Sunday, 23 January 2011

Murgir Jhol (Chicken in Curried Gravy)

There's a curious practice amongst most Bengalis. When they say "mangsho", which means meat, they don't actually mean *all* meat. They really only meat red meat, and even then only the meat of goats -- our favourite kind. There's evidence in texts that we ate piglets, some molluscs, and certainly people used to eat several kinds of birds. If we go back far enough we also ate -- gasp! -- cows, but for some reason, chicken (or hen/rooster/cockerel, really) was deeply taboo. But more history later... maybe. These days, with urbanisation, the wide variety in birds-close-at-hand has faded, and the domesticated hens and cockerel have become sitting targets, literally, for substitute-seeking humans. Consequently, it's suddenly totally okay to eat chicken -- to the extent that most people don't even realise it used to be a massive taboo not that long back-- and boy do we eat a lot of it!

Today's recipe is a modern Bengali home-cooking favourite: the "simple" murgir jhol, or chicken cooked in a thick broth/gravy (there really can be no satisfactory translation for'jhol', I don't think). Let me warn you lot that it's 'simple' only by our standards. Among other things, we use both kinds of chilies -- green for flavour and red for colour, the the process can be quite elaborate if we wish it to be. You've been warned :-)

Potatoes, one per person (or more if you intend to make enough for >1 meals)

Chicken -- skinned and cleaned. Feel free to use boneless pieces, or larger chunks, on or off the bone. Large marrowed bones do add to the flavour.
Lemon, or juice thereof.
Green chilies, red chilies (pasted).
Garlic, red onions, ginger if you like it.
Cumin, coriander -- freshly, or at least home-ground. Similarly garam masala, but optional.

Jayatri and jaiphol (mace and nutmeg) -- a very small amount, grated or crushed. Also optional.
Papaya or pumpkin for a thicker base -- thick slice.
Tomatoes (optional) -- diced.

How to:
Peel the potatoes, but if you have the notun aloo that's only available in winter, it perfect. Doesn't even need peeling. Just rubbing your thumb will peel the skin off. When they're peeled, slice them into halves. Notun aloo is usuall small, so just halving suffices. Produce is larger in the US, though, so more slicing might be required. After you've sliced them, shallow-fry them with a small amount of oil, and drain once they take on a golden-brown colour.

Potatoes and some leftover pumpkin slices

The peel's off. And no peeler or scraper involved.

Heart-shaped potato :-)

Frying sliced potatoes in a small amount of oil.

The golden-fried potatoes, drained and kept on a plate.

 Now the chicken. I had two small leg-pieces... drumsticks, I think they're called. Marinate them, as is our norm, in green chilies, peeled garlic and peeled red onions, pasted together. Throw in some ginger if you have the taste for it. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over it.

Make deep slices with a knife on the chicken so the marinade absords well.

The marinade of pasted green chilies, garlic, onion and possibly ginger, plus lemon.

Mix it up.

Now, heat some oil (or ghee) in a pressure cooker. When the oil is hot, turn the flame down and place the chicken legs carefully in it. It will splutter a bit. Be sure to scrape most of the marinade off, we need that for later. Now wait till, slowly, the colour on the skin of the chicken changes as it slow-cooks. 

Be sure to cook both sides the same way, but don't do one side at a time. Keep turning the cooking sides every few minutes. These are the milestones in your cooking road:

Stage I

Stage II

Stage III

Stage IV

When the chicken looks like it's been spit roasted over an open flame, and the oil in the pot has been cooked into a rich, brown shade, scrape all the marinade, and pour it over the chicken. If using tomaoes, add them now. If you taste the oil right before adding the marinade, it might give you a cardiac attack, BUT you'll die happy.

The marinade, added.

Mixed it in, and fried.

When the marinade has been cooked on high for about five minutes, add the papaya or pumpkin slices. Fold it in well, still keeping the flame on high. After a few quick stirs to mix it in, turn the flame down to medium and add the potatoes that had been kept aside.

The too-few slices of pumpkin. Don't hesitate to add much more, and in thicker slices too.


Now, when the papya/pumpkin starts changing colour, add the ground cumin and coriander in 1:2 ratio, more or less. Giving it a few seconds to cook, add the ground/crushed pinch of mace and nutmeg. Fold them well on medium or low, otherwise the chicken and potatoes will char. 

