When I was a wee foodie, home cooked Indian food was becoming very fashionable in the UK, and my mother embraced the trend with great fervour and enthusiasm. Several Indian cookbooks were added to her already mountainous collection and the kitchen became a smoke filled den of pungent spicy aromas, with mother furiously chopping and stirring amid the chaos. At the time I had just discovered Indian food, having realised that a Korma from the local takeaway meant that I could enjoy rich and creamy eastern flavours without the scorched lips, and I was very supportive of her attempts to replicate such fineries in our own home.
Sadly these efforts were always thwarted; the cookbooks had the unsporting habit of presenting you with a recipe that initally seemed simple, but then suddenly demanded the inclusion of some obscure ingredient. These could be a strange and mysterious spice, the root of an expensive herb, a flower that must be plucked at midnight from the east side of Mount Sinai, or even, God forbid, Okra.
There also seemed to be a suspicious level of consistency in the recipes, which would involve the same process whether the dish was Korma, Rogan Josh, Bengal fish curry or Jalfrezi. Regardless of which of these was being attempted, we would triumphantly be presented with a pale brown mass which had the unmistakeable aroma of curry, but without the authentic day glow colours and the creamy richness I had come to expect of an Indian meal. The table would be filled with distracting side dishes including sliced bananas, yoghurt raita with cucumber and mint, pilau rice with raisins (assuming there weren’t already raisins in the curry) and mango chutney, but I eyed these with suspicion, assuming they were just an attempt to smuggle more fruit and vegetables into me.
The death rattle on this chapter came when my mother left my father instructions to make a korma with a jar of sauce (she had lost her initial enthusiasm for fresh concoctions) and he made use of that terrible culinary technique known as ‘initiative’, padding out the dish with a can of kidney beans in chilli sauce to make a meal that tasted entirely of kidney beans in chilli sauce. Now most of the curry that enters my parent’s home comes out of the back of a Ford Orion and includes a handy ‘salad in a bag’.
There is, however, one dish from this period that I remember fondly. It was the simplest of recipes, and I think was my mothers own invention, though she now tells a tale of it being passed on to her by an ancient Indian lady, which I think is just to give it an air of mystery and authenticity. The yogurt in the marinade helps the flavours fully penetrate the chicken, and cooking it under a grill aims to replicate the heat of a Tandoor oven, resulting in crispy golden skin and tender meat.
Grilled Turmeric Chicken
Preparation Time: 10 minutes prep, Overnight Marinade, 20-30 minutes to cook
4 portions of free range chicken, on the bone (breasts, thighs and drumsticks are all fine)
250ml (1 cup) of natural yoghurt
2 tsbps of sunflower oil
1 tbsp turmeric
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsps garam masala or curry powder (home made and recently ground will make all the difference)
Chilli powder (heat and amount to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Coriander to garnish
- Score the chicken with fairly deep cuts all round – this will help the marinade to penetrate and also speed up the cooking process.
- Mix together all the other ingredients except the salt and pepper and coriander.
- Put the chicken and marinade into a bowl with a firm fitting lid, and shake to coat
- Refrigerate overnight (and I really mean overnight – yoghurt based marinades will continue to penetrate the meat for up to 24 hours)
- Take the chicken out of the fridge around 30 minutes before you plan to cook it to bring up to room temperature
- Season then cook under a medium-hot grill for 20-30 minutes until crispy and cooked through (use a thermometer or cut into a piece to check), it will cook quickly because of the scores.
- Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with pilau rice; I like to cook with vegetables like peppers, onions and peas, paella style. Sliced bananas optional…