Here we are in self-isolation, the whole world now included. As a writer, I believe I’ve been in training for this situation all my life. And as “a writer who cooks,” I’m focusing exclusively on comfort food. Right now, all of us need comforting and food can be a simple source of comfort. Here’s an easy chicken and cauliflower curry that hits the spot.
Like my go-to author Nigel Slater, who bills himself as “A cook who writes,” I often root around in the kitchen cupboards looking at what is stored and wondering what to make with what I see. Today, I have found some very ripe plum tomatoes, a bunch of onions just beginning to sprout and a small cauliflower buried deep in the fridge, with some dubious spots here and there. Yesterday, I defrosted a couple of chicken breasts and so I must use them up before they spoil. I could have done any number of things with this motley bunch of ingredients, but it was a wet and chilly day, so I decided a curry was in order. The fact that some of the ingredients (not the chicken) were slightly past their “best before” date matters not a jot. I just cut off and discarded the ugly bits. As Mary Berry famously said: “If it passes the smell test, it’s fine.”
I wrote earlier about curry in England’s favourite take-aways and quoted some very complex recipes made from scratch, courtesy of Rick Stein’s India, but I have neither the time nor inclination to get out all the ingredients and a mortar and pestle to crush the various spices. Nor do I have access to the excellent M&S prepared curries that we usually keep on standby in England.
So I’m going to take jars of store-bought curry powder and turmeric. Amusingly, the spice is spelled “tumeric” on the label, which is how many people pronounce it, in spite of coming from an authentic Indian shop. When I pointed the error out to the owner of Chaula’s Indian Restaurant in Lewes, Sussex, she replied that the labels had been in use for over 20 years and nobody had ever complained before. I don’t think she quite took my point!
Rather than just sprinkling some spices on top of a stew and declaring it a curry, I’m going to use a trick my late father Ken showed me many years ago, which revives the flavours in spices that might have been on the shelf for a while. Dad used to marinate his meat, carefully washed, dried and cut up, by coating it in first, olive oil and then the curry powder. After tossing it to cover the meat thoroughly, and sometimes adding an extra helping of turmeric for colour and additional flavour, he would cover and refrigerate it for an hour, before frying it in hot oil. This allowed the flavour to penetrate the meat and somehow the heat seemed to revive the sometimes tired old spices. Of course, if you happen to have reasonably fresh curry powder, so much the better, especially if you have Indian specialty shops nearby.
So, in honour of Ken Napier-Andrews, who would have been 103 this week, I offer this simple repast. As he wrote, in a different context in his wartime diary: “No matter how dark the clouds, it will be the brighter spells which we will remember in the end.”
CURRIED CHICKEN WITH CAULIFLOWER
- 2-3 large onions
- 1 whole head of garlic (or less)
- 6 ripe tomatoes
- 1 small cauliflower, leaves and stalks removed
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
- 1 small can tomato paste (6oz/170g)
- 3 TBSP yellow curry powder
- 1 TBSP turmeric powder
- 1 cup white rice (long grain Basmatic preferred)
- 1 tsp sea salt
Preparation and cooking
- Wash the chicken breasts thoroughly and pat dry. Chop into one inch cubes and place in a bowl. Sprinkle on curry powder and turmeric, toss until the chicken is well coated, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (or more).
- Separate the cauliflowerlets from the stalks and leaves and steam in little water for 10 mins. Set aside.
- Peel and chop up the onion and garlic. In a deep pot, fry them in a little oil. Chop up the tomatoes, discarding the ‘eye.’ When the onions are transparent and going soft, add the tomatoes. Fry for a few minutes until they too get soft.
- Add the broth to the pot. Add the tomato paste and stir in well. Bring to a simmer.
- By now the chicken should be well marinated. Bring some more oil to high and fry the coated chicken until it is beginning to brown. Scrape everything into the pot, including all the interesting little bits of fried spices. Stir well and simmer for at least 1 hour.
- Before serving, stir in the cauliflower, gently or it will disintegrate. Serve over white rice.
- To get the fluffiest white rice, a rice cooker is essential. They are not expensive. Add 1 cup of long grain Basmati rice to 2 cups of water, turn the machine on and wait for about 20 mins. Simple. The cooker will keep the rice warm until you need it.
- OR: Put 2 cups water in a pot with a lid. Bring to a boil. Add 1 cup rice and swirl it around to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. As soon as the water returns to the boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. TIP: Add a few drops of oil, to prevent the rice sticking.
- Simmer for 20 mins, check for tenderness and fluff with a fork. If the rice seems sticky, you probably used too much water. Simply tip all the rice into a sieve, rinse thoroughly under the hot water tap, return to the warm pot and replace the lid. That should save the day.
- For yellow rice, add 1 TBSP turmeric to the pot and stir in well.
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This is Nigel’s 271st blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.
Categories: Simply food