Last night I tried a new recipe - from a source I trust - and it sounded good. But it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t great, and I’m always aiming for great. I’m talking about a chicken curry that, when all was said and done, reminded me a little of an Indian version of Chinese sweet and sour pork – a fake dish that wasn't good. I think I can improve it with a little tweaking because (1) it has the potential to be good, and (2) maybe I messed it up because I started cooking around 6:00 p.m., which meant we ate at a ridiculous hour, long past fashionably late, so I will try it again to see if I can come close to what I was aiming for.
What I’m aiming for is to come as close as possible to the Anglo-Indian curry I used to eat at the Devon House - a restaurant on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue at 93rd Street. It was – not in the basement – but a few steps down in a beautiful brown building. The dining room had soothing blue walls with cream trim; the mahogany tables were covered in crisp white cloths; and the servers were all women who wore grey skirts and navy blazers. The rumor was that the restaurant was owned by the West Indian girlfriend of a rich American, but I have no idea why I remember that now, or if there was a shred of truth to the story, but at the time it made sense to me because, although I know it is not really part of the West Indies, I always felt as if I passed through a portal into a dining room in Bermuda when I went there.
I didn’t eat there often. Money was tight; the restaurant was expensive; and I like to cook at home. But I did go whenever we were eating out, and it was up to me to choose where. If I didn’t eat the curry, which was cream-based and studded with pieces of boneless chicken and shrimp and maybe a little mango chutney, I ate faultlessly-prepared Dover sole, and it was always a conflict which dish I would order. On a perfect night I would get one, and a companion would get the other, and I could taste both.
Whenever I walk up Madison and pass Number 1316, I realize how sorry I am the Devon House is not still there and think longingly of the delicious evenings I spent in that lovely room.
When I walked into the kitchen this morning, a fragrant, oh-so-soft scent of curry lingered in the air enticingly, but I won’t share last night’s dinner with you until I have worked the kinks out. But thanks to the always dependable Luisa, who told us about this on February 6, 2012, I do have a recipe for chicken curry to tell you about. It comes from that genius in the kitchen, Nigel Slater, and it’s as easy to make when you want a simple, tasty dinner as it is delicious. He calls it Chicken with Spices and Cream, but I call it Luisa's Raj Curry.
Luisa’s Raj Curry
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater
4 to 6 skin-on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons butter (if you keep clarified butter hanging around, which I don’t but always threaten to, use it here)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder – I use Sun Brand, but I know that Madhur Jaffrey recommends Bolst’s Hot Curry Powder
½ teaspoon ground Vietnamese cinnamon (you might as well go for the good stuff)
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (canned are fine)
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
If you know in advance you’re going to cook this for dinner, rub salt into the chicken, and let it sit in the refrigerator on a rack for a few hours. If you haven’t done this, don’t let it stop you from making this recipe, just rub the salt into the chicken right before cooking.
Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan, add the pieces of chicken, and cook, turning over, until the skin is taut and golden. Add the onions, and cook until they are soft – about 6 minutes; add the garlic, and cook until it is fragrant but not burned – 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes so the spices “bloom” and are not raw when you add liquid to them.
Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock, and cook until the chicken is done – about 15 or 20 minutes.
Stir in the cream. Cook for just about 2 minutes to let it mingle and thicken a little. Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste, if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice, cook for a minute more, turn off the heat, add black pepper to taste, stir once again, then serve.
Luisa recommends serving this with basmati rice; I usually make the Basmati Rice Pilaf from Cook’s Illustrated and buttered green beans or chopped cabbage sautéed in butter If I have the time, I fry some pappadams. In a pinch, I will serve really good, high-quality potato chips (don’t laugh until you've tried it – you will like them).