A little intro to Chettinad cuisine –this cuisine of the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu state in South India, is known to be one of the spiciest and most aromatic cuisines of India. It is famous for its use of a variety of spices in preparing mainly non-vegetarian food. The dishes are hot and pungent with fresh ground masala, and topped with a boiled egg, that is usually considered an essential part of a meal.
Now as to what led me to make this delish dish. I normally tend to watch a lot of cooking programs. Not that I experiment what I just saw cooked or anything, but just that I love to see them cook. Love to see the creativity in the chef, the dishes he/she uses to plate up the food, the garnishing and presentations. Having said that, I don’t keep an alarm or reminder for any cookery show. I don’t! While surfing through channels, if there is a cooking program going on, then that’s where my surfing ends.
So the other day, while browsing, I stumbled upon this cookery show called OLive it Up, where one of the ingredients the chef that appears on the cooking show need to use, is Olive oil (like duh!). Anyways, so yesterday the guest chef on the show, was a South Indian Tamilian chef, who specialised in Chettinad cooking. I was excited to know he was going to make some Spicy Chettinadu Mutton Chops. My husband was at home too since it was the weekend, and he told me… ” don’t get too excited. Look at this chef..do you think he’s going to tell you in detail how to make the Chettinadu masala?” I replied.. “Hell ya… he’s on a cooking show to share his recipe. Ofcourse he will”.
No prizes to guess what happened next. The chef gave the exact measurement for all the other ingredients like…. mutton chops, water, pepper, and all the other stuff. And then he said the unthinkable (atleast to me!)…. “to all of this add 1 cup Chettinad masala”!!! So the anchor Aditya Bal obviously asked the chef, how did he go about making this ever-famous Chettinad Masala. To which, the chef just ever so casually said… “Oh you mix cumin, fennel, ginger, garlic, coconut…..”. Blah! Frustrated and pretty sure was Aditya (the anchor) that he was not going to get the exact measurements, that he then pointed to the other side of the table where all the ingredients used to make the paste were kept and said …”so you just mix and grind all this together and take a cup of that yummy delicious spicy paste…..” . (these are not the exact words of the chef or of the anchor…but around these lines it was).
And so back to the point… the chef didn’t tell how much of everything had to be put in to make this Chettinad masala. Like no one’s asking for the exact measurements, but he could for sure give a rough estimate as to how much of each spice you have to put. Or else, he could make the paste while the camera’s rolling, so that the viewers can atleast “eye-ball” it. I mean how does he expect me or any amateur cook to make Chettinad masala just by telling the ingredients that go into it. It wouldn’t be Chettinad masala, if I put only 1 teaspoon of pepper (b’cos pepper is one of the most important ingredients) and put more of ginger and garlic or maybe loads of cardamom. Would it? If you really didn’t want to share how to make your speciality dish, then why come on air?? Just to get your face on TV and be famous?? Think about it : He comes to tell the viewers how to make Chettinadu Masala Mutton Chops, but won’t tell how to make the Chettinad masala. What else did he come for?? To tell us you need to use Mutton chops and not chicken drumsticks?!??! Like duh!!!! *rolls eyes*
And that’s when I decided I was going to make a Chicken Chettinad (I had no mutton/lamb), because all that watching got me really craving for some Chettinad food. So I went and digged out a couple of recipe books, but didn’t have to look further than the 2nd book – More Chicken by Nita Mehta had a perfect Chicken Chettinad recipe, with a photo of the final dish too.
And so that’s what we had for dinner. Unlike the chef on TV, I’m going to tell you how to make Chettinad Masala (thankyou Nita) and use that to make a really delicious Chicken Chettinad curry. My husband and son loved it, btw. My husband said the taste of the pepper was just perfect – not too peppery or spicy. Just the right amount to give that kick to the taste buds. Also, I’ve made small changes and will tell you exactly where I did what too:
CHICKEN CHETTINAD (serves 4-6)
- 1 chicken (1 kg) – cut into medium pieces (the book asks for 800 grams chicken cut into 12 pieces)
- 5-6 tablespoon oil
- 2 large onions, chopped finely ( book says 1 large. I needed more gravy so added an extra onion)
- 1/4 cup curry leaves
- 1 1/2 large tomatoes, pureed ( book calls for 3 tomatoes…but since the tomato I had in hand were really large and plus my family is not a big fan of too much tomato in a curry, I reduced it to half)
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 2-3 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2-3″ piece ginger
- 5 large cloves garlic ( or else 8-10 small ones)
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds (khus khus)
- 2 tablespoon cashew nuts ( I used 4 tablespoons cos I didn’t have khus khus)
- 1 cup milk
- salt, to taste
- 3/4 cup freshly grated coconut (book asks for 1/2 cup but since I had more than a kilo chicken, I increased)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds ( saunf/perinjeerakam)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds ( jeera)
- 3 teaspoons pepper corns
- 6 whole red chillies, dried
- 3 green cardamoms
- 3 cloves
- 1″ cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon oil
Soak Poppy seeds (khus khus) and cashewnuts in a little warm water for about 10-15 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan/wok/Kadhai. Add all the ingredients under the “chettinad masala” (coconut, coriander, ….cinnamon). Stir-fry till fragrant. (about 5 minutes). Remove from fire and transfer it to another bowl.
In the same saucepan, heat oil and add the chopped onions. Saute till it’s light brown.
Meanwhile, take the tomatoes and puree it in your food processor.
Now to the chopped onions, add the pureed tomatoes, salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Cook till the tomatoes are well blended with the masala and the oil separates.
While that’s taking place, drain the khus khus and cashews. In the food processor (use the same one that you pureed the tomaotes…no need to wash!), grind the roasted masala powders, khus khus, cashewnuts, ginger and garlic to a smooth paste using about 1 cup water (or how much ever you need to grind it all).
Add the chicken to the onion-tomato mix (which should be ready by now) and cook for about 10 minutes, till the chicken is half-cooked. Don’t forget to add your salt!
Now, add the ground coconut – cashew paste and curry leaves. Saute for 2 minutes.
Add lemon juice and about 3 cups of water. Cover and cook till the chicken is tender, stirring in between. Cook till the gravy is thick. Keep aside till serving time.
At serving time, add 1 cup milk to the chicken. Keep on low heat, stirring continuously, till it boils. Serve garnished with coriander leaves.