Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Food: Chicken Saag

Chicken saag, or saag chicken, is my very favorite Indian food dish.  It is a very mild curry with crushed tomatoes and cooked spinach and chicken and a touch of milk, and it is simply fabulous.  I would serve it to any novice Indian food taster who is tolerant of spinach.  I adapted a recipe that I found on several websites, including www.indianfoodforever.com, which is a veritable treasure trove of Indian recipes and curries.  My main source for this recipe is Indian Food Forever, but I did change a few things.  Here's the lowdown.

You need to know that this recipe serves four to six people rather generously, especially if served with rice, naan bread, and the various chutneys.  Served with only rice, it fed my husband and myself generously for one dinner, a lunch portion for each of us, and then a lunch portion for me and my friend John.  The other thing to know is that you need a BIG pot or pan to do this.

You need:

  • 3 pounds chicken pieces (boneless and skinless)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large onions, minced
  • a 1" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 crushed tomatoes (I used about a cup and a half of crushed tomatoes from the can)
  • 4 tablespoons of milk
  • 14 ounces of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coriander (ground)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 large cardamom pods (I used green ones - evidently there are multiple types)
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Garam Masala (you can find this spice mix at Penzey's, or you can make your own)
  • salt to taste
First, fry the chicken pieces lightly in some canola or other flavorless oil of your choice, until they are browned lightly.  Set aside.

Make your mise-en-place.  First, I mixed the cayenne, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, and cloves together in a prep bowl because you add them to the recipe at the same time.  This saves a lot of headaches over measuring later.  Trust me. :)

Then, the magic of curry-making begins.

Fry up those onions and that garlic and that ginger until lightly brown.  Inhale and enjoy.

Add them thar tomatoes and all the spices you put in your prep bowl (cayenne, coriander, turmeric, cloves, and cardamom).

Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of water and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.  Inhale.  (I still think half the enjoyment of cooking Indian food is the smell spectrum that comes from cooking it!)

Add the chicken and milk.  Simmer this until the chicken is tender.  Or so says the original recipe.  I say: add the chicken and milk, and simmer until the chicken is just about to fall apart.  Also: make sure you use a mix of light and dark meat.

At this point I ran out of room in the pan, so I switched everything to my big lasagna pot.  So don't fret that the photo shows a different pot in the next one.

Add the spinach and the Garam Masala.  Cook this until the spinach starts to stick to the pan (which is about 10-15 minutes of constant stirring).  Add the 2 tablespoons of butter and stir through.  Salt to taste.  Keep warm until it is ready to serve.

So that's the basics of what I did.  The first time I served it, it was downright bland.  The second time I served it, it was considerably better and really tasty.  The third time I served it, it was just about perfect.  So my thought is that it needs time for the flavors to meld.  I almost think it's like beef stew (according to my father, beef stew was always best after the second heating).  So my thought is: simmer the chicken and tomatoes together with extra water and reduce it down until it is even more flavorful.  Add the spinach and garam masala at the end, as directed in the original recipe, and use salted butter.

But it was good.  And I'm going to make it again before the rest of my hunk of ginger goes bad.

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