Bengali Murghi’r Jhol

Before work this morning, I decided to try a recipe that I had been eyeing for Bengali Murghi’r Jhol.

“Murghi” or “Murgh” means “chicken”.

Murghi’r Jhol is a home-style wet curry (i.e. it has a gravy). The only consistent thing about it is that it’s inconsistent. It is that dish that can be jazzed up for company or whipped up for a quick Saturday lunch with the fam.

What intrigues me about the recipe is its use of mostly cinnamon, as opposed to a balanced blend of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

I love the flavour of the dish.

It tastes like hot cinnamon with an earthy background of coriander and turmeric. The cumin, although present, is not the star it is in the Punjabi cuisine that I’m used to.

I disagree with the recipe on one point — its suggestion that the skinless chicken drumsticks should be browned. Trying to brown skinless chicken drumsticks will leave you with unevenly burnt chicken. When to wet curries, I’ve only encountered seared chicken meat in recipes that use tandoori chicken meat (Butter Chicken, for instance).

I also ommitted the potatoes, as I didn’t have any.

This dish is warming due to the cinnamon.

The cinnamon flavour comes through especially clearly because of the cinnamon powder garnish. The lack of cream in the sauce amplifies the bright flavours even more.

Bengali Murghi’r Jhol (Home-Style Chicken Curry)

*Recipe slightly modified from Vivek Singh’s in Curry Cuisine (ed. Jeni Wright)

1/4 cup ghee

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 bay leaves

3 green cardamom pods

4 black peppercorns

4 large onions, finely chopped

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (optional)

2 tsp salt

2 1/4 lbs (1 kg) chicken thighs or drumsticks, bone in, skinned

1 tbsp ginger paste

1 tbsp garlic paste

2 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp red chili powder

1 tbsp ground turmeric

4 tomatoes, chopped fine or blended to a puree

1 2/3 cups chicken stock or water

3 green cardamom pods, roasted and ground

2-in (5 cm) cinnamon stick, roasted and ground

1 tbsp finley chopped cilantro leaves

Heat the ghee in a large pan and add the whole spices. When they crackle, add the onions and fry over medium heat until golden brown. Stir in the potatoes, if using, and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp of the salt, then add the chicken and cook for 5-8 minutes.

Add the ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, remaining salt, red chili powder and turmeric.

Cook 10 more minutes, stirring constabtky, until the spices begin to release their aromas.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked.

Meanwhile, toast the cinnamon stick and remaining cardamom separately, over medium heat, in oiled pans. There’s a good chance of burning the cardamom if you try to do them both in the same pan at the same time. The cinnamon is done toasting when it begins to unravel. The cardamom is done toasting when it puffs up. Powder the cinnamon and cardamom together in a spice grinder.

When the chicken is cooked through, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if required. Top with the toasted cinnamon and cardamom powder and finish with the chopped cilantro. Serve with perfect basmati rice.

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