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Pepper Chicken Chettinad

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Recipe adopted from weebs DOES FOOD.

This summer I was asked by a relative if I'd be interested in making an Indian meal for a friend who is originally from Pannur in Tamil Nadu.  Although I was a bit hesitant at first (due to knowing little to nothing about Southern Indian cuisine), I accepted the offer.  Since then, I have asked around for suggestions on what to make and have done some research to see what I'm in for.  Although oversimplified, I noticed the following key points about Southern Indian cuisine.
  • Rice and legumes (lentils in specific) are a big deal and are often fermented (like dosa).
  • Vegetarian dishes are very popular, but chicken and fish are also served.
  • There's no such thing as a dish being too hot (spicy).
  • Stews (like sambar) and soups (like rasam) are some of their top dishes.
  • Vadai is a deep-fried starter that resembles mini-donuts, and is made from chickpeas or black lentils.
  • Authentic meals are served on a banana leaf, making for quite the presentation.
Although I'm not sure if it's as popular in Pannur as it is in the southern regions of Tamil Nadu, I ended up going with the the classic dish of Pepper Chicken Chettinad.  Let me begin by saying this dish is hot.  Of course you can back away from the amount of green chilies and crushed black pepper, but that in turn changes the dish into something else.  Although I've made other Indian dishes, I would say that this one felt the most authentic because of the number of raw spices and herbs used (especially curry leaves) and the fact that no substitutions were made on my part.

If you haven't attempted Indian dishes yet, the following list of ingredients may seem quite intimidating (understandably so).  But after taking a trip to a local Indian market or South Asian market, you'll see that this dish uses fairly common spices and herbs.  For the following reasons, I encourage you to visit your local market if you want to experiment with Indian dishes:
  1. The cost of spices and herbs are almost always significantly lower.  If I had to throw a number out there, I would probably say that I pay 10% to 20% of what a typical supermarket would charge for similar spices and herbs.
  2. The quality is much higher.
  3. An extensive variety of spices and herbs are often located in one area, making for quick shopping.
  4. Smaller specialized shops are run by people who know extensive information about their products and have a passion for what they sell.  Every time I go to my local Indian grocery store, the owner asks what I plan on making and offers me tips.
Although I have quite a bit more work to do in finding potential side dishes and desserts, I think I can say that I now have a solid main course picked out!


3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods, crushed
2 small cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
1 bay leaf

1 onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 green chilies, finely chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves, destemmed

2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder

12 ounces boneless chicken, cubed
0 to 3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon freshly crushed peppercorns
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped


Begin by carrying out the popular (and highly beneficial) French phrase:  mise en place.  All this means is that you have everything measured out and ready to go.  [Side note:  Like any other recipe on this blog, the list of ingredients above is grouped by what ingredients get added at the same time.]  Once the ingredients are measured out, prepped, and/or grouped accordingly, you're ready to begin.

Begin by heating a heavy bottomed pot (cast iron or a Dutch oven) over medium heat, and then adding the oil.  Once hot, add your mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and bay leaf.  After a minute, add the chopped onion and season with salt.  Cook and stir until the onions turn a light brown, at least 10 minutes.  Next add the turmeric powder, garlic, ginger, chilies, and curry leaves.  Cook and stir for a couple more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, red chili powder, coriander powder, and cumin powder and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  During this step, the tomatoes will break down and transform the dish into a thick sauce.

Add the chicken and cover for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.  Lastly add the peppercorns.  [Side note:  The original recipe ended here, but I ended up adding a little bit of water to thin out the sauce.  If you think your sauce is too thick, add water by the tablespoon until the desired thickness is met].

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.  [Side note:  The cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, and curry leaves are often left in the dish when served, with the understanding that they should not be consumed.]

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