Friday, September 10, 2010
1 Recipe #170: Chicken in an Aromatic Lemon-Saffron Sauce (Kesari Murgh)
As promised, this is the last recipe in our three-day stint of chicken dinners. Yes, we had to use up the chicken, (What can I say? Fresh chicken tastes much better than frozen!), and tonight's dinner did the trick. After that, I think we'll be taking a break from eating chicken for a while. :)
I think this dish is also called "Balti Zafrani" or "Balti Murgh (Chicken)" in the UK. No matter what it's called in various parts of the world, there are many different versions of this dish, although the core ingredients remain pretty much the same. Traditionally, most versions are comprised of chicken, ghee, ginger, garlic, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, saffron, & some kind of roasted nut (like unsalted cashews or almonds), which has been ground into a fine paste. I took the nontraditional route & used shelled, toasted pumpkin seeds, just to mix things up a bit. (Of course, feel free to experiment & substitute different kinds of nuts &/or seeds.) Often, either yoghurt or cream is added, and sometimes tomato sauce as well. The spice combinations can vary greatly too.
The trick to producing a smooth and tasty sauce is to not overcook the yoghurt. The yoghurt sauce should really just be warmed more than cooked, as yoghurt tends to curdle when it's cooked for too long. (Sure, it might be OK to add yoghurt to baked goods, but that method alters its chemistry in a completely different way.) The yoghurt should always be added in the last few minutes of cooking. This is pretty much a universal rule of cooking for dairy foods like yoghurt or milk.
Also, it's important to brown the chicken and onions before adding them to the sauce; otherwise, the dish is not going to taste the same. This way, the chicken will have texture, and be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ahhhh, just perfect. :)
Anyhow, enough exposition. Let's get to that recipe. :)
Chicken in an Aromatic Lemon-Saffron Sauce (Kesari Murgh)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & finely minced (about 1" piece)
1/3 c. unsalted pumpkin seeds, shelled & toasted
1/2 tsp. green cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp. red chili powder (NOT Mexican chili powder)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt
1/3 c. water
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 Tbsp. warm milk
1 Tbsp. ghee (or unsalted butter)
8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, well-rinsed, defatted, and patted dry
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1 c. yellow onion, peeled & sliced into 1/4" crescent slivers (about 1/1 large onion)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Directions: After washing, defatting, & drying chicken cutlets, lay them onto a non-porous (i.e., silicone) cutting board or other smooth, clean surface. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, and tenderize by pounding flat with the bumpy (i.e., waffle-patterned) side of meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about 1/4". After chicken has been tenderized, cut each piece crosswise into thirds (or smaller, if desired).
Make yoghurt sauce: In a food processor, combine garlic, ginger, toasted pumpkin seeds, cardamom seeds, salt, cinnamon, clove powder, turmeric, black pepper, white pepper, & red chili powder, & pulse into a fine powder. Then add lemon juice, yoghurt, & water, & blend until smooth. Set aside.
In a small finger bowl, combine milk & saffron, & soak for 15 minutes. Set aside.
While saffron is soaking, melt ghee (or butter) on medium-high heat in a large 12-13" nonstick sauté pan. Add chicken, bay leaf, & onions, evenly spacing out the ingredients so as not to crowd the pan. (Otherwise, chicken & onions will steam, instead of brown.) Cook chicken about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. (Both chicken & onions should be slightly crispy around the edges but still moist & tender on the inside. Tenderized chicken cooks much faster because it's thinner & has more exposed surface area after it's been tenderized.)
After chicken has browned, turn down heat to medium-low. Quickly stir in the yoghurt sauce & saffron mixture, scraping off the fond from the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates. The yoghurt sauce only needs to be cooked for a few minutes, until the raw smell of the ginger & the garlic has subsided. IMPORTANT: Do NOT overcook the yoghurt sauce, or it will curdle, which won't make it taste very good!
When ready, remove from heat & discard bay leaf. Divide into two equal portions & transfer to plates. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, & serve.
Yield: 2 servings.
Chef's Notes: You'll notice that this recipe uses ghee/butter very sparingly. However, if you'd like to make this recipe even lighter/healthier, you can substitute extra virgin olive oil for the ghee (or butter). Or, alternatively, if you'd still like to have a hint of butter flavor, simply reduce the amount of butter you use, and substitute the remaining amount with olive oil. For example, use 1/2 Tbsp. ghee (or unsalted butter) + 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or some other combination thereof.