My mom’s Catch-22: not eating meat, but cooking it with precision. Being vegetarian has been her lifelong personal choice. Perhaps growing up in India and cooking a multitude of veggies, beans, and lentils led to this decision. Or, maybe it was because she never really liked the texture or sight of meat, so eating it halfheartedly seemed, pretty silly.
While she may not enjoy meat, she takes great pride in making something that will ensure good eating for everyone else. If you ask her about curry chicken, she always tells the same story. Growing up in her Punjab village, it was her responsibility to make curry chicken on Diwali. The story always starts with her scrubbing the massive pot in preparation. Diligently, mashing onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies to a fine paste with a mortar and pestle. Careful to remind me that no food processor was accessible.
Next over a low heat, she braised the paste in butter. Adding throngs of aromatic spices and sometimes a few tomatoes to the mix. After what seemed like an eternity of caramelizing, she would add the pieces of chicken. Subsequently, water to help create a rich broth. Then she allowed it to simmer gently until she knew it was ready. Without fail, she always articulates that the process requires time and patience. The latter being a not so-subtle hint directed towards me.
Growing up, our home attracted droves of guests (seriously, this is not even a slight exaggeration) from near and far. Frequently, curry chicken was the star dish, loved by young and old.
On so many levels, I am in awe of my Mom. When she is in the kitchen – she is a multisensory master chef. Since my mother does not eat meat and never needs a recipe, how exactly does she know when the chicken is ready? How is the spice and salt level always perfect? In her case, the information her senses gather is not easily put into words, but proves to very reliable.
After a lot of probing, she explains since she is vegetarian, tasting is not an option. She adds her sense of smell lets her know when her masala has caramelized enough without even glancing in its direction. Using sight, she explains that when the curry chicken is nearly ready, fat bubbles come up to the surface of the broth. This signifier then prompts her to let it cook a bit longer. She continues waiting, until she feels it’s ready for the touch test. Using a fork, she checks if the meat easily slips from the bone.
For me, roasted chicken is far more attractive as a meal option than curry chicken. Somehow as the temperature drops, my days get busier, and I need every spare minute for life’s demands. There is no time to stand over a stove, patiently stirring. Instead, I like to combine robust ingredients together and tuck everything into a warm oven.
This recipe is one that needs to be remembered. It takes the best elements of my mom’s curry chicken, but requires only spending a few minutes combining ingredients and then into the oven. It is so simple that I find its effortlessness is what makes it such a flavorful bird.
The addition of fresh ginger, garlic, and chilies lend a beautiful fragrance. While lemon, spices, olive oil, and buttermilk infuse the meat, leaving it perfectly moist.
Don’t be intimidated. A whole chicken can roast in about an hour. No basting or flipping required. In addition to this dish being deliciously unassuming, it is a fabulous way to make a grand impression. Pull it out of the oven, transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle it with cilantro, chopped green onions, and sliced red chilies (if you are a die-hard heat addict like me).
If you are ambitious, strain the pan drippings and heat in a pot over the stove. Meanwhile, in a glass jar combine a few tablespoons of flour and about ½ cup of the drippings. Put the lid on and shake over the kitchen sink. Add the slurry to the pot and let it simmer until thickened. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Voila – your very own curry gravy.
Roasted Curry Chicken
1 Roasting Chicken
1 Onion, peeled and halved
5 Garlic cloves, peeled
½ inch piece of Ginger
2/3 cup Buttermilk
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoon Turmeric
2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
Cilantro, Green Onions, Red Chilies (optional garnish)
Preheat oven 450F
Rinse and pat dry chicken. Place in roasting pan lined with parchment paper. In a blender combine all other ingredients, except lemon. Blend until pureed.
Add some of the puree into the inside of the chicken. Rub the remaining puree on the entire outside of the chicken. Cut lemon in half, place in the chicken cavity. If you have time tie the legs, if not leave as is.
Uncovered, place chicken in oven and roast at 450F for 20 minutes, until browned. Reduce oven heat to 375F, add 1 cup of water, cover with roasting pan lid or aluminum foil. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the breast temperature reads 170 degrees and the thigh 190 degrees.
Remove chicken from oven, and transfer to serving platter (remember to remove lemon halves). Let chicken stand 10 to 15 minutes so the juices settle. Carve, and serve with curry gravy on the side.