“One pot and it’s dinnertime, two pots and it’s Christmas!”
You will need…
Eight chicken thighs
Three medium onions
At least half a bulb of garlic
One red chilli, finely chopped, with seeds left in.
Turmeric (mainly to enrich the colour)
One tablespoon and one teaspoon of cumin seeds
Half a tablespoon of coriander seeds
Six black peppercorns
One-inch cinnamon stick, broken up
A big tub of plain yogurt, set
Salt, to taste
A bunch of fresh coriander
Half a cucumber
To start, you will need a good sized chunky saucepan, and a frying pan. This might seem contrary to the “one pot” aspect, but the alternative is to try and fry eight chicken thighs in a saucepan that already contains everything else. You will thank me.
First, put your two pans on to warm up. Then roughly chop the onions and garlic, add a couple of tablespoons of water, and blend them to a smooth paste. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs.
Put a little oil into the hot frying pan, and add four chicken thighs to seal. You’ll need to turn these, and repeat with the other four thighs, while you’re cooking the sauce. You’re a grown up, you don’t need me to tell you how to do this kind of stuff. Into the saucepan, put a glug of oil, and when it’s hot, throw in the teaspoon of cumin seeds for a few seconds, until they go a shade darker. Pour in the onion/garlic paste, pretending not to be startled by the noise this makes, and while the mixture fries on a medium heat, put on your marigolds and finely chop the red chilli, leaving the seeds in. Add this to the saucepan, the contents of which should be turning slightly brown, together with half a teaspoon of turmeric.
Now put the cumin, coriander seed, cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns into a coffee grinder and grind to a powder. The cumin and coriander are non-negotiable, I’m afraid, but the others are more for depth of flavour and warmth of aroma, so your dinner won’t be spoiled if you haven’t got one of them. Stir the powder into the saucepan, and fry for thirty seconds or so, while wondering how you’re going to get all that powder out of the tricky bits of your grinder.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, and whisk the yogurt. Stir it in to the saucepan a tablespoon at a time – five or six tablespoons will usually be fine, but you can use as much as you wish, as long as you leave a little for later. When you have a yellowy-brown sauce that looks vaguely appetising, return the pan to the heat and add the chicken. No matter how much yogurt you’ve used, you won’t be convinced that there’s anywhere near enough liquid in the pan to simmer the chicken, so add half a cup or so of water (where “one cup” = your morning coffee mug). In times of austerity, you might first rinse this round the pot that you blended your onions in, or even heat it up in the frying pan, to gather up all the oil and chicken-y gunge that’s sticking to it. Waste not, want not! Add salt to taste.
Put some rice on while the chicken’s simmering. In the meantime, sort out your worktop, which is now covered in onion peel, chicken skin, and hurriedly discarded marigolds. You have taken them off, haven’t you? Cut your cucumber in half lengthways, and get one of the kids to scoop out the fleshy middle with a teaspoon. Finely chop your coriander, and stir all but a teaspoon of it into the saucepan. Mix the rest with the remaining yogurt, chop the cucumber, put it all together in a bowl and lo and behold, a simple raita accompaniment.
Finally, serve with your choice of bread and a bottle of the kind of Australian blended red that has plenty of body and spice and a touch of vanilla creaminess.
Handy coriander hint – if you don’t live near a reputable fresh coriander outlet, you can freeze it by the tablespoon in ice cube trays topped up with water. Then when you need some for a sauce, just pop a cube in!