Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Murgi’r Jhol - Chicken Curry With A Soul

How many times have you killed your chicken and cooked it too? I guess not too many times.
IMG_8221But Prabha did it every time she and her little brother wanted to eat some.

Prabha (pronounced Prðbha) was about 10 years older than me. She lived with my Kaka and Kakima (Uncle and Aunt) to look after my cousins. When my cousins were away for school, she would also do some cooking. Those simple earthy Bengali recipes which many of us would think its most convenient to buy from Bengali stores or restaurants.

There are as many different chicken curries as there are cooks. Although this post seems to be about a Chicken Curry, but really its not. Its about Prabha and her Murgi’r Jhol.

There was nothing strikingly different about Prabha except the long printed frocks she wore, and her long hair which was always glistening with oil and braided neatly and folded midway, to reach the center at the back of her head. A single cotton black ribbon, the width of her palm held it up there in a bow. Very, very tightly. 

Prabha also loved oiling my hair, which I later found out was an instruction from my Grandmother. Most afternoons during my vacation there, she would sit with a bottle of coconut oil on a small wooden stool and me by her feet while she’d take scoops of hair oil and nourish my scalp. The dripping oil would soon vanish into the pouffe of my hair. She would then take a comb to make two plaits with my hair.

It was during these one-on-one sessions in the afternoon that the not-so-talkative Prabha opened up to me with her stories about her little village in Bengal. How she thought my Kakima rescued her from poverty and a life of misery and gave her a home and a better life.

In the next couple of years, my interest in cooking was just beginning to surface. Most afternoons, I would sit on my haunches next to Prabha in my Aunt’s kitchen, and watch her make Sondesh, Nadoo, Goja, or the sweet of the day, while everyone else was enjoying their siesta.

It was during one such culinary session with Prabha that I saw her make this Chicken Curry. It wasn't some great gourmet, but this was how she learnt it from her Mother, I was told. I had my notepad ready.

As she was washing the pieces of the chicken under the courtyard tap, she said, “I used to catch my own chicken from someone else’s farm and kill it. My Mother would then clean it and cook it for my brother and me.”

I was already fascinated though I did not delve deep into the brutal method she chose to kill for her meal.

By the time, I had finished writing the ingredients, Prabha was already crushing a knob of ginger on the kitchen counter and throwing it in with the sliced onions which were sizzling in the mustard oil.

IMG_8222The city girl that I was could not keep pace with her, and fumbled writing down each step while she mesmerized me with her speed slicing.

“How much coriander powder?” I asked Prabha. She mumbled something and showed me the quantity by pursing  her five fingers in a round shape! I realized then that Prabha was beyond any measurements – culinary or otherwise!

Since that last Murgi’r Jhol session with Prabha, I have lost that notebook and all contacts with the girl from a small village in Bengal. But her great-tasting Murgi’r Jhol and fond memories are still with me.

This is the Murgi’r Jhol I associate with Prabha. I hope I am able to come close to the thought, effort and time she invested in making the chicken curry for us.

Ingredients for Murgi’r Jhol are:

One Cornish game hen (you can use regular pieces of chicken)
1 red onion finely sliced
5-6 green chilies slit lengthwise
1 ripe, medium tomato, cut into thick slices
Handful of coriander leaves finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
Pinch of garam masala powder
1 bay leaf
1 black cardamom
2-3 tablespoons mustard oil
Pinch of sugar

Heat mustard oil till almost smoking. Add the pinch of sugar and let it caramelize. Now add the bay leaf and black cardamom. Immediately add the sliced onions and fry on high-medium heat till the onions get a brown color. Add the chicken pieces and fry for 7-8 minutes stirring continuously. Add the slit green chilies. IMG_8225When the chicken is nice and brown, add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for five more minutes, covered with a lid. IMG_8226 Add the dry spices – turmeric, red chili and coriander powder.

The pieces of tomato and salt go in next. Cover and cook for sometime on medium heat. IMG_8228Add about two cups of water and cover. Cook for 10 minutes till all the raw taste in the spices is gone.
IMG_8229Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala powder and chopped coriander.
IMG_8232Serve this Murgi’r Jhol* with steaming rice that has a smear of desi ghee.
IMG_8233 IMG_8235*A jhol essentially is a thin gravy and its okay to have this chicken curry a little runny!


Sanyukta Gour(Bayes) said...

wow spicy and lip smacking chicken curry....mothwatering pics...droling drooling drooling

RS said...

P, wonderful storytelling indeed. I love the way you have woven the recipe into the story, and vice versa, especially in the section "By the time I had finished writing the ingredients, Prabha had already...."

About the recipe, I am trying it this weekend. May I also mention that a huge dollop of saliva in my mouth as I look at the photographs?

Sushma Mallya said...

Hi , thank for dropping by , & chicken curry looks so delicious..would love to try this one soon...

Shilpa said...

wow... this is just so yummy... will try out :)

Jaya said...

looks so lovely and delicious Pree..
tumar story lekha bhishon bhalo lagey..ekto noton rokomer recipe holo eyita ..ginger/garlic paste pore diyecho.Green chilies diye besh chicken ke bhaja korle bodhaye aro flavour ashe.
lovely story to go with delicious recipe.
hugs and smiles

The knife said...

Nice and poignant. I guess we all had our Prabhas. Ours was Tuntuni? Or something else? gosh. We were the same age. We used to stay at my grandmom's place then. Pre-teen

No she couldn't cook. Ya got it, Tuni

PreeOccupied said...

@Sanyukta, it really was worth all that slicing and cooking!

@RS, Thank you for liking this post. There are some things which remain close to your heart, this girl was one of them!

@Sushma and Shilpa, let me know how you like it!

@Jaya, only a culinaire like you will notice that I added the green chilies first over the ginger-garlic paste. The moisture from the ginger-garlic I feel do not let the chicken fry nicely, which I wanted in this recipe. Hence the change.

@The Knife, don't you sometimes wonder how and where Tuni is! :-)

Chandrika Shubham said...

Interesting way of telling the story and recipe. :)

Sanghamitra Bhattacherjee(Mukherjee) said...

Hmmm...lip smacking 'murgir jhol'...bhalo laglo!!
Thanks for your comment too.

Warm regads

The knife said...

Well, honestly, er no... not till I read this post at least

The food geek in me noticed that the masala and tomato and ginger garlic here is added after the chicken rather than the other way round

Allthatglows said...

Do you use frozen cornish hen like tyson?

Payal said...

This recipe is exactly as the title suggests..it is with a soul.. :)

I have made it thrice and every time it was simple tasty! Thanks for this brilliant but simple recipe!

Lucky Sign said...

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