While we’re all anxiously awaiting Spring, Winter weather is still in our forecast. Cold temperatures and Indian-inflected dishes seem made for each other. This dish, which appeared in last month’s Bon Appetit, really drives that point home. It’s a rich stew full of the aromas of the sub-continent but without most of the heat that gives Indian food its reputation for spice. It’s all in one pot and if you serve it with Naan, that’s all you’ll need. But Basmati Rice would make a great accompaniment too. I’ve been a fan of Indian cooking ever since I was kid and working in London for a summer. Believe it or not, the British national dish is said to be Chicken Tikka Masala, a colonial era import from, where else, India. One thing that seems universal in how Indians prepare chicken is that they inevitably skin the bird. Since I find this a very tedious thing to do, I was pleased to see that our local Whole Foods sells skinned chicken parts. Not just any chicken parts either but air-chilled chicken parts! (To see why that is important you only need read http://chewingthefat.us.com/2012/09/vinegar-braised-chicken-on-bed-of-leeks.html.) But as to why Indians always skin their chickens, I went to an expert.
Suvir Saran was born in New Dehli. At age 21, he came to study at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Home cooking for his classmates led him away from his artistic pursuits and straight into the food business. He opened a catering company called Rasoi, The Indian Kitchen. (Rasoi means “The Kitchen” in Hindi). A few years later, he went on staff at New York University’s Professional Development and Continuing Education Program in their Department of Food and Nutrition. I became aware of Suvir when I went to Devi, his beautiful Indian restaurant at 8 East 18th Street (Tel: 212 691 1300). One side of its menu is completely vegetarian, the other for omnivores like me. In addition to being Executive Chef at Devi, Suvir has authored 3 cookbooks – “Indian Home Cooking” Clarkson Potter 2004, “American Masala” Clarkson Potter 2007 and “Masala Farm” Chronicle Books 2011. The latter is named for the Chef’s 70 acre American Masala Farm which he shares with his partner Charlie, in Hebron New York. I wrote the Chef for an explanation for all that skinless chicken in Indian recipes: Suvir wrote back: “Monte – the main reason was for marinating the chicken even more deeply with the flavors and aromatics we add in our cooking.” This makes a lot of sense. To really get flavor into the chicken, you need to get past the skin. Thank you Suvir! Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Indian Spiced Chicken with Chickpeas and Spinach adapted from Bon Appetit. Serves 6. Prep Time 35 minutes. Total Time 1 ½ hours.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 bone-in chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), skin removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups (or more) low-sodium chicken broth
5 ounces baby spinach (about 8 lightly packed cups)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 325°. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt. Working in batches, cook chicken, reducing heat as needed to prevent over-browning, until golden brown on all sides, 8-10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.
Add butter and onions to drippings in pot; season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until onions are soft and golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
Stir in garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook, stirring constantly, until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chickpeas and 2 cups broth.
Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Add more broth if needed to cover chicken about three-fourths of the way up. Bring to a simmer. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise chicken until fork-tender, 45-55 minutes.
Chicken can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool slightly, then chill, uncovered, until cold. Cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.
Using tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Add spinach to pot, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand until spinach is wilted, 5-7 minutes.
Stir yogurt into cooking liquid. Season with salt. Return chicken to pot. Warm over low heat (do not boil or yogurt may curdle).
Transfer chicken to a large deep platter. Pour spinach and chickpea sauce over. Sprinkle with cilantro.