Recipe Project #57: Chicken Vindaloo

For the past several months, we’ve been heading down to one of the local Indian restaurants on Erie Boulevard about once or week or so. Somehow, we’ve managed to do this so consistently that the owners gave us a bottle of wine at Christmas, and we’ve all chatted enough to learn that we live in the same village down the way. I live for their lamb vindaloo, and so Mr. Husband dug up a few recipes in his travels around the interwebs. None looked too hard, but none seemed quite right, either. So I pieced this together from several different sources and threw in chicken instead of lamb simply because it was what we had.

First, combine a bunch of spices in heavy pan:
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
8-12 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds

Toast them over medium heat until they’re wonderfully fragrant and then dump them into a mortar or a spice grinder. (I used a mortar and pestle.) Give them a few passes with the pestle or a few pulses in the grinder, and then add:

2 tsp powdered mustard
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chili powder (I’m not really happy with that. Next time, I’m toasting dried chilis with the spices.)

Process in whatever manner until smooth.

At this point, you’ll want to consider your tomatoes. Some recipes call for sauce, some call for chopped. I used a can of chopped tomatoes because it was on hand, and blitzed it in the food processor with a chopped onion until everything was smooth.

In a heavy pan with deep sides (such as, say, a 5 quart dutch oven), heat a couple of tablespoons of oil until they shimmer. Saute a finely chopped onion and as much minced garlic as you’d like. (I used about five cloves). Add an inch or so-long knob of fresh ginger that you’ve either microplaned or minced very finely. The onions go into the pan first, then garlic, then ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent and everything is fragrant. Then add a couple of tablespoons of the spice mixture and all of the tomato mixture and cook until it begins to change color toward a golden brown. Then add a cup or so of chicken broth, a tbsp of tomato paste, 2 tbsp of white vinegar, and cook for another ten minutes. Check for flavor at this point, and see how much more of the spice mixture you want to add. You’ll want it to be stout enough to flavor the potatoes, but not so much that you don’t have room to adjust the flavors later.

Then, add a couple of potatoes that you’ve cut in 1.5 inch chunks. If you need more broth in order to make room for everything to swim around a bit, add it. A vindaloo shouldn’t be soupy, but there should be enough liquid to keep things comfortable. After the potatoes cook enough to pierce with a fork, add salt to taste and see if you’d also like to add more spice. (I also added a sprinkle of cayenne at this point.) Add chicken chunks cut to roughly the same size as the potato chunks and cook them until tender. (I used two breasts because I had them on hand, but thighs would also work well.) The potatoes will begin to break apart and thicken the sauce by the time everything is done. Taste analytically and make any final adjustments to salt and spice levels. Serve with basmati rice and naan.

This came out quite well for a first attempt, but I’ll make a few changes next time: whole chilis, for one thing, and I’ll marinate the chicken in the spice rub for a couple of hours. (Or better yet, have some lamb on hand.)

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