Monday, November 15, 2004

Edible Gold

The Week of Wonders Continues: Saffron Chicken

Last month’s Saveur magazine (October, 2004) had an article entitled Fragrant Feasts of Lucknow with incredible pictures of delicious looking Indian food. I was especially dazzled by the gold and silver leaf used to decorate the food, and swore I needed some in my pantry. I am still without this luxury item, but you don’t need it for this Saffron Chicken, which is naturally golden. It will give off a wonderful glow on your dinner table and is definitely worth the many steps it takes to make. Count on at least 3 1/2 hours between starting the preparation and setting it on the table. Don’t worry, about 2 hours of this is cooking time.


I have to admit, I still feel a bit strange about Indian meat dishes. This might seem like a strange statement given the highly omnivorous character of An Endless Banquet so far, but I was a vegetarian for 10 years and Indian was one of my favorite cuisines during that period for good reason. I still don’t even really think about eating meat when I go out to my favorite Indian restaurants—the vegetarian options can be so fantastic. The specialty of the house at our favorite Indian restaurant, Malhi Sweets [note: more on Malhi Sweets at a later date], is lamb, so we tried it one time and it was really good, but, personally, I still preferred the Malai Kofta and the Vegetable Korma. In any case, when last month’s issue of Saveur came out, I, too, was blown away by the article on the cuisine of Lucknow and its rich history, and I admired all the incredible recipes, including all the chicken and lamb dishes, but I gravitated towards the smoked eggplant dish. That was the dish that I actually thought about making. It was M. who really drew my attention to the Saffron Chicken. I thank her for pointing me in the right direction. This was a brilliant recipe—the chicken came out of the oven absolutely succulent and the sauce was to die for. After dinner and dessert our party moved on to a local watering hole. I came back in at about 2 A.M. just a little tipsy with a replenished appetite and I devoured what remained of the sauce with what remained of the garlic pitas. Heaven.


Murgh Zafrani
(saffron chicken)
Serves 4-6

1 1/4 cup ghee
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4” pieces
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3” piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup raw unsalted cashews
1/4 cup charoli nuts
1 cup whole yogurt
2 Tbsp. clotted cream
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. cardamom, ground and sifted
1 1/4 tsp. kashmiri chile powder
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 4-5 lb. chicken, skinned, rinsed, and cut into 10 pieces
1 1/2 tsp. saffron, crushed
1 Tbsp. kewra (screw pine water)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat 1 cup of the ghee in a small heavy pot. Fry onions in 2 or 3 batches, stirring often, until onion is dark brown, but not burnt. Place on paper towels to drain. Chop and place in a blender. With blender running, add 6 tbsp. water and form a paste. Place in a large casserole and set aside.

Put garlic and ginger in the blender, and with motor running, add 6 tbsp. water until a paste forms. Place in casserole. Put nuts in blender and with motor running, add 1/3 cup water. Add to casserole.

Add yogurt, clotted cream, heavy cream, 2 tsp. salt, cardamom, chile powder, mace and the remaining ghee. Stir until combined. Add chicken and mix together until well coated. Mix saffron and pine or plain water and let sit 10 min. Add to casserole.

Cover pot with tin foil, set lid on top, and crumple foil around lid to form a tight seal. Place in oven and bake 1 3/4 -2 hours, until chicken is tender. Transfer chicken to a serving plate and strain sauce through a sieve, discarding solids. Season to taste with salt and spoon over chicken.

We served our Murgh Zafrani with Eggplant Masala, basmati rice, and garlic pitas (the next best thing to naan).

Note: We made three changes to the recipe out of necessity. We were unable to find the charoli nuts, kashmiri chile powder, and the kewra. We replaced the charoli nuts with the same amount of pistachios, the kashmiri chile with a bit less of cayenne, and the kewra with an equal amount of plain water. In spite of these changes the recipe turned out famously, although were we to do it over again (and we most certainly will—hopefully soon!) we might omit the pistachios and just double the cashews.


Anonymous said...

yo you gotta invite me for some of these meals


Anonymous said...

this post is nice to see. if you are interested in lucknowi food, there is a book that subsumes it by covering most of the old awadhi region (of which lucknow was the capital): "Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh"'s a great cookbook. Jon