A Spoonful of Comfort – Mangalore Chicken Curry
When the going gets rough, the tough eat curry, or at least I do. It might seem a bit odd to some that curry is my comfort food but I grew up in a quasi Indian family. By this I mean an Americanized, but notably not American Indian, household that was neither strict nor religious but which held dear a love of all things garlicy, oniony, salty, and spicy. All holiday celebrations featured a big batch of my dad’s single curry recipe, which he concocted shortly after moving to the US back in the 60s. The dish falls somewhere between Thai and Indian and reflects what was a vast unavaiability of Indian ingredients and spices that are now almost ubiquitous in the many Indian markets that can be found all over the US.
While generally a man of very, very, few words, occasionally I can get my dad going on stories about his early years here. He initially moved here to attend graduate school at Cornell, he will typically note that in comparison to the university education he received at India’s notoriously tough IIT, Cornell’s Graduate Engineering Program was a bit of a breeze. Which was convenient as he quickly decided that it was far too cold to venture out of his room to attend lectures. In addition to missing the significantly more temperate environment of India’s Maharashtra region, my father longed for the pungent and familiar flavors of Indian cuisine.
Its is funny, though not surprising, that as more and more first generation Indians have emigrated to the US, the availability of authentic Indian cuisine has skyrocketed. Even in the middle of the country, in Nashville TN, there are several decent Indian restaurants that feature slightly Americanized versions of Indian dishes. And at least 20 Indian stores are scattered around the city.
When I returned from a long week of business meetings, hotels, and bland food I could not wait to cook up a big batch of chicken curry. Rather than cooking the heavy creamy curry that my father so often made, when making curries at home I typically look to the lighter, and spicier notes of South Indian cooking for inspiration. This curry is derived from a recipe I found for a Mangalore Style Chicken Curry. Mangalore is situated on India’s South West coast, just south of Goa. True to South Indian cuisine the curries of the region include the nutty notes of coconut, herbaceous flavors of curry leaves, and creamy taste of coconut milk, all of which can be found in this chicken curry.
While I made this curry with boneless skinless Chicken thighs, you can use any chicken you like. I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken as it makes it much easier to eat, and the lack of skin keeps the dish from becoming too oily. The chicken thighs stand up well to long cooking without drying and impart a nice rich and meaty flavor to the dish. I tend to go a bit heavy on ginger as I like the hot spicy flavor it gives the curry, feel free to reduce the amount of ginger if you are not a big fan. I use one long hot Indian chile, generally a Kashmiri Lal Mirchi Chile, seeds in, cut in half lengthwise. If you don’t like heat leave it out, or seed it, your choice.
You will see below that I attempted to cook this in a large cast iron skillet. This made for great photos, HOWEVER, I ended up having too much curry in the skillet and had to transfer it to a large pot so that it could simmer without boiling over. I highly recommend using a large cooking vessel for this project.
Mangalore Chicken Curry
For the Curry Paste:
1 Cup Grated Coconut (NOT Sweetened)
2 Cups Chopped Onion
2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes
8 Cloves Garlic
2 1/2 Inch Segment of Ginger
1 TSP Turmeric
3 TBSP Coriander Powder
1 Cup Coconut Milk
For the Main Dish:
6 Cups Chicken Cubes (I Used Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs)
1 Medium Onion Thinly Sliced
6 Fist Sized Red Bliss Potatoes Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Hot Indian Chili Sliced Down the Center, Lengthwise
2 TBSP Good Quality Curry Powder
About 30 Curry Leaves
4 TBSP Tomato Puree
1 Cup Coconut Milk
About 1 1/2 Cups Water
1-2 TSP Salt
In a large pan, dry toast the coconut until golden. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.
Heat approximately 2 TBSP oil in a large pot, when the oil is hot fry the onions over med heat for about 3 mins. Add the garlic, ginger, toasted coconut and spices and fry another 5 mins. Add coconut milk and stir to deglaze the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a food processor and mix until it forms a smooth paste.
Rinse the pot and dry it. Place it back on the stove and heat 3 TBSP oil until hot. Add chicken and fry over med high heat until seared on the outside. Add onions, chili, potatoes and curry powder and fry until onions are slightly colored. Add curry leaves and tomato paste and fry for an additional minute before adding coconut milk, all of the curry paste, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 30 mins.
Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 15 mins. Taste for seasoning again. Serve with rice or nan and enjoy!