Most Indian pickles (achar) are sour, salty and spicy. Salty ? Yes, like Feta, or preserved black olives, or even salty pretzels. While many find achar irresistible, it is undoubtedly an acquired taste. Even the most ardent Indophiles, if untrained, are known to have tapped out.
Driven by the need for a quick yet toothsome meal for a hungry, fussy bunch, I had cobbled this up which met with stunning success. But, it was so embarrassingly easy, that I had closeted it. Emboldened by the presence of an achari dish amongst “100 essential recipes” in The Flavor Equation (a book I received from secret Santa this year), I am having mine step out of the closet. I have added locally grown wild mushrooms and Fall carrots to elevate the humble chicken breasts. You don’t even have to be an Indophile to enjoy this spectacular briny-spicy dish. Enjoy!
Makes two servings.
- 1 lb chicken breasts, cut thin into 4-5 pieces (or, thin chicken cutlets)
- veggies: 2 cups loosely packed Maitake mushrooms + 1 cup julienned carrots carrots
- 1/3 cup store-bought Mango Pickles
- Seasoning (optional): 1 tsp panch phutana, toasted and powdered
- Garnish (optional): micro-greens
Mix the chicken with the pickles; mix in the carrots and then gently the mushrooms. Portion out on two plates, add 1 tbsp water in each and sprinkle seasoning on top. Steam for 15-20 mins, till chicken is done.
Garnish and serve hot with grains or bread.
Notes, hints, tips:
- I adapted the Chinese technique of steaming and I love their bamboo steaming baskets. You may wrap the chicken in aluminium or parchment packets and place directly in your steaming basket.
- You can increase the amount of pickles in this recipe to 1/2 cup or more for a more assertive flavor.
- Although rice is a friendly accompaniment, buckwheat groats (or even freshly baked rye bread) goes very well.
- Pancha phutana is a mix of whole spices. Equal parts by volume of fennel, nigella, cumin, mustard, fenugreek. My grandmother’s secret formula added 1/8 part of dried chilli seeds. I use this here to accentuate the achari-ness.
One of the many New Yorkers we lost after Covid19 diagnosis is Chef Floyd Cardoz. I knew him through Tabla: his Mumbai origin and training was never lost on me.
While sheltering-in-place, I pay tribute to him by adapting one of his creations from his book Flavorwalla (the title cracks me up and it’s so apt for his talents). I further simplify his simple dish and turn into a balanced, one-pot dish. The result is absolutely delicious– hence this post. I thought I was taking a risk by adding apple, pear and dijon mustard to the protein– but the tangy, mustardy stew will steal your heart. Enjoy fresh and refrigerate the left-over!
Dutch oven (Le Cruset).
- 4 skin-less, bone-in chicken thighs, marinaded in a ziplock bag for 2 hrs, in 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste + 1 tbsp coriander powder + 1 tbsp Rosemary leaves + 1/4 cup EVOO
- Aromatics: 1 medium onion, diced + 2 pods garlic, crushed
- 2 cups chicken stock
- Vegetables, cut into large 1.5 inch chunks: 1 large potato + 2 carrots + 1/2 fennel bulb
- Greens: Napa cabbage cut into large pieces + 2 cups of spinach leaves
- Fruits, cut into 1 inch chunks: 1 green apple cored + 1 pear cored
- 2nd Flavor layer: 2 tbsp Dijon mustard + crushed chilli flakes
- Grain: 1 cup quinoa
Heat the dutch oven with the chicken and its marinade. When heated through and lightly browned on all sides, add the aromatic ingredients and cook till fragrant (2 minutes). Then add the vegetables, salt-to-taste and cook covered in oven at 375 F for 20 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock (in a microwave). Add to the dutch oven along with Napa cabbage, fruits, 2nd layer flavor ingredients, grains and salt to taste. Mix well, cover and cook at reduced heat (350 F) for 20 minutes. Take off the heat. Fold in the spinach leaves.
NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
- Since we are adding vegetables in layers, the oven is a better option than a pressure cooker. Also, if you decide to cook on the stove-top instead of the oven, you must use a heavy bottomed pan, particularly for the first half of the cookin.
- The chicken is tender enough to be pulled off the bones.
- You can also use parsnips, turnips etc.
- Same for greens- escarole, kale, chard.
- Same for grains- couscous, fonio (adjust the cooking time).
