This dish is just the ticket for January, when many of us (myself most definitely included) are facing the possibility that we may have enjoyed a little too much good food and drink over the Holidays. Austerity, though, is no reason for boredom. For lovers of big, bold flavors, this lean dish is a bracing wake-up call to palates lulled nearly to sleep by the rich, heavy dishes of Holiday tradition.
The featured flavor here is “curry,” which, of course is not a single spice or even a particular flavor, but a name given originally by the British to an extended family of sauced dishes found all over Asia and flavored with blends of aromatic spices. (Commerical “curry” powders are, if fact, blends of spices –some of which quite good, but many of which are pretty lackluster.) The Madras style curry used in this recipe is warming and delicious, featuring allspice, cinnamon and ginger in addition to the cumin, coriander and turmeric common to most curries. If there’s a commercial Madras curry powder you like, you can save some time here by using it (but make sure it’s fresh). Making your own curry powder with the recipe below, though, takes just a few minutes once you have the ingredients, you can make a double recipe and keep it on hand, and there won’t be any question of quality or freshness.
A word about spiciness: this dish is on the hot side. If you prefer milder foods, omit the cayenne from the spice paste (but not the curry powder recipe) and make sure to scrape off nearly all of the spice paste before you grill or broil the chicken. Of course, if you love spicy food, you can increase the pepper and leave on more of the paste when you cook the bird. (And, if you broil the chicken rather than grilling it, more of the spice paste is likely to reach your plate.)
(adapted from Rubin Museum’s Curry-Crusted Chicken in Flavors First by Vikas Khanna, serves 6)
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups (475 ml) Greek-style yoghurt
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons peeled, chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons Madras curry powder (a good commercial blend or see recipe below)
1 teaspoon table salt
6 lemon wedges, for garnish
1. Mix all of the ingredients (except the chicken and the lemon wedges) in a large bowl.
2. Place the chicken breasts under a place of plastic wrap and pound them with the smooth side of meat tenderizer or a rolling pin until they’re a consistent thickness of about 1 inch (2.5cm). (This step is optional, but I find it’s easier to grill or broil a chicken breast to doneness without overcooking it if I do this.)
3. Coat the chicken breasts with the spice paste, cover tightly and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.
4. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook, pull the chicken out of the fridge to allow it to reach room temperature. Preheat a grill or a grill pan over hight heat. Scrape off all but a thin coating of the spice paste and then grill the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes on each side. (The internal temperature should reach 165F (74C), and the meet should be white in the center.)
Alternatively (if you don’t have a grill, grill pan, or don’t have an exhaust hood that can handle the smoke from stovetop grilling), you can cook the chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet under a preheated broiler for about 5 minutes on each side.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a mixed green salad for a delicious but virtuous meal, or serve with rice or potatoes and a green vegetable if you’re in the mood for something a little heartier, but still quite healthy.
Madras Curry Powder (recipe adapted from Flavors First by Vikas Khanna)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or about 8 whole allspice berries)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
Put all the spices in a spice grinder and process until ground to a very fine powder. (Do this in batches if necessary.) Store, covered tightly, for up to three months.