This is an old family recipe, one that was brought back from India by a friend in the late 70s before I was born. I make no claims to the recipe’s authenticity – it has had a long journey over oceans and time – but I do make claims to its deliciousness. And for some reason it’s become known to my friends as My Dad Chicken Curry, perhaps because it’s one the few recipes my dad loves and always made for my friends and I when we’d come and stay and go swimming and surfing for the weekend.
After a long drive in Friday afternoon traffic in my brother’s white 1970 Holden Kingswood, windows down, the air heavy with petrol fumes and asphalt heat, we’d arrive at my dad’s to a late afternoon swim and this curry bubbling on the stove top. The house smelling of the popped mustard seeds and spices. The spices have a summery vibe for me. The curry is perfect with a beer on an afternoon that seems to stretch on forever, but in winter they’re rich and warming.
I think the secret to this recipe, which is really very simple, is the mustard seeds. They speckle the curry, giving it that nutty taste. Listening to them hiss and pop is a pretty exciting way to start a recipe too. I think the other factor in how delicious this turns out is time. I like to cook it for at least 50 minutes, and it’s even more delicious the next day after the flavours have had a chance to infuse. When my dad cooks this he uses chicken thighs. I like to use free range chicken legs and just before serving, when the meat is tender and separating from the bones, I remove them. But it’s up to you really, serve with the bones if you like. But don’t forget the lemon juice right at the end, it’s essential, the bright tang of the lemon allows all the other flavours to shine.
My Dad Chicken Curry
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb sized lump of ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of crushed chilli (or to taste)
500g of free range chicken pieces
1 can of coconut milk
1 lemon, juiced
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, when hot put in the mustard seeds and cover with a lid and moderate heat. The mustard seeds will pop here. When they’ve finished popping add onion and fry gently until translucent. Add garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. Add spices and stir for a moment. Add a little more oil, then sauté the chicken pieces in the spice mixture until the chicken is brown and covered in the spices. Cover chicken with a can of coconut milk and bring to the boil. Don’t be tempted to add water here. Simmer on a low heat for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Right before serving add the juice of one lemon.
Serve with pappadums, banana and coconut, cucumber raita, green mango chutney, and Basmati rice.