- The dots in the photograph are the multi-colored quinoa and the specks of dijon mustard.
In my recent trip to Tbilisi, I bought a clay baking dish (ketsi) from a subway vendor. We communicated animatedly via miming. Gesturing creatively, she urged me to make chicken in the ketsi (or, so I think!). I also picked up a melange of spices at a street market, from an equally warm vendor whose enthusiastic chatter was translated by her young daughter. This is my homage to the gorgeous Georgian ladies.
Dairy and meat is not a common duo, but inspired by the Tbilisi experience, I present a version of shkmeruli, albeit with some spices (the above street-market spices) and a light, fragrant broth. Enjoy!
- 3.5 lbs chicken (whole OR thighs on the bone) + salt and pepper to taste
- Mirepoix: 1/2 cup beet greens, finely chopped, dry roasted, optionally, for about 4 minutes (measures 1/2 cup after processing)
- 2 cups whole milk + 10-12 garlic cloves crushed,softened in 2 tbsp neutral oil (optional)
- Georgian spices: 1 tsp Utskho suneli (“foreign” spice or blue fenugreek powder) + 2 tsps kharcho (mixed spices)
- 10 sage leaves
- Topping (optional): Georgian Ajika, a chilli-garlic powder
Wipe the chicken pieces dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Brown both sides of chicken in a heavy bottomed pan. If using a claypot, line the claypot with the greens and place the browned chicken pieces on it. Deglaze the heavy bottomed pan with little water and pour on the chicken. If using an enamel iron pot (Le Cruset), add the greens directly and there is no need to explicitly deglaze.
Mix the Georgian spices in milk and pour gently over the chicken. Sprinkle the sage leaves all over the chicken.
Bake covered at 325 F for 1 hour. If not done, remove lid, baste and bake uncovered until interior temp to 165 F. Serve hot with topping.
Notes, hints, tips:
- Just a couple of weeks before my travel to the Caucasus, I had experimented with a citrus-milk-chicken stew. In a Baader-Meinhof coincidence I ran into shkmeruli -chicken stewed in milk- at Sakhli, ostensibly one of the top Georgian restaurants in Tbilisi. My version here is slightly different from this classic Georgian dish and I present the citrus chicken below.
- If you don’t have Georgian spices, you can substitute with mix of garam masala and coriander powder.
- When using chicken thighs, I skin it to reduce the chicken fat in broth.
- My Mirepoix: I use dry roasting greens, instead of the classical French technique (eponymous!). Any greens will do- just make sure they are finely diced.
- Claypot enables even low-heat cooking; but Le Cruset is a lazier use, since it lets one brown, deglaze and cook in the same pot.
- The milk in the stew curdles– providing little cheese curds and a tasty, light broth.
- Ajika is reminiscent of the Maharashtrian garlic powder (with chilli, coconut, sesame). Almost all cultures –East Asian to Indian to Mexican– seem to have a version of this lip-smacking, hot, pungent topping.
- Citrus Chicken: Here is a floral chicken stewed in milk, that is equally gorgeous. Substitute the Georgian spices with:
Zest of 1 lemon, 2 oranges + 1 orange cut into pieces + 1 tsp ground cardamom + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + 9-10 garlic pods, skinned, smashed and softened in 2 tbsp oil
In fact adding the zest at the end gives a stronger citrus aroma to the dish.
Malwani Chicken: The technique is inspired from above- it turned out like restaurant chicken, but without the oiliness. I used no more oil than the little fat the chicken thighs came with. The artesanal Malwani spice was the high end mix from Mumbai Food Court.
— 1.15 lb chicken skinless, on the bone, thighs. Salt and chilli pepper on both sides. Heat oven-proof calphalon. Add chicken thighs, fat side down to render it. Leave untouched for 1 minute. Then turn the thighs. Add 5 crushed garlic and let it heat till garlic is fragrant.
— Make a mix of 3/4 cup lactose-free skim plus milk (a little sweeter that just skim plus. wonder why) +1 1/4 thin yogurt (made from 1% milk) + 2 tsps Malwani spice mix + salt to taste
— Cook covered at 325 F for 1 hr. Then turn down to 300 F for another 15 mins.
Bengali Swordfish: Does the technique transfer to fish ? Here is the application on a firm-fleshed swordfish. Used the same recipe as above- except used Kalyustan’s Bengal Spice mix and baked at 300 F. Turned out Bengali great!