Fragrant Curried Chicken with Creamy Yogurt

Fragrant Curried Chicken with Creamy Yogurt
Copyright 2008 Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All Rights Reserved

Serves 4 to 6

2 to 2-1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs (organic preferred), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large cloves garlic
3-inch long piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarse chopped
2 fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed and seeded (serrano or small Thai chiles are more typical of this dish, but are very hot)
2 medium onions, 1 coarse chopped, the other thin sliced
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, coriander, and cumin
Water
4 tablespoons cold-pressed vegetable oil, or extra-virgin olive oil
One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons raisins
1 cup organic whole milk yogurt, drained of excess liquid

1. In a medium bowl toss together chicken, pepper and salt. Set aside.

2. In a food processor or blender, coarse grind the garlic, ginger, chiles, the chopped onion, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin with enough water to make a loose paste.

3. In a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high. Blend in the sliced onion, lightly sprinkling it with salt. Quickly sauté until it starts to brown. Lower heat to medium and blend in the ground spices. Sauté until the oil is separating from the spices. Keep stirring and scraping up browned bits as they collect on the bottom of the pan. The goal is deeply fragrant spices, but no burned ones. Watch them closely.

4. Blend in the chicken, coating completely with the spices. Stir in tomatoes and enough water to have 1/2 inch of liquid (about 1/3 cup) in the pan. Bring to a very gently bubble, cover, and cook 25 to 30 minutes. Chicken should be nearly tender. Uncover and cook very gently until sauce is thick and intensely flavored. Chicken should be very tender and cooked through. Taste for salt and snappy black pepper. Add more if needed.

5. Before serving, fold in raisins, cooking long enough to warm them. Pile curry in a shallow bowl, topping it with the yogurt.

LYNNE'S TIPS

The extra rich creaminess of whole-milk organic yogurt lights up this dish. Low- or non-fat yogurt are too stern for the voluptuousness you want for this curry. Brands I have tried and like are Brown Cow, Seven Stars, and Stonyfield Farm.

Yogurt will curdle if it gets too hot. That's why it tops the curry right before serving instead of simmering it into the sauce over heat.

Use canned tomatoes packed in their own juice, not puree, which can give a metallic "off" taste to the tomatoes because sometimes the puree is thickened with low quality tomato paste. After tasting canned tomatoes from many sources two standouts are the organic Muir Glen and Hunt's. Believe it or not, these seem to consistently out-perform many Italian imports.

Good fresh spices are an important part of this dish. If that jar of cumin has been lurking in your cupboard for years, its punch will be gone. Throw it out and buy a new jar. Purchase spices in the smallest quantity possible and use them up within six months. For the brightest flavors, buy whole spices and grind them in a coffee grinder as you cook.
THOUGHTS FROM LYNNE

Classic ethnic cookbooks bring authentic muscle to a cookbook collection. Placing yourself in the hands of gifted indigenous cooks literally opens up worlds of new opportunities. What you learn between the pages seeps its way into your day-to-day food in unexpected ways, as well as inspiring some incredible feasts.

A few masters to consider are Madhur Jaffrey's books on East Asian and Indian cuisines; Grace Young, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Ken Hom's books on Chinese cooking; anything by Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless for authentic Mexican; books by Giuliano Bugialli, Marcella Hazan, or Mario Batali for Italian; and Joan Nathan's work with Jewish cuisine.