Despite the fact that I really like Indian food, I don’t think I’ve made any Indian recipes for the blog yet, so typically I’ve now done two. The first is chicken curry, Britain’s Most Popular Dinner (according to every arm of the food industry with a finger in the pie of Indian food retail. Wait, hang on…).
I’m not going to go into how curry is not actually a dish and trade routes between England and India are hundreds of years old, because other people have done that already and better. (I found a fantastic concise history of all this on an old website, but then my virus software went berzerk, so you’ll have to make do with Wikipedia.)
Hannah Glasse was one of the first famous English women of domestic writing, pre-dating Eliza Acton by almost a century (this is a cracking article about her).
Take two small chickens and cut them as if for fricassee. Wash them clean and stew them in about a quarter of water for 5 minutes, then strain off the liquor and put the chicken in a clean dish; take three large onions and chop them small and fry them in about 2 ounces of butter and then put the chickens in and fry them until they are brown; take a quarter of an ounce of turmeric, a large spoonful of ginger and beaten pepper together, and a little salt to your palate, strew all these ingredients over the chickens while frying, then pour in the liquor and let it stew for about half an hour, then put in the quarter of a pint of cream and serve it up. The ginger, pepper and turmeric must be beat very fine.
From The Art of Cookery made Plain and Simple (1747), quoted in Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving (Penguin, 2011).
- I have mixed feelings about turmeric, to the extent that I didn’t own any and bought some for this recipe. I now realise that turmeric is like cumin, it should be used sparingly and goes stale quickly.
- I panicked over the phrase ‘cut for fricassee’, as I suddenly became convinced this had something to do with mincing. It doesn’t, it just means jointed, as I thought it meant the day before when I took two chicken thighs out of the freezer to make myself a reasonable sized portion of this.
- I have never poached meat before browning it, but it worked brilliantly, the sauce thickened quickly, until it looked exactly like… chicken in gravy.
This is a really delicious dish with a warm, citrusy flavour. I thought it would be too bland without garlic or chilli, but I wrong. It wasn’t like any curry I’ve had before, and probably nothing like any dish served in India (I’ve never been). I’ve cooked simple dishes, like fruit soup and tasted them thinking ‘Yes, this is old, much much older than the publication date of the book’, but something about the date attached to this book made me think about the thousands of people over the last two centuries who have eaten this meal. To be sharing a physical experience (as opposed to an intellectual or emotional one from, say, listening to a piece of music), with so many people whose lives I can’t imagine, was briefly mind-blowing.
Curried by Elly