Contributed by Rajiv Wadhwa
I love eating good food; my waist line is evidence to that fact. Perhaps one thing I love a wee bit more than eating good food, is cooking good food. I can pore over my vast collection of cookbooks, find a complicated, multi-step recipe with numerous ingredients and can easily, and happily, spend hours making it. But alas, in a busy life such as mine, that cannot happen very often. Over the years therefore, I have collected and developed a few recipes that are very quick to make, use few ingredients and are simple. By design, they rely on a basic, underlying flavour that is the mainstay of the dish, sometimes complimented by other subtler flavours. This is basic cooking; as Jamie Oliver would have said, recipes stripped to their bare essentials.
This isn’t Cordon Bleu cuisine and nor am I a trained, gourmet chef. I learned some basics along the way, via the route of many a burnt hand… and casseroles. I invite you to share my passion. The ingredient quantities I’ll provide are approximates; I do not get my scales out for these recipes. Some ingredients are optional and cooking times are educated guesses. The fun of experimentation is unlimited!
Episode 1: Remembering Kuldeep Uncle
One of my particular favourites is Tamatar Wala Chicken (Chicken with Tomatoes). I’ve been eating it for about thirty years and cooking it for more than twenty. For many years it has been the most commonly made chicken curry in my home and in my sister’s home too. Children love it and cannot get enough of it. Associated with this dish is the nostalgia, the memories of good times I spent with my dad and Kuldeep Uncle, back in the late seventies and early eighties. That’s what makes it so special for me.
Kuldeep uncle was a close friend of my dad. He owned a tent and catering business and, like most Sikhs I know, was fond of his peg, leg (chicken) and yaar-dosts. He tried to enjoy these simple pleasures every day of the week except on a Tuesday, when he abstained. I think his wife and mother did not approve of this routine, and hence, fortunately for us, he had to have these soirees with his friends at his tent house godown. My dad, a teetotaler, was frequently invited to these affairs and occasionally attended, for the legs and yaar-dosts, not the pegs. Sometimes I’d jump on to the back seat of my dad’s ancient Lamberetta late at night and go with him. Those meals are etched into my memories as some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
A make shift chulha of bricks, against his office wall, open air, or under a tamboo (tent), depending on the weather; gobar ke kande (cowdung cakes) burning, big catering pateelas (utensils) left on the fire for long periods of time until the chicken was tender and delicious (by which time all his friends were thoroughly drunk), the huge spatulas used to mix the curry, big desi (country) chickens bought from Parade shops (none of this farm house broiler business, Kuldeep Uncle would insist) thick gravies, huge chunks of chicken, tandoori rotis from the nearby dhaba…
I remember having as much cola as I could drink (Thums-up it was in those days), sitting close to dad, one of his arms around me, listening to the grown ups discussing all those important things, much of which I did not understand. I went to eat chicken, drink Thums-up, and sit with dad, which was a rare treat as he worked 14 hours a day, almost 360 days a year.
Because Kuldeep Uncle was a simple man, his recipes were simple too. He believed in chucking ingredients into the pateela with a huge amount of butter or desi ghee (clarified butter), sometimes both, cover it, disturb it as little as possible, and leave the dish to its own devices. Every once in a while, one of his friends would get up and pour whiskey into the pateela, the amount perhaps determined by the alcohol they had imbibed themselves. The results were invariably awesome.
Two of those recipes I have made hundreds of times, a third one I never perfected, but that is for another day. Today I share with you the Wadhwa Family Favourite – Tamatar Wala Chicken
Tamatar Wala Chicken (Chicken with tomatoes)
Serves 4 hungry adults
- 2 medium sized chickens, cut into quarters, or smaller portions if you like.
- 2 kilos fresh tomatoes roughly chopped
- 3 inch piece of ginger, peeled, cut to chunky pieces
- Butter – Nil to loads. You do not need any to cook, but the more butter you put in, the tastier it is; so strike a balance between taste, calories and cholesterol. I leave these difficult decisions to you. Remember, all good things in life are illegal, immoral or… fattening.
- Black pepper; lots, or to taste
- Salt to taste
- One pot, thick bottomed, and the biggest you can find
- Kuldeep Uncle’s Way: Put the pot on fire, chuck everything in, and leave it to stew on low flame. Check infrequently and give a it little stir from time to time.
- My Way: I like to heat butter, toss some chicken pieces in and fry on high flame till slightly browned on the surface, add tomatoes and ginger, reduce the heat and then let the dish cook slowly.
- Either way, leave the chicken to cook till the meat is almost falling off the bone and the tomatoes have turned into a thick sauce, clinging to the chicken. If you have put plenty of butter in, the sauce will be creamy, thick and to die for. It will be tasty without butter too. My children like the sauce a bit thin. ‘Soupy Chicken’ they call it, because they eat it with rice. I like the sauce thick, with plenty of black pepper; when it screams for a pile of hot, tandoori rotis – crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
Add some loved ones, a few drinks… heaven!
Next time: Chicken in Creamy Mushroom Sauce.
– Rajiv Wadhwa
Ed: I could just feel a little boy, burping his way through endless glasses of cola, inhaling the aroma of slowly cooking chicken, hearing snatches of barely understood conversation around him, feeling a little grown up at being included in the gathering and yet completely child like with the warm, comforting weight of his father’s arms around his shoulders.