Tips!

CHICKEN

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Many thanks, Rameeza

Chicken is apparently the most popular meat in the UK. I suppose this must come from the fact that it is classed as the healthier white meat, it is very commonly available and is comparatively cheaper than red meat.

For these reasons and the fact that it is relatively quick to cook, it is a very popular ingredient in curries. In the Eastern world, meat on the bone, or sometimes even the bone itself, is a very important ingredient. Most authentic chicken curries will be made with chicken pieces which are on the bone. The bone adds flavour to the masala base as it creates its own stock, it keeps the meat moist whilst cooking and it utilises the whole animal (waste in Asian/Eastern society is very much frowned upon!).

A chicken is skinned and then traditionally cut up into small pieces, including the neck and the wings. These smaller pieces cook more quickly, but do leave a lot of bone to contend with, which may be off-putting for some. The chicken can also be cut up into 8 pieces for ease, but as my household has no particular preference for breast meat, I use chicken thighs and drumsticks on the bone in their entirety.

Chicken breast meat is used for quick, high heat cooking in a tandoor, on a BBQ or under a grill. Cubes of chicken breast would be marinated and then threaded onto skewers which would conduct the heat through the centre of the pieces, helping them to cook from the inside. The marinade protects the exterior of the meat from drying out. This is the method used for chicken boti (boti meaning pieces of meat). Chicken tikka traditionally uses whole bone-in marinated chicken leg.

I strongly suspect that with UK restaurants and certain caterers, boneless chicken is cooked en masse separately (as you would for boti), then just re-heated in an already prepared sauce. This is also the method used in many Western dishes, where meat/fish/chicken is cooked separately and then served with, or in, a sauce. This is not the method favoured in Indian cooking, as the one-pot approach means the spices in the masala are allowed to fully penetrate the meat, producing a tastier dish. More importantly, there is less washing up afterwards!

Different methods of cooking produce different results and the way you cook the food does affect the end flavour. If you had the inclination, you could experiment with both methods and see which tasted better!

TIPS FOR CHICKEN:

– Use skinless chicken meat for cooking curries, or even when grilling, as there are very few instances where un-skinned chicken is used.

– Preferably go to a butcher for your chicken. The meat will be fresher (which does make a difference to texture and taste). In addition, butchers are normally accommodating enough to cut up your meat  whichever way you like.

– If you can’t abide bone in your curry, use boneless leg/thigh meat cut into bite size pieces (again a butcher can do this for you). Boneless breast meat in a curry can get very dry, whereas boneless leg meat is far more forgiving. Breast pieces on the bone do remain more moist as the bone seems to protect them.

– If you remember, take the chicken out of the fridge half an hour before you use it, it will cook faster and the meat will absorb the other flavours and spices much better.

-When marinating chicken, massage the marinade into the chicken and keep it covered overnight in the fridge. Do bring it up to nearer to room temperature before cooking it.

– Chicken can release a lot of water when it cooks, but this excess water needs to be boiled down into your one-pot curry base. If this “chicken water” is not cooked down, the flavour and appearance of the finished dish will not be as good as it could.

– If a recipe says to add enough water to cover the chicken, the masala base must be very dry before doing so. I suggest cooking the curry uncovered for the last 5/10 minutes if things are looking too watery or if you prefer a drier gravy. If it all looks too watery, then remove the cooked chicken pieces, boil down the gravy to your preferred consistency, then re-add the chicken pieces to heat through.

-If roasting in the oven, reduce the juices down a bit to make a more flavoursome “jus” (which is my most favourite part of such roasts!). You can just leave the tray in the oven whilst the chicken/chicken pieces rest and keep an eye on it. When the juices start to thicken and the oil begins to separate from the juices, it’s at a good stage. Drizzle this over the roasted chicken/pieces before serving.