Thursday, September 19, 2013

Southern American Fried Chicken

Southern American Fried Chicken 

There was this article published on NDTV's (A very popular electronic and web-media from India) website where the writer wrote about soaps from the west influencing our culinary taste. I was amazed. The writer could not have been more accurate. I am sure for all of us who are glued to different television series watching our favourite characters eat with gusto makes us crave a certain food item and so all through our early and late teenage lives we have craved hamburgers and fried chicken and cheesy pizzas and food from a whole different world.

I remember what a craze it was to eat at KFC when they opened their gates in Kolkata towards  the end of my high school years . At first they  only had one outlet in one corner of the city (City Center) and since I did not frequent that part of town , I did not get the fuss over 'this crispy delight' that many of my classmates were talking about. Some even mentioned how they ate the fried coating a la Joey style (Joey from the soap opera Friends) Then another outlet opened right in the heart of the city on Middleton Row off Park Street. I was delighted. It was a mere 2 km from my home and for years after that I had gorged on their Fried Chicken. Of course the website being the window to all corners of the world and I , being a food enthusiast,  tried to get as much of information as possible about this humble dish from Southern America. While I tried gathering information I checked out a few recipes and it seemed unbelievably easy to make but somehow that did not deter me from visiting several outlets of KFC which had sprung up like mushrooms in the city. From my visits I could see what a great business it was doing. Then one day I grew up with all the hullabaloo of college life . I had completed my graduation moved on to post graduation and then something happened to me.

My husband is one of those patriotic, conscious and  environment friendly people. He has this theory that all the money that we put in when we visit a Fast Food Chain restaurant goes to the  United States of America's pocket and so we should stay away from these places. I personally am much more global in my outlook. For me food can connect everyone but his opinion made me think in a different direction. Perhaps it was his words which had some effect and then I discovered Chicken farcha - an amazing Parsi Fried Chicken which was so delicious that I though that KFC's chicken was both expensive and well it was destroying our own culinary heritage. I went back to Calcutta and had this urge to discover my own city's street food which had somehow been buried under glittery fast food chain restaurants and newer cafes. I found this supreme taste in our humble Chicken cutlets from North Calcutta .

I welcome the sharing of food from all around the world but when that destroys one's culture's food it is extremely wrong and then of course I searched the internet high and low for information on Fried Chicken from all over the world and I was surprised that most regions in the world have a version of crispy delights.

I still love my Southern American style fried chicken. I love having it with mashed potatoes and gravy but when it can be so easily made at home why waste time , money , energy on a fast food joint.  I searched through many recipes , vintage ones, new ones, recipes from the best prints of the world such as New York Times and Washington post etc and finally decided to try this recipe. This is someone's great grandmother's recipe and I am very grateful that she has shared the recipe . It makes crispy delicious chicken

Before we begin one must remember that the rules for Fried Chicken are simple but they must be followed :-

  1. The chicken must be fresh 
  2. The skin of the chicken must be there 
  3. The long hours of marination does render the chicken soft and tender 
  4. Pork Fat makes everything more tasty (but this can be omitted for personal reasons which is sad) 

What you need is:

1.2 kilogram of chicken with the skin on cut in medium sized pieces
Buttermilk 600ml (If you do not have the real buttermilk you can try a substitute such as curd diluted with water but it doesn't taste the same)
Salt and pepper as per taste
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp freshly ground pepper
Oil for frying (refined oil )
Pork Fat 50gm
A tough paper bag or plastic bag to shake the chicken in

I started off by marinating the chicken pieces in salt , pepper and buttermilk in a large container so that all the pieces remained soaked.  I let the chicken pieces soak for about 8 hours . I personally believe a greater amount of marination renders softer chicken so soaking it as per the time in your hands does the work.

Once one is ready to fry the chicken bring the pot of chicken soaked in buttermilk. Now remove the chicken on to a clean plate. Take the flour, ground pepper, paprika and salt in the bag and put the chicken pieces in it and shake well to coat now soak it in the buttermilk and redo the bag shake bit. Meanwhile heat the oil with the pork fat and when its hot (it must be hot) reduce the heat and put in your chicken pieces. Cook for 6 minutes on each side on low heat and then increase the heat and fry for 2 minutes on each side till it reaches a dark golden colour and serve. You can either serve it with mashed potatoes or rice soaked in gravy.

Remember to clean the skillet after frying 6 pieces to 7 pieces of chicken so that you get the sediment off the skillet. Just carefully gather the oil and then remove the sediment and re-fry with added oil and pork fat . Store this sediment for a smashing gravy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Good old Custard

I personally have a problem with  custard which comes from a packaged boxes. The taste has synthetic flavouring and it makes me really offended that this humble creamy rich deliciousness becomes a synthetic offender. Custard needs the love of silky yellow egg yolks and the  blend of milk and sugar to make it delicious as it was meant to be. It needs to be thickened with cornstarch if desired and well this humble dessert has great potential. It is a delicious filling for pies. Taken with freshly fruits and dried fruits it makes it an amazing treat . If frozen it becomes a beautiful frozen custard.

