on the sour/sweet balance, I feel it is important to make sure the onions are properly caramelized whichever method is used.
Some recipes have a sprinkle of dry roased coriander and fresh ground cardamon.
One recipe I surveyed used tomatoes. It’s worth noting that Indian tomatoes are sour.

18 Comments on “First recipe: Indian: Murgh Methi

  1. Pingback: Caramalising Onions…important information | Noms Nom Nom Wokkery

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