Born and raised in Mumbai by parents who were natives of Kerala, we grew up greatly influenced by both Keralan and Maharashtrian cultures. Our next door neighbor hailed from the Malvan region of Maharashtra which is also a coastal region just like Kerala. As a result there are lots of similarities in Kerala and Malvani cuisines like seafood specialties and the liberal use of coconut!
Our neighbor aunty used to make this lip smacking Malvani Chicken curry along with a doughnut shaped bread called as Kombdi vade. Kombdi vadas are made with a mix of rice and different lentils and deep fried like puris. Oh the combination of this chicken curry with kombdi vadas are probably one of the most delicious culinary experience I have had.My mouth starts watering just thinking of the combination! Whenever aunty made these, she would send over some to share with our family. And how we loved it! We kids liked this chicken dish so much that we begged our mom to learn this recipe from our neighbor aunty and she gladly obliged by giving a cooking demo in her kitchen one time. I was in college those days and had already developed an interest in cooking and so I took very good notes! In the early years after my marriage after moving to the US, I made this curry a couple times. But after that somehow the craziness of work and kids made me forget this curry dish.
Anyways last year when my good friend Vaishali visited us and made Misal Paav for us, I was again reminded of this curry! And ever since then I have been meaning to make this curry. I was hoping to make this with the kombdi vadas too. However, now that I am doing a Paleo diet, where grains are not allowed, I decided to pass the vadas for now. But I was still craving for the curry and so decided to just make the chicken curry. And I cheated by having the curry with some basmati rice :). Was heavenly! So worth the little bit of extra effort of roasting the coconut and making the ground masala paste.
The way I remember distinctive tastes of different curries is by remembering the unique combination of spices used. For this curry, it is cumin and garlic that stands out along with star anise and dagad phool. Dagad Phool whose literal translation means ‘rock flower’ is a spice that is a lichen and has an earthy , musk like smell. Here’s a picture to those who are not familiar with this spice. Its botanical name is paramecia prelate and this is one of the ingredients of the Maharashtrian Goda masala.
There is no coriander (seeds or powder) used in this curry. Also dried coconut or Khopra is used traditionally in this curry however I used fresh coconut which is fine too.
- 2 lbs whole chicken (1kg ) cut into bite size pieces (preferable to use chicken with bones instead of boneless)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp red chilli powder (I use Kashmiri red chilli powder which is mild)
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup freshly grated coconut or khopra(or fresh frozen grated coconut that has been thawed)
- 2 medium onion, sliced long
- 1 cup freshly grated coconut
- 4 garlic pods
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 star anise
- 1 small dagad phool
- 4 pieces of cinnamon sticks (about 1 inch long)
- 8-10 cloves
- 8-10 whole black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp olive oil (or coconut oil)
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp garam masala powder
- 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder (optional)
- 1 tsp salt (or as needed)
- 2 cups water
- Clean the chicken and pat dry with towels. Add the salt, chill powder and turmeric and rub the mixture well into the chicken pieces. Let marinate for 15-30 minutes.
- In a non stick frying pan, add the sliced onions and fry them on medium heat stirring frequently until they turn reddish brown.( about 3-4 minutes). Take them out of the pan and transfer to a blender. Next add the fresh coconut (or khopra) and roast that stirring frequently until they start turning brown (about 6-7 minutes). Towards the end add the cumin and garlic pods. Stir for 1 more minute and transfer this coconut mixture also to the blender. Add the water and grind to a fine paste.
- Dry grind the whole spices using a spice grinder. Keep aside.
- Heat a wide bottomed cooking pot. Add the 2 tbsp oil. When hot, add the chicken pieces in batches and lightly fry them (no need to cook fully) just to get a nice sear on the outside. Transfer to a plate.
- To the same oil in the pot, add the chopped onions and the ginger and garlic. Lightly fry them until the onions are golden brown. Now add the ground masala to this and add the dry spice blend (ground earlier) along with salt, red chili powder and garam masala. Keep stirring the masala continuously for 4-5 minutes on medium heat until the oil starts separating out (This is an important step)
- Finally add the lightly fried chicken pieces back into the pot. Add the 2 cups water. Check for seasoning and add salt or more red chili powder as needed.
- Turn heat to low and Cover the pot and cook for about 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid any sticking of chicken pieces to the bottom.
- Serve chicken curry hot with plain white rice or chapatis!