I had once noted from a site that ladies in the old times used the yolks alone leaving out the whites since that alone makes one reach the rich creaminess .

One basically needs the following ingredients for custard:

6 egg yolks
1 litre of full cream milk
6 tablespoonful of sugar which you go no to grind
2 tsp heaped cornstarch
1 tablespoonful of butter
Chopped assorted fruits and dry fruits

One has to beat the egg yolks to a creamy consistency with the sugar, (It is better to give the sugar a grind in the mixer grinder) and cornstarch. While one beats the yolks one should warm up the milk and reduce it a bit for extra creamy custard. Adding a bit of butter ensures that the milk does not get stuck to the bottom of the utensil in which you warm it up.

Once the milk is cool enough so that it doesn't scald the skin but is still warm one should carefully mix it with the yolk sugar-cornstarch mixture pouring it a little at a time  making sure no lumps are formed. Once beaten well it has to be put back on the stove and cooked while constantly stirring the mixture. One must make sure that the eggs do not scramble. It would reach the creamy consistency within minutes and so one should keep an eye on it.

Once the texture and consistency reaches the desired thickness it has to be cooled and then you can take a deep based fruit bowl or a trifle bowl if you are lucky enough to possess one and alternately layer chopped fruits and custard. It makes a better dessert if the fruits are chopped in tiny bite sized pieces. I usually use bananas, apples, grapes, pomegranates and dry fruits such as almonds, cashew nuts, different kinds of raisins, dried apricots. One can decorate it in as many ways as one wants.

Important tip

For the final cooking of the custard use a double boiler instead of direct heat which increases the chances of fast cooking and might lead to a scrambled custard. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mooger Dal (Moong Pulse the Bengali Way)

Mooger Dal

A comforting delight from the Kitchens of Bengal

For every culinary enthusiast and even those who have little interest in food there are those food items which are so comforting that not only do they put a smile on one's face but it relaxes the person and believe me this kind of relaxation is even better than a full body massage because it gives you mental peace. If you look up comfort food it says it could be any kind of food which one has grown up with or that which gives a sense of comfort . Anyway bottom line is, it is supposed to make you incredibly happy .Well I have a very long list of comfort food dishes and basically what I invariably have are these cravings and when I have these cravings for a particular food item I usually imagine its taste first. I know this makes little sense but to me it means the world. For any Bengali who has read Postmaster one would invariably remember how the sick postmaster longingly thinks of his mother's and sisters' soft plump hands stroking his head when he is sick and this meal of simple moong dal with rice and julienne potato is exactly the feeling that I have when I make this. It leaves me feeling comforted and a particular longing for Calcutta.


Moong daal
Salt to taste
Minced ginger

For the tadka
Grated coconut
Red Chilies
Green Chilies
A stick of cinnamon (The aroma is intoxicating and seductive)
A few cloves
A few green cardamoms
A few bay leaves
Red chili powder

There might be other methods of cooking this pulse but as they say its that magic of your family recipe which makes all the difference. So if you are from Bengal this might just remind you of your grandmother's or mother's recipe or perhaps you might feel that you would have done it a bit differently. Either ways its going to be delicious.

Nothing beats the aroma and flavour of desi ghee. Any other healthy substitute cannot bring the flavour which Ghee does. One should start off by dry roasting the pulse and then boiling the dal with a pinch of salt and ginger. When the dal is fully cooked then proceed to  the tadka . In Bengali it is called satlano.

Heat a bit of ghee and fry the cumin till they splutter  and then add a bay leaf , red chilies, cloves which are slightly ground with a mortar and pestle, add the cinnamon and the cardamoms (again post grinding it with the mortar). Once you get the aroma of the spices, be careful not to burn it. If you lower the heat immediately after adding the cumin the chances are less of the spice getting charred. Now add the grated coconut and wait for  about a minute and add the boiled dal. Bring this to a boil and then add a little bit of salt as per taste, turmeric and a bit of red chili powder. Then lower the heat. Cook the dal till it reaches the consistency you desire before transferring the content in a bowl add a pinch of garam  masala. Usually when we take it with rice we keep it to a medium thick consistency which is soupy yet not watery.

Having it with plain rice and  potato fries julienne style is what what is comfort for myself.

Of Farchas, Nan khatais and Bombay

Of Farchas, Nan khatais and Bombay

I have not been an avid blogger even though I have had an account for the simple reason of lack of time but recently something made me feel it would be truly sinful not to share that which is as good as what I had experienced. 

Calcutta's offer of culinary varieties can make one feel extremely happy. Staying in the heart of Calcutta I have never realized how much lady luck had favoured me until I moved to Mumbai. My second  impression of the city was initially a disastrous one. The plane lands in the midst of dirt and slums. The ride to Mulund was unimpressive. It was dirty and honestly I was sad. For the first few months I dared not move out of the house. I had done my research and found that to go to the market equivalent to New market of Calcutta I would have to travel some 30km and for someone who has hardly had to travel 2km to reach most destinations for all her 23 years it seemed impossible at first .  I abhorred the local trains but then staying away from the hub of the city drove me to the verge of insanity and I finally decided to take matters in my own hand and explore the city. 