Now add four or five cups of water. Add salt and sugar to taste. Bring to a boil while occasionally stirring. Then reduce flame to low and pressure cook for the first three whistle. Check if the chicken is tender. If it isn't, set the cooker for another whistle.

Mace and nutmeg -- whole.

Right before putting the lid on the pressure-cooker.

After the whistles, if the chicken and potatoes are tender and the pumpkin/papaya has disintegrated, pour it into a serving bowl. But chances are, there will be more gravy than you want, possibly also thinner than you want. In this case, lift the chicken and potatoes and put it into the serving bowl. And reduce the gravy on a slow flame. It's what I did.

The tender chicken and potatoes.

Pour the gravy/thickened broth on top of it.

Ready to serve!

Serve over white or brown rice, or eat with rootis or parathas or even luchi.


Abhishek Mukherjee said...

Pressure cooker? PRESSURE COOKER? KENO? :O

Gas burners, pressure cookers and Maggi noodles have the three main contributing factors towards the decline of Bengali household cooking standards over the past three decades.

Sachinky said...

Chicken curry at my home is cooked slightly differently. Fry garlic, ginger and onion in a couple of teaspoons of oil. Fry chicken in it. Cover with water. Sprinkle salt, a pinch of sugar, garam masala, lanka powder. Add some tomatoes and let it cook till the gravy reduces and the tomatoes disintegrate. Garnish with cilantro and lime juice.

Although it's fair to presume that every Bengali household has their own way in making this preparation.

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

For the umpteenth time, BTW, ROOTI noy, RUTI.

রুটি না রূটি?

Rimi said...

Sachinky--I love the lebur rosh as a final touch in your recipe! Awesome. I should point out in mine that the nutmeg and mace are optional. I think I'll do it right away.

Abhishek, comment 1 -- spoken like a true person who's never had to endure the personal hardship and ecological damage of using a stove or unoon. I know some more people like you, all upstanding Bengali men. Two of them have refused to buy refridgerators ecause "It makes the women lazy and destroys our culture of excellent, fresh-cooked food".

If you want to rescue our gastronomic culture, there is nothing stopping from you from quitting you job and devoting four hours each to prepping lunch and dinner, and at least two for breakfast. And developing asthma in the process. All the best! :D

Comment 2, "for the umpteenth time"? When have you ever had the occasion to say this to me before, even once?

Boxling said...

Oh man, amar baritey toh erom hoy na. Ei variety ta ami kokhono khai ni. My mother will be showed this.

Rimi said...

Toder kirokom hoy? Pliss to tell!

Magically Bored said...

Murgir jhol is awesome, although we cook it a different way.

Dea-chan said...

I have never seen whole mace before... it looks like a weird little sea creature in your pic!

Sachinky said...

I squeeze lebur rosh on practically everything. : )

Rimi said...

Tuna, tell me how you make it!

T--haha, it DOES! It looks like a mutant sea annemone. And I adore that about it :-)

Sachinky, in fact, so do I. Lebur rosh and noon :-)

panu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
panu said...

actually amar barite ar ekta version hoy. Chicken nibi, noon, holud, lonka, ada roshun, aar vinegar ba doi (jodi tomato dish then you can omit this) makhiye rakhbi. Koraay gota darchini, lobongo ar chhoto elach ar tejpata foron diye ote pNeyaj ektu bheje nibi. soft hoye gele chicken (ar tomato jodi dish) diye nere koshiye (Puriye na, jemon tui poraali torta) tar moddhe andaajmoto jol, alu (khosha chharano, even sized) ar onnyanyo vegetation diye chhere dibi pNochish minute dhakachapa diye sim kore.

noon adjust. amar barite no aar ektu vinegar ba tomato dile l

Rimi said...

Thank for finally coming through with an alternative recipe, Panu! Eita try kore dekhbo.

Magically Bored said...

All right, so here's how I make it - in a nutshell.
Heat mustard oil, fry onions (chopped or blended, preferably the latter), then ginger-garlic paste. Add turmeric, salt, chillis. Add the chicken and previously-fried potatoes. Sprinkle some lemon juice and some chicken-masala powder (optional). Let the whole thing cook, and then add chopped coriander as topping while serving.
Quick and easy. I haven't mentioned quantities - of course, there are variations to this, sometimes I use jeera powder, sometimes coconut milk, but usually, this kind of murgir jhol is comfort food. :)