This is a recipe that my old roommate taught me about 10 years ago. He grew up in Punjab, which according to him is kind of the “hard-ass” part of India. It’s kind of right there between Pakistan and Kashmir, so I’d have to agree. I hadn’t really been a fan of curries that associated themselves with Punjab before, mostly they seem to be these pea and cheese curries that I would take a little of because it seemed “healthy”. Anyhow, he learned this recipe from his mother, and never could get it right. So he taught it to me.

A word of encouragement: Don’t be afraid of how involved this recipe looks. I tend to explain things. It may seem long, but most recipes are written too shortly and miss steps. This one doesn’t.

You’re going to make a stockpot full of curry with this recipe. It’s going to last for days.

Ingredients (in the order they’re used):

  • 1 heaping tablespoon of tumeric
  • 1/3 cup of oil (I use olive, but coconut is probably a better choice)
  • 2 red onions
  • roughly 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, give or take a tomato
  • 2 teaspoons of garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika (he told me that this was the closest spice he found in the US to the one they use)
  • 2 teaspoons of curry powder (it’s a bunch of spices blended together, but it saves you from having to have a bunch of various things)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter – if you want to be super authentic, buy some Ghee at the Indian store. I use unsalted Irish cream butter.
  • 3-4 chicken breasts, chopped
  • 3-6 crimini mushrooms, depending on size – more if they’re small
  • 4 yukon gold potatoes (red potatoes are fine too, I just love yukons)
  • 4 1/2 cups of water (the potatoes and chicken will thicken it, along with the fact that you’re going to simmer it for awhile)
  • optional: Extra teaspoon of garam masala, paprika, and curry powder for spicing the chicken directly

Pans and kitchenwares:

  • 1 wok type pan (for the base)
  • 1 griddle (for the chicken)
  • 1 stockpot (for the finished product)
  • wooden spoon
  • Sharp kitchen knife (helps with tomatoes)
  • Fork
  • Measuring cups and spoons

Part one: the curry base.

This is the hard part. A lot of people give up and just buy a base premade in a jar…it’ll cost you as much. Still, if you have a bunch of onions and tomatoes, just make it yourself. :)

First step: dice the onions as finely as you can. The finer you can, the easier the next part is. It requires a lot of supervision and effort.

Second step: dice up the tomatoes. Doesn’t need to be as fine. If you want to cheat, get a can of tomatoes, they’re almost already in the state they need to be. Don’t get tomato pulp, though. That’s just going too far (no really, it ruins the texture of the base).

Third step: you need to add the tablespoon of tumeric and the oil into the wok. Blend it together with a fork until it’s consistent, then you need to “burn” the tumeric. If you burn it too much, it’ll taste terrible, if you don’t, it’ll taste like an aspirin. So what you’re looking for is put it on high for a few minutes. The oil should get pretty hot. It’s tough to really visualize, but the oil and tumeric should turn a slightly darker color without giving off smoke. If you screw it up, pour it out and try again. This part requires supervision.

Fourth step: pour the onions into the wok. Start “smushing” them with the wooden spoon into the tumeric, make sure they all get mixed in really well. They’re going to get both browned and almost look like a pulp when you’re done with them. This requires some arm effort just constantly smashing them into the wok and mixing them around.

Fifth step: pour in the tomatoes. Mix them up like you did with the onions until the whole mixture is very goopy and saucelike. You don’t need to stir and smoosh quite as much, but you do need to make it as even as you can (let it be a little “chunky”, though…trust me on this).

Sixth step: The fun part of making the base. Spices! Sprinkle in one teaspoon of the garam masala (do not add both, the second one you add in the later phase to maintain the flavor, this is just to get it distributed evenly). Sprinkle in one teaspoon of the paprika, then BOTH teaspoons of the curry powder (this one needs to get more heat because there’s tumeric in it usually). Now toss in the butter. Yes, butter is a spice in this dish…it also keeps the base from sticking to the wok when you let it simmer a little.

Seventh step: take the wok off the current burner and put it on a low simmer. Stir the base occasionally.

Curry base: forgive my ugly looking wok, it gets a lot of use

Curry base: forgive my ugly looking wok, it gets a lot of use

Next up – the Curry!

First step: chop up the chicken breasts (tenderloins work well too, thighs are okay).

Second step: Toss the chicken into the griddle with a little bit of oil. Optionally, go get another teaspoon or two of curry powder, garam masala, and paprika and sprinkle it over the chicken. Thyme also works well, as does basil or rosemary. It ensures that the chicken will get a good dose of spice. Stir the chicken around occasionally to get a good coating of spice and oil on it.

Third step: Chop up the mushrooms. Thinly sliced or diced is best. They’re like earthy filler that adds a little interesting flavor and substance to the curry.

Fourth step: Wrap the potatoes in a damp paper towel and microwave them until they’re soft. This may take 5-7 minutes depending on your microwave.

Fifth step: Dump the curry base that has been simmering into the stockpot, along with 4 1/2 cups of water.

Sixth step: When the chicken is about halfways cooked and the spicy oil is on every surface of the chicken, dump the chicken into the stockpot with the base.

Seventh step: Add the mushrooms into the stockpot.

Eight step: Chop the potatoes a little bit, then add them into the stockpot.

Ninth step: add in the second teaspoon of the spices above (garam masala and paprika specifically).

Tenth step: Stir until even.

Eleventh step: Let it boil up for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing gets stuck to the bottom.

Twelfth step: Make the rice or couscous (If I’m going fancy, I like to pour the curry over couscous because it makes it super awesome. But basmati rice is okay too most of the time.) Add a little lemon juice or maybe thyme to the rice or couscous if you like. Sometimes I cook in a little curry powder or even saffron if I’ve got it.

Thirteenth step: Take the curry down to a simmer and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stir occasionally (more at first because the heat is still coming down).

Curry in the stockpot with all the stuff added in, boiling a little. The steam made it tough to get a good picture with my very old smartphone.

Curry in the stockpot with all the stuff added in, boiling a little. The steam made it tough to get a good picture with my very old smartphone.

Fourteenth step: After 30 minutes, the water level should go down a little, and the curry should be fairly thick. Thick enough that you don’t have to serve it in a bowl…you can spoon it over rice or couscous and it’ll hold in place. That is the potatoes and chicken fat working together to keep it all together and make it less “soupy”.

Serve it up! I made some modifications to the original recipe, mainly, the addition of potatoes as a thickening agent. My old roommate’s recipe ended up way too soupy for my liking…I like a curry bowl, but soupy curry ends up making the rice really soggy. It requires a lot of naan bread to soak it up. My old roommate approved of the use of potatoes, and he is now an important manager working at Intel, so he probably knows his curry. Oddly enough, my modifications made it seem more middle eastern than Indian. Oh well. It’s better this way. :)

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