I believe a city's heritage is upheld by three things, the architecture , the people  and most importantly its culinary offerings and for anyone who has read a bit about Mumbai or (Bombay as I still like to call it  ) Bombay and Parsi cuisine is inseparable. 

So one day I finally gathered the courage to board the local train at around 11 in the morning and  was pleasantly surprised to find it quite empty. Here I must mention that having that streak of culinary enthusiasm , I had already tried to visit Colaba Causeway within the first week of moving to the city and had made the massive mistake of buying first class tickets. Needless to say it didn't quite fit the budget. Being unemployed and paying Rs220 for the train fare alone seemed impossible but I was tired of having cookies from packets and terribly prepared food from restaurants near the place where we had rented an apartment. To make matters worse my husband is a strict vegetarian and being unable to cook delicacies in the kitchen was another reason for my depression. In Calcutta I wouldn't frequent restaurants because our Kitchen itself would become one.   

Of course things are very easy these days with GPS and blogs. I had done my research, noted down my directions and I was ready to devour the delicacies which Bombay has to offer. 

I had gone out that day to indulge in some Parsi food  and my initial destination was Kyani and Co, the legendary bakery and restaurant. Housed at Jer Mahal estate right on JSS road the place embodies the history of Bombay. The moment you enter the place you are transported back to a time when Mumbai was Bombay and  to a time of gentility. The beautiful bentwood chairs and marble top tables have a charisma of their own. 

The prices of the food is a complete delight. For Rs35 the famous Fried chicken called 'Farcha' is a deal which cannot be missed. When you sink your teeth in its juicy goodness you are in for a delicious surprise. You see , this is not your westernized fried chicken. Beautiful spicy flavour bursts out with every bite . While your taste buds are treated to the beautiful blend of what I felt was garlic, onions and a bit of coriander powder and cumin powder the aroma is exhilarating.  Having ventured out on a hot day I cooled off with some watermelon juice and then I went on to order some of the famous akuri. I have had eggs prepared in different styles but never have I tasted something as unique and delicious as this. It was kheema akuri where the minced meat was of a melt in the mouth texture. The flavour of ginger garlic paste , onions , tomato and spices  makes it a superb treat with buns as  soft as cotton balls to accompany this Parsi scrambled egg preparation. I finished off with some cherry custard. I have had custards before, made custards from scratch but I was in for the treat of my life. The custard comes in a  small rectangular foil dish and it is wobbly in texture. With the exact amount of sweetness and the beautiful blend of eggs and milk it was one that had been baked to perfection. I had my hearty lunch and packed some baked goodies for home and decided to explore the place. You see the walk from the erstwhile Victoria Terminus currently known as CST had fascinated me. The architecture made me want to explore every building. 

I was walking around the place admiring the beauty, feeling happy, taking unknown roads to unknown destinations when I suddenly took a turn and found myself in a narrow lane. I was searching for Our Lady of Dolor's church and suddenly I found a  signboard with the words 'Paris bakery' written across it. I went to the counter and was quite confused. There were numerous cookies in different shapes and sizes. The aromatic scent of bakery wafting through the air can intoxicate just about anyone. 

This is not your new age money making bakery. This is the place of genteelness. A place where customers are first treated to biscuits before they can decide on their purchase. I was initially shy but the constant offering from the bakery made me pick up a biscuit  and to me this is what a biscuit should be made of. Buttery with a melt in the mouth texture, it leaves no reside inside your mouth. Its flaky goodness was wonderful. The prices are wonderfully affordable. I picked up 3 varieties of biscuits, shortbread biscuits, almond squares and cheese bites. Grandpa Paris suggested I take the cheese nibbles which he said would be 'more cheesy'. His insistence on my tasting a greater variety of biscuits won my heart over. 

I picked up a loaf of mawa cake and headed home knowing fully well my tea time treats for the next 2 weeks was what I was carrying back . Here I must mention that drinking tea is an elaborate affair for most Bengali families. I firmly decided that Paris Bakery would be a must visit for me on a bi monthly basis for their delectable biscuits priced between Rs60 to Rs90 for 200gm biscuits.  Over the course of three months I had discovered their different flavours and loved all of them be it the Jam nankhatais which are crisp or the Shrewsbury which are big and round . The real treat was when I picked up the buns one day. Soft and plump these buns are made of whole milk and if you are a bread lover such as myself you would be won over. 

They have recently upgraded their menu and I was very sad to see that the garlic Melba toast is no more produced but instead there is a garlic onion stick in its place. They have a  new cheesy flaky twist with cheddar powder as informed by the owner which is bad news because you will gain weight and you will not be able to resist it. 

I am in Love with Bombay even though the rents of Mumbai and the dirt and sea of faces baffle me. To be fair in my recent visits to Calcutta I actually missed my Bombay and by that I mean the Parsi food. 

One cannot have experienced Bombay without a visit to these gems of the city. When the food is as good as it is in these heritage restaurants one cannot but share one's experience .