calcutta chicken curry

Atul Kochhar

This is a 30-minute Sunday affair. Just as in the UK we have a roast lunch on Sundays, in Calcutta they cook lamb or chicken, and it’s a big ceremony. If I were making a full-blown Bengali Sunday lunch it would take more than an hour, so I have made a few shortcuts here by using onion paste (see below) and boiling the potatoes separately. If you have the time, cook the potatoes with the chicken for even more flavour. The result is something I can’t describe - it’s a flavour transformation that happens in the pan.

serves 4 people

9 new potatoes, scrubbed
3 tbsp mustard or rapeseed oil
2 dried bay leaves
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder or to taste
600g chicken breast fillets
2 long thin green chillies
4 green cardamom pods
10 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp onion paste
2¼ tsp garam masala
1½ tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped, plus a few whole leaves for garnishing

01 Quarter the potatoes lengthways to make long wedges. Heat about 1 tbsp of the mustard oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and a bay leaf, stirring to coat the potatoes in oil. Add 1 tsp of the turmeric, the chilli powder and plenty of sea salt, then stir for 30 seconds to cook the spices. Watch closely so they do not burn.

02 Pour in 400ml of water and bring to the boil. Cover and gently boil the potatoes for 10 minutes until almost tender.

03 Meanwhile, cut the chicken fillets into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Remove the stalks from the green chillies, then halve them lengthways and set aside. 

04 Heat 2 tbsp of the mustard oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Lightly crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds, then add to the pan with the peppercorns, the other bay leaf and the cinnamon, and stir until the spices crackle. Watch closely so that nothing burns. Add the onion paste and stir for 30 seconds.

05 Add the chicken and green chillies and stir to seal the chicken on all sides. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of the garam masala. Season with sea salt and stir for 30 seconds to cook the spices. Add 125ml of water to prevent the chicken from catching on the bottom of the pan.

06 Stir in the tomatoes, cover the pan and leave to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the tomatoes to soften and start to give off their juice.

07 Add the potatoes and all their cooking liquid to the chicken with 125ml of water, so that the chicken and potatoes are almost covered. Add extra water if necessary. Cover the pan and boil gently for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

08 Stir in the coriander and the remaining 1¼ tsp of garam masala. Add more salt if necessary and garnish with the coriander leaves.

onion paste

makes about 600g

2 tbsp vegetable oil
500g onions, coarsely chopped
100g (about 6 tbsp)
ginger and garlic paste (see below)

01 Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onions, the ginger and garlic paste and 1 tsp of sea salt, stirring frequently for 25 minutes or until the onions are browned. Be careful that the mixture doesn’t catch and burn. If it does, you’ll have to start again.

02 Transfer the mixture to a food processor while it’s still warm and blitz to a fine paste. Leave to cool, then store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to four weeks, or in the freezer for up to